Teachers bring attention to education woes

Drivers in the area of Arlington Drive and Fairview Road in Costa Mesa on Monday afternoon honked in support of the nearly 30 local teachers and community members huddled on the street corner and waving signs to encourage reform in public schools.

The gathering was part of a larger national day of action sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers, a nationwide teachers union, to shed light on issues regarding public education in the United States.

In recent years, dwindling budgets for education have resulted in increased class sizes, inadequate support staff in the form of counselors and nurses, and curriculum lacking in art, physical education and science, said Joel Flores, co-chairman of the committee on political education for the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers.

"We feel like public education has been disrespected by politicians who underfund schools and attempt to privatize them," said Flores, who teaches at Back Bay High School.

The goal of Monday's demonstration was to encourage the public to be aware of the challenges facing public schools and pay attention to local government elections, which have a profound effect on educational direction, said Nicholas Dix, executive director for the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers.

"We also wanted to restore some of the faith that's been lost in our public schools," he said. "It's unfortunate that the cost of public education has been passed on to parents and students. It shouldn't be that way."

Dix said budget problems are hurting public schools, including Newport-Mesa.

"Education does not seem to be the budget priority that it once was," he said.

With elementary class sizes reaching 30 children in some instances in Newport-Mesa, teachers are unable to work more closely with students to help them grasp difficult concepts, said Patrick DeVusser, a fourth-grade teacher at Whittier Elementary School in Costa Mesa.

"When you're working with kids that age, you need that small class size to be able to focus on them," he said. "Students are not getting the instructional and individual attention that they need in some cases."

DeVusser participated in the demonstration also to urge district officials to more carefully consider the opinions of teachers when making decisions about curriculum.

He pointed to Swun Math, a program recently purchased by the district that focuses on math reasoning, as a problem for teachers.

"It's an incomplete product that's caused us a lot of growing pains," he said.

He said teachers should have been consulted further about the new curriculum before it was implemented this year.

Community members, including the Rev. Sarah Halverson, stood beside the teachers to show support during the demonstration.

"I care about the education our students are getting," she said. "This is a way for us to make sure our voices are heard."

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