My name is Rebekah Cohen Morris, and I am currently a resident of unincorporated DeKalb County. I have two daughters who will soon be attending Cary Reynolds Elementary School. I currently teach at Cross Keys High School, but I formerly taught in Gwinnett County Public Schools at Berkmar High School for four years.

School begins tomorrow, and I am concerned about some issues I have observed and experienced at Cross Keys High School. First, I want to say that I have experienced nothing but a warm welcome from the administrators and teachers at CKHS. The administrators have worked with me on receiving my desired schedule; they have ensured I had any material I needed to access my computer, gradebook, and email; and they have dropped by my classroom several times to make sure things were going well. My complaint is not against them at all. I believe they are doing all they can to equip their teachers with what they need so that we can provide the best education possible to our students.

However, there are many things which are not within their control, and it is on that topic I would like to address. Students at Cross Keys HS deserve an exceptional education, and because of these issues, their education is going to suffer.

Because of overcrowding, many teachers have been assigned a modular (trailer) classroom, and with it, a host of problems. These trailers have been woefully unprepared.

  • During pre-planning, when the weather was over 90 degrees, the teachers did not have air-conditioning until Saturday, August 8
  • During preplanning, teachers did not have access to internet in the trailers and consequently were unable to access email, access the gradebook portal, or use the internet to create lesson plans, etc. I went to the school today, Sunday, August 9, and they still had not been able to set up internet accessibility in the trailers. And school begins tomorrow, Monday, August 10.
  • During pre-planning, teachers’ classrooms still had cords hanging from the ceiling, Promethium boards had still not been installed, and the classrooms had not been cleared by the county for student occupancy. Administrators told us that there would be a contingency plan in place if the trailers are not ready by tomorrow, but, unfortunately, because our school is overcrowded, any contingency plan is going to result in reduced educational opportunities for the few hundred students that will be housed in the trailer classrooms.

In addition to teachers in the trailer classrooms, there are many teachers who are going to have to “float,” meaning they won’t have a permanent classroom to hold class. This has resulted in much confusion and frustration because these teachers have not had personal access to their own classroom desktop computer (teachers do not have laptop computers at CKHS – a PC is provided in each classroom). There are computers in the Media Center for teachers to use, but there are not enough for each teacher to have full access for long periods of time (when sharing with the other 100 teachers – not to mention 1600 students eventually).

Additionally, floating teachers will be in teachers’ classrooms during their planning period, and this will cause the teacher (who has their own classroom) to have to go to the Media Center or other area to work. However, computers will be limited because the media center also serves students, and many students will be occupying these computers (since this will be during class time) so many teachers are not going to have easy access to a computer during their planning periods.

In addition to this, there are no personal printers issued to teachers and there is no networked printer available for all staff, except for the one printer in the media center – which is supposed to be reserved for student use. Because of this, many teachers (including myself) have had to find a printer and ink either through donation or personal purchase, in order to print syllabi, lesson plans, student handouts, etc.

Once a teacher has done this, they have been told to take the print-out to the one copy machine available to the entire faculty and staff. All 100 teachers share this one copy machine which, in my own experience, jammed 3 times during one printing of 90 copies. I personally spent 45 minutes printing my 4-page syllabus because I had to spend countless minutes unjamming the printer multiple times.

This is, I fear, going to be an experience many teachers are going to go through (unless they go spend their personal money at a print shop or on their own printers and ink). This copy machine also does not print double-sided, so more paper was wasted than was necessary. It also does not staple or hole-punch, something I am personally going to have to spend time doing for 90 students (or use valuable class time to have students do it). However, I have not received a stapler or a hole-puncher as of yet.

There also are not enough textbooks for students in our English department. I have a class set of 28, but my rosters all contain more than 30 students. Because every other teacher in my department is in a similar situation, I was told I would have to share the textbooks between students during class. Not only do students not have access to their own textbook to take home, but they won’t even have their own textbook in class. The textbook is also in poor condition and was issued in 2007.

As a teacher who must teacher Common Core and other GPS, I must include nonfiction articles and other supplementary materials not found in the course textbook. For that, I must either purchase additional books or print out articles from the internet – both things that will require a printer.

If I desire to differentiate using different texts for students of different levels or different preferences, I am going to need to print additional materials. Both differentiation and the teaching of the standards require either additional purchases in books with nonfiction articles or access to a printer so that these additional articles can be obtained online for free and then reproduced in my classroom.

When teaching grammar and writing, students will need to edit and revise their student papers. This will require either access to a computer or a printed out sample of their writing. There are only 30 laptops available on our hallways of 11 English teachers, so the laptops will not always be available. Therefore, we either need to buy classroom sets of computers or we need to have easy access to print off material necessary to teach higher order writing and thinking skills aligned with the state standards.

To solve these problems, I have received a printer from a friend who donated it. I will buy my own ink during the year. Because I want to use my planning period to call parents, prepare lessons, grade papers, visit student families (if necessary) and assist other teachers (instead of spending countless minutes and hours printing and copying at school), I am going to go to a print shop and pay for all handouts throughout the year. I hope other teachers can afford to do this until the situation can be rectified at our school.

(One teacher proposed projecting the material I wanted to print onto the Promethium board and letting students read the article from the board instead of printing it; however, many students read at different paces and/or cannot see the board from where they will be seated. Also, many best practices involve rereading and interacting with a piece of writing, and this would eliminate that possibility or be very time-consuming in a class of 35.)

If there is anything that you as a parent or as a community member can do to advocate on behalf of the teachers, administrators, and most importantly, the students of Cross Keys HS, please do it! If you want to donate printers, ink, laptops, or printing services, I know that the teachers would greatly appreciate it. If you know any school board members, state representatives, or community advocates, please contact them and make them aware of what is going on at Cross Keys.

These students deserve the very best. They deserve an equal-opportunity education. The majority of our students are immigrants and on free-and-reduced lunch. Let’s do everything we can to ensure that happens in DeKalb County!