The sun broke through the clouds at noon Wednesday just as hundreds of Puyallup School District teachers wearing red shirts and carrying picket signs walked from the red parking lot at the Washington State Fairgrounds to Pioneer Park for a rally.
The teachers had spent the morning waving signs at five different locations in Puyallup.
“Tons of people honked and waved,” said Karen McNamara, Puyallup Education Association president.
Teachers in the district can no longer provide the kind of education to students they want to provide, McNamara said.
“And somehow,” she added, “We manage to do it. We have the highest SAT test scores because our educators work their tails off, and not just the teachers either: the janitors, nurses, counselors, bus drivers and para-educators, too.”
The sign waving, literature drop and rally was a message to the state Legislature to lower class sizes, raise teacher pay and not to restrict local support for schools. As teachers swarmed into Pioneer Park waving their signs, a news helicopter hovered above them.
When the rally began, Shaw Road third grade teacher Michelle Flury spoke to the teachers about what she called the “developmentally inappropriate tests given to third-graders.”
“The test requires us to teach all of the yearlong learning targets by February so they can be tested in March on things they haven’t been taught,” Flury said. “We feel we have to shorten our teaching.”
She then asked the crowd: “Any third-grade teachers get through the entire curriculum by March? Raise your hands.”
Not one hand shot into the air.
Flury’s daughter, Elyse, an eighth-grader at Kalles Junior High, addressed the crowd, saying she was there to protest with the teachers for smaller class size and more pay for teachers.
“I can’t remember a time when I was in a classroom with less than 30 kids,” she said. “Why would I want to go into teaching?”
Ben Roscoe, an eighth-grader at Kalles who will serve as Student Body president next year, said he was speaking on behalf of teachers and wanted to give some reasons for smaller class sizes from a student point of view.
Dr. Phyllis Ellermeier, a behavior support specialist at eight different locations in the Puyallup School District, is in her 43rd year of teaching and 23rd year of working in the district.
“There are kindergarten classes with up to 28 kids in them. Fewer than 20 is ideal; 15 is perfect,” Ellermeier said. “Teachers that are innovative are trying to plow through their day with as little support as necessary Class size is critical — especially for younger children.”
Teachers added a food drive to the rally because so many children in the district are homeless and struggle with hunger. The drive resulted in 382 pounds of food being delivered to the Puyallup Food Bank, McNamara said.
McNamara told the crowd she was proud of them.
“First of all, thank you and your colleagues for everything you do for kids. Every day you make a difference for the children in this community. I look at you and all I can say is ‘WOW,’” she said.
Emerald Ridge High Student Body President Sandy Roscelli said she has a hard time finding a seat in some of her classrooms.
“I have to really book it to get to the class in time to find a seat,” she said.
As the rally ended, McNamara told the crowd she had an assignment for them, asking them to call the state Legislature and speak to their concerns. She felt the walkout was a huge success.
“These rolling walkouts were statewide ... a grass roots effort. We’ve e-mailed, phone called, visited town hall meetings, went to Olympia and they just aren’t listening,” she said.
“This wasn’t against our school district or our local community,” McNamara said. “It was not a strike against the school district, it was a walkout about the Legislature.”
McNamara stressed that everyone would be working hard this year to get the bond passed.
“This is about our children. We cannot continue to cram our children into portables,” she said.