The Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, joined by parents, students and community members, held walk-ins at 55 schools across the city on January 30, pushing for smaller class sizes, more support staff, and expanded pre-school for four-year-olds. Braving heavy snowfall and bad roads, supporters held signs outside of the schools before the beginning of the school day and then walked-in to get their message across.
“The turnout was fantastic,” said Mary Cathryn Ricker, President of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, who attended three walk-Ins throughout the morning, adding that some parents left home 45 minutes early just to make sure they could travel through the snow to show their support. “The snow actually seems to buoy people’s enthusiasm,” she said.
Ricker said the union is still in the midst of negotiations, and is pushing for “reasonable and dependable class sizes as well as staffing to meet the needs for the students.”
The union also wants every school site to have a full time nurse. “Schools shouldn’t have a nurse one day a week or two days a week,” she said. The union also wants to reduce the average counselor to teacher ratio. Right now, it’s about 500 to one, and the union wants to reduce that to about 300 to one, and wants elementary school students to have access to counselors as well. “College and career readiness does not begin with high school,” she said.
Ricker also said that schools need to increase the number of librarians. “You cannot say with a straight face you believe in college readiness and not have a librarian at every school,” she said.
The union is also pushing for more social workers as well as art, music and physical education teachers.
Finally, the union is calling for an expansion of the district’s successful pre-school program, Ricker said. “Our city passed a referendum that renewed our commitment to all day kindergarten,” she said. “And the legislature and the governor approved money for all day kindergarten. So next year, our district is double dipping for all day kindergarten. What we’re saying is that we can commit our referendum money to the four-year-old program and have the state money pay for all day kindergarten. .
“Research shows the need is there for early learning. The waiting list says the desire is there, and the referendum shows the money is there,” Ricker said.
At American Indian Magnet School, Maysy Ly-Lo, an English Language Educational Assistant, carried a sign her daughter made her with the word Wakanheza written on it, the Dakota word for child, or literally, “sacred being.” Ly-Lo, who has been with the district since 1997, said she is hoping for smaller class sizes. She said she was proud of standing out in the cold for better education.
Kathleen Westafer, a reading specialist at the American Indian Magnet School, also put smaller class sizes as a priority. “It felt good to have the community support,” she said of the walk-in.
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