School's out for the summer, but some South Carolina teachers have given themselves extra homework: continuing their push for state education reform.
Charleston area SC For Ed members met Thursday to discuss strategy in advance of a Senate education subcommittee meeting next week.
The members focused on how best to make sure their voices are heard by legislators who are amending the state's education reform bills.
While education reform ranked among the hottest topics during this year's legislative session, lawmakers were unable to agree on sweeping changes before they adjourned. And that created a new challenge for teachers and other advocates hoping to keep the pressure on.
"Despite popular belief, teachers don't take the summer off," said Charly Adkinson, a history teacher at Summerville High School who attended Thursday's meeting.
SC For Ed, a grassroots group led by South Carolina teachers, organized a 10,000-person-strong protest at the Statehouse on May 1. But like with any large organization, it's difficult for legislators to address every individual concern made, said Rep. William Cogswell, R-Charleston, who also attended Thursday's meeting.
On Monday, the Senate education subcommittee is expected to consider the South Carolina Career Opportunity and Access For All Act. SC For Ed leaders encouraged teachers to show up and speak up during the time scheduled for public testimony.
"Subcommittee is your time to share your concerns. But it's also every other teacher in the state's time, so the more organized and unified you can be, the more impactful you will be with your message," Cogswell said.
Some teachers at the meeting agreed.
"We definitely don't want to send our legislators in a million different directions with a thousand different ideas," Adkinson said. "We want to have a firm plan of where we expect them to take us with this legislation."
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, also attended the meeting and offered advice.
"Talk to the Democrats and the Republicans. You've got the opportunity to have input in the Senate subcommittee, and we need to hear from you," he said.
"We are unified, but we're still such a grassroots organization," said Mev McIntosh, a teacher at North Charleston High School. "We're really trying to focus on regions and areas because that's how we're going to be a strong front."
The Statehouse protest came after teachers felt their voices hadn't been heard when House Speaker Jay Lucas introduced a detailed, 84-page education overhaul bill in January.
Cogswell said that total education reform in the state might require multiple bills.
"The legislative session is not perfect," he said, "but it's important to take a first step forward."
He also advised teachers not to get discouraged.
"This is how real change happens. Let's not be afraid to move forward a few steps, even though it might not be perfect. There's no such thing, frankly, as perfect legislation," he said.
Many teachers at the meeting acknowledged the importance of keeping the momentum going.
"I think May 1 really got a lot of people's attention, and now we're just trying to strike where the iron is hot," said Wando High School English Teacher Patrick Martin, referring to the SC for Ed protest.
Dedra Scherer, a science teacher at Fort Dorchester High School, said she used all of her personal days off to advocate for teachers at the Statehouse.
"We understand the urgency and the expediency that is needed in this legislation, which is why there's been such a strong response early on," she said. "We gotta get it right, and we gotta get it right now."