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Despite furlough, teachers show up for work

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Arnold Elementary School Kindergarten Teacher Devon Porter and her paraprofessional of four years, Melissa Cook, spent Thursday afternoon plastering their classroom with the names of their soon-to-be new students.

Porter and Cook put out place cards with their students' names on them. They also wrote the youths' names on supply buckets, on the walls, and on cubby spaces.

Every year, Porter likes to have her students arrive on the first day of school, and see their names every where. In most cases, she said, the new students, who are entering "big-kid school" for the first time, only know their own name, and no other words. So, seeing their name all over the place helps them feel more at ease on their first day, she said.

Just before 5 p.m., on Thursday, Porter said the classroom was just about ready for the students to arrive. The only thing missing at this point, she said, is the artwork that her students will create during the upcoming school year.

"I didn't want my kids to come to school on Monday without having a little place of their own," she said. "If I didn't come back [Thursday] and do this, they would not have been able to come in on Monday and feel as much at home as I would like."

The thing is, Porter -- and many teachers like her -- will not be paid for any work they did on Thursday. It was the first of a series of furlough days for Clayton County teachers and guidance counselors that were approved by the county's school board on Monday.

The furloughs came after Gov. Sonny Perdue asked Georgia school systems last month to furlough teachers for, at least, three days this fall to cut costs during a period of economic struggles.

Although they will not be paid for the day, many teachers went to their schools on Thursday to get their classrooms ready for the first day of school by setting up "Word Walls," organizing books, and making name cards for their students. Clayton County's 48,000 students return to school for a new academic year on Monday.

"Teachers love their children, and what they do, or they wouldn't be here," said Cathy Sandberg, a second-grade teacher at Arnold, who spent seven hours at the school on Thursday laminating signs and posters, organizing supplies, and putting up a math board for her classroom. "I have to be ready for when the children arrive on Monday, so they can begin learning right away.

"Hopefully, [by 5 p.m. today], I'll have my classroom ready," Sandberg said. "Teachers never really are done, though. There's always something that has to be done."

Arnold Principal Myron Allen said at least half of his school's 35 teachers came by the school to do some work to get their classrooms ready for students.

Allen said he believed the situation was replicated at schools around Clayton County on Thursday.

"I'm sure all teachers across the county are doing this," Allen said. "They are trying to pull it all together before Monday. That shows the dedication of teachers. That's just the way they are."

Porter said having the classroom completely ready for the first day of school is a necessity for any teacher, particularly kindergarten teachers whose students are often scared to be apart from their parents in a new school.

"There's a lot of tears," Porter said. "If everyone is organized before the first day, it just takes the anxiety level way down."

School district spokesperson Jacqueline Evans said the school system was not sure how many teachers came to work on Thursday despite the furlough.

All Clayton teachers will also be furloughed for a full day on Oct. 16, and for a half-day on Nov. 20.

The schedule for the other furlough days varies depending on whether a teacher works at the Elite Scholars Academy Charter School. Teachers at all schools, except Elite Scholars Academy, will be furloughed for a half day on Dec. 18. Teachers at Elite Scholars Academy will be furloughed for a half day on Sept. 11, and for a full day on Dec. 17.

Guidance counselors will be furloughed on Oct. 16, Nov. 20 and Dec. 18.

Other school employees, such as custodians and paraprofessionals, are not being furloughed, however.

On Monday, Superintendent Edmond Heatley said the furloughs were necessary in Clayton County because the district was hit by "the perfect storm" of recent accreditation issues, a loss of students, a loss in state funding created by the loss of students, and a struggling economy.