Thursday, December 19, 2019

Campbell High freshman organizes rally advocating for higher teacher pay

Another Campbell student produced a documentary about the teacher shortage

Campbell High School freshman Jahstyce Ahulau and senior Ricky Santos at Fighting for Our Future's first rally.

A ninth-grade student organized a rally held Wednesday night at Campbell High to fight for higher pay for public school educators.

“Teacher pay doesn’t only affect the teachers. It affects the students because we’re not learning what we need to learn to go into the real world,” said Jahstyce Ahulau, the 14-year-old Campbell freshman who founded the group Fighting for Our Future (FFOF), a student-led and driven committee to advocate for higher teacher pay.

The rally, attended by students, teachers, and parents, featured a 15-minute documentary created by Campbell senior Ricky Santos about the effects of low teacher pay in Hawaii.

“I feel strongly that we should have more respect for our teachers and the amount of effort they put in each and every day,” Santos told the crowd gathered in Campbell’s cafeteria before he premiered his documentary.

“The teachers really do make a big difference. It’s not about just the pay. I really appreciate how much teachers sacrifice for all of us here,” Santos added.

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

Earlier this month, the Board of Education approved thousands of dollars in differentials aimed at attracting teachers to three areas with chronic teacher shortages: special education classrooms, hard-to-staff schools, and Hawaiian language immersion programs.

Anthony McCurdy, who is the lead teacher for Campbell's Academy of Creative Media, spoke to the group Wednesday night during an “open floor” portion of the program.

He said, “The teacher shortage incentives really make a difference, but they’re not enough. And we need to see more.”

McCurdy said the state needs to offer “a true wage that will attract people and make them want to stay.”

Campbell High School teacher Melissa Padilla

“If we don’t take care of our education system, then we are failing our keiki. And that’s frustrating,” McCurdy added.

Melissa Padilla, a Campbell AP English and Art History teacher who has spent 28 years in the classroom, told the group said she looks forward to a second phase of State Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s plan to address teacher shortages, which will be announced in January.

“We have to recognize that the teachers who are like me, who came in in the early 90s, who were part of the strike in 2001, we took a lot of hits to help our whole community by saying, ‘It’s OK. We don’t have a step now… We’ll get it back after the strike. And we had furloughs and directed leave without pay and people of my generation, did not get compensated for the time we decided to help the state out by not asking for a pay raise or a step movement,” Padilla said.

She was referring to step movements that represent raises of approximately three percent that were frozen for teachers during the recession in Hawaii. Teachers in many other communities across the country automatically receive step increases based on their years of service.

“We have to recognize the teachers who have given years of service without fair compensation. We also have to attract new people into our profession,” Padilla said.

“We need everyone, starting with our students here, to ask our legislators to find a way to fund education so that it is fair for all teachers.”

What can students and parents do to advocate for teacher pay?

Ahulau said her student group, FOFF, plans a rally at the state Capitol in the spring, with more details to be released in the weeks ahead.

“We’re going to push until a change is made,” she said.  

Ahulau asked students and teachers to follow FOFF on social media @jchs.fightingforourfuture.

The people who attended Wednesday’s event signed sheets of paper that said, “I believe that our keiki deserve to have quality, licensed teachers in the classroom,” and they were encouraged to jot down and turn in ideas to help end the teacher shortage crisis.

As a high school freshman, Ahulau, recognizes the problem of having unqualified teachers such as long-term substitutes or emergency hires in her classroom.

“It affects the students because we’re not getting the content. The teachers either don’t know what they’re trying to teach and so they’re unable to get it across. Or they’re going based on a lesson plan and if they’re not certified in the subject, they don’t know the content,” Ahulau said. 

“Therefore, they’re giving us a book and basically telling us, ‘Figure it out. You can do it.’ They give us as much support they can, but not being certified, not knowing the content, not knowing what you are teaching, you can’t teach it to someone else if you don’t know it yourself,” she added.

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

Campbell’s principal: competition for teaching jobs in the 1990s vs. chronic shortage now

Jon Henry Lee, the principal of Campbell High, shared a story about applying for his first teaching job as he prepared to graduate from the University of Hawaii College of Education in 1997.

When he went to Kapolei Elementary to put in his application for a teacher position, there was a lot of competition.

“I went to the front office and it was crowded. There were a lot of people interviewing for that same job and it took me aback a little bit,” Lee recalled. “My goodness, there’s a lot of people in the room. They look qualified, they look intelligent. They probably are articulate.”

He didn’t get the Kapolei job but was hired for a teaching opening at Makakilo Elementary that same year.

But today, he said it’s a very different situation that he sees as a principal charged with hiring teachers.

“We are in dire straights, to be honest. The teacher shortage is severe,” Lee said.

Campbell High School principal Jon Henry Lee

To fill a vacant teaching position at Campbell, Lee sends in the position number to the DOE’s district office and the office will send back a prioritized list of applicants.

The first list is made up of qualified teachers in that field.

“But sometimes, at the secondary level, especially if it’s a math, science or special education position, that first list is vacant. There’s nobody on that. So we go to the second and third list, which are competent and willing to teach in that area. And that goes all the way down to emergency hires,” Lee said.

“Nothing against emergency hires. I have tremendous respect for them. They are stepping in to fill a void,” Lee added. “They are helping our cause.”

“The responsibility on a daily basis that our teachers have, the way they impact our students, is tremendous. If we don’t have a qualified person in there, who not only delivers daily instruction but who inspires the level that our students desire, that’s absolutely crucial,” said Lee. 

Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, taught social studies at Campbell for nine years before being elected president of the statewide teachers’ union in 2015.

He told the group he was heartened to see high school students “come forward and say that they deserve qualified teachers.”

“Tomorrow, 60,000 students who go to school, at least one of their teachers will not be qualified,” Rosenlee said. “Our emergency hires, our substitutes do the best they can. But oftentimes, they are the least experienced.”

“Children that come from poor areas, they’re the ones likely year after year, to be denied a qualified teacher. Or have the least qualified teacher,” Rosenlee added. “This has a long-term impact on our students. 

“Until our parents say, ‘Enough is enough. We will no longer accept that you’re denying our children equal access to a qualified teacher and a qualified education,’ will this change,” Rosenlee said.

“You did something just by showing up today. That’s the first step. Together, we can change this. We can make this happen,” he said.

Student leader plans more events advocating a boost in teacher pay

After Wednesday’s event, Ahulau, the student organizer, said, “The teacher profession should be taken more seriously.”

Ahulau thanked her classmates, teachers and her parents, who attended the event.

Her effort garnered news coverage on Hawaii News Now earlier this month.

And she said she plans to continue fighting for improvements in teacher pay during her high school career.

Does Ahulau, whose family and friends call her Kalu, plan to become a teacher someday?

“I’d like to become a pediatric surgeon in the field of oncology, but I can’t get there without teachers,” she said.

Author: Keoki Kerr