WINCHESTER — Shaniqua Williams, a counselor at Senseny Road School, plans to rally and talk to state legislators in Richmond on Jan. 28 about allocating more money to hire more counselors.
The rally is a statewide initiative held by the Virginia Education Association. Attendees will meet with state legislators at the Pocahontas Building on 900 E. Main Street starting at 9 a.m. Attendees will then move to the VEA #Red4Ed Rally at the Capital Bell Tower at noon. The day’s events will conclude in the VEA headquarters from 1:30 to 4 p.m.
The Red for Ed initiative calls for participants to wear red to draw attention to the issues that educators face.
Williams, president of the Frederick County Education Association, plans to go to the rally with three other teachers from Frederick County Public Schools. Michael Siraguse, president of the Winchester Education Association, said he will not attend and doesn’t know if other Winchester Public School teachers are going.
The VEA rally and lobby day has been held for the past five years and “has been a tremendous tool for educator activism,” said Siraguse, a social studies teacher at Handley High School.
There are about 40,000 VEA members across the state, Siraguse said, and every year more members have attended the association’s lobby day. The VEA also helped elect Gov. Ralph Northam, he said, adding that the Democratic governor has advocated for and listened closely to VEA’s policy positions.
Siraguse is hopeful in the upcoming General Assembly session that legislators will address issues such as Standards of Quality funding, reductions in testing, less unfunded mandates and further improvements to state funding to support K-12 public education.
For Williams, she hopes to talk to legislators about whether they support Northam’s budget proposal to allocate $36 million to hire more school counselors. The $36 million proposal would be the first installment of a three-year strategy to hire enough school counselors to decrease the counselor to student ration to 1:250. In Virginia, the funded ratio is 1:425, according to Northam’s office.
Williams has heard from other counselors in Frederick County that their caseloads are too high, making it hard to have relationships with students. The last thing counselors want on their conscience is that they didn’t have time to interact with a student until it’s too late and something bad happens, Williams said.
She’s also interested in discussing with legislators about increasing funding for programs to help retain teachers.
Both Williams and Siraguse agree that they have a lot of local support for the education activism through WEA and FCEA. Siraguse said Superintendent Jason Van Heukelum and School Board Chairperson Allyson Pate are also responsive to WEA’s issues.
“When I look at Winchester, we have a community that has been committed to education, and our City Council has been very supportive of what the School Board has prioritized,” Siraguse said.