Teachers at Woodson High School are dressing down to stand up for higher salaries.
Faculty members at the Fairfax school are abandoning their professional attire to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with stagnating salary levels in county schools.
The campaign, dubbed “A Dressing Down,” starts on Monday the first day of third quarter. Participants hope that the effort will spark a larger discussion about teacher treatment in the school system.
“We’re shedding our professional attire and sticking with the practical,” said Drew Marvin, an English teacher at Woodson. “We’ll dress up in our professional clothes again once our professional pay is restored.”
Teachers from Woodson are encouraging other schools to participate in “A Dressing Down.” At McLean High School, teachers are organizing a separate publicity campaign calling for higher teacher salaries, another sign of the unrest bubbling across the county.
“There’s nothing left to lose now,” said Dean Howarth, a physics teacher at McLean. “I think that’s where a lot of the rank-and-file teachers are.”
The school system’s proposed budget for the next school year includes $41 million for a 2 percent salary increase for most school employees, including teachers.
Teachers, though, say this problem has been years in the making. Teachers in Fairfax have only received an equivalent bump in pay once in the past five years, in 2012. Pay was frozen in 2010 and 2011 because of the economic recession, and in the past two years teachers have made do with only modest increases.
“It’s been a good half-decade of watching our paychecks stagnate or even decline,” Marvin said.
At Woodson, the idea for a demonstration started as a lunchroom conversation.
“We were looking at our paychecks and saying, ‘At this rate, we’re going to be hobos and still teaching in the classroom,’” Marvin said.
That inspired the idea to “dress down” to raise awareness for teachers’ salary squeeze.
The county’s dress code for teachers states: “Employees shall dress and conduct themselves in a professional manner.” As this is open to interpretation, some organizers have left interpretation of “dressing down” to individual teachers. Some plan to show up in jeans, T-shirts and sneakers, while others are simply ditching their blazers or ties.
“It’s a way of showing support and solidarity for changing teacher salary across the county,” said Woodson Principal Jeff Yost. “They can wear on their sleeve the disrespect they feel.”
A key factor in the Woodson campaign is that the dressing down has no impact on teacher responsibilities. According to Marvin, he and his fellow teachers do not want to cut back.
“That’s one of the reasons teachers are so easy to squeeze,” Marvin said. “The county knows we want to support our kids, and so we’re not going to cut back on anything that will affect them.”
Still, teachers have watched their salaries fall behind their peers in the region. Last year, the average salary for teachers in Fairfax County ranked below Montgomery County, Arlington County and Alexandria, according to statistics from the Washington Area Boards of Education, and the divide only grows as teachers gain experience.
“We want the public to know what’s happening and the damage being done to one of the supporting columns of Fairfax,” Marvin said.