INDIANAPOLIS — Nearly two dozen teachers from DeKalb County schools joined several thousand of their colleagues in the “Red for Ed” rally Tuesday at the State House in Indianapolis.
The red-clad delegation reportedly included 14 teachers from Garrett-Keyser-Butler schools, six teachers and a student teacher from DeKalb Central schools and one teacher from Hamilton Community Schools. Garrett-Keyser-Butler school board member Larry Getts joined his teachers’ group.
“It was full of energy. It was a sea of red around the Statehouse,” said Garrett High School teacher Becky Wright. “It was a very positive atmosphere.”
The teachers called for increased funding for public education and other reforms, including improvements to standardized testing.
“It’s not just a teacher issue — it’s a public school funding issue,” said Jason Hunter, president of the DeKalb Educators Association, which represents teachers at DeKalb Central schools.
Hunter remained at home in the DeKalb Central district, where teachers also wore red Tuesday, and some greeted school buses outside to display their colors. Hunter said school staff members and administrators also showed their support.
DeKalb High School science teacher Jason Bodnar traveled to the state capital and said DeKalb Central teachers met for more than 90 minutes with state Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn.
“It just helped to talk to a legislator and hear their perspective on where we are as a state. … He basically said Indiana isn’t so bad,” Bodnar said about Smaltz.
“Our perspective is: It can always improve,” Bodnar continued. “When a typical teacher starting salary is around $35,000, $36,000, it’s not attracting people to the profession. … It would be nice to see more directed toward education, especially base salaries.”
Bodnar added that the time students spend on state testing needs to be reduced.
He said the teachers’ session with Smaltz “wasn’t an argument — it was very constructive.”
Bodnar added, “We’re not down there because we’re upset with DeKalb (Central). We just want to fight for teachers at the state level.”
Wright said Garrett teachers also met with Smaltz for about 15 minutes.
“He listened and interacted with us. … We were honest about some of the changes we would like to see in the future,” Wright said. “He said it was the most positive group he’s ever had the pleasure of interacting with.”
“I think they want to feel that the state appreciates them and respects them,” Smaltz said of the teachers.
A new law requiring teachers to complete “externships” on unpaid time is among Wright’s leading concerns. She said the rule requires a teacher to work in a local business “to understand what real-world skills students need to be employable in the future.”
Wright said, “I think it’s insulting to assume that just because we’re teachers, we don’t understand what skills are necessary for employability. … Honestly, the externship is unnecessary, and to require it K-12 is also unnecessary.”
Wright chairs the English-language department at Garrett High School. She also expressed concerns about the new ILEARN statewide standard test.
“I think it is fair to say that all teachers know and believe in our souls that our students cannot be defined by a test score,” Wright said.
More than half of the state’s school districts closed for the day because so many of their teachers attended the rally. No DeKalb County schools closed. No teachers from the DeKalb Eastern school district attended the rally, said Superintendent Jeffrey Stephens.