Cook and Holl lead the Rutherford Education Association


Courtesy of Geneva Cook

Geneva Cook and Sienna Holl are president and vice president of the Rutherford Education Association.

Every American must pass through specific doors at least once in their life to gain higher knowledge about the world around them. The public school system is a system people go through to do this. 

In Rutherford County Schools, a group of teachers and administrators who see the flaws of this system are working together toward the goal to make it better. This group is called the Rutherford Education Association (REA).  

Two teachers from Blackman High School are leading the REA this year. 

Geneva Cook, an English IV teacher, is the current president. 

“It’s an association that really cares about teachers and cares about the profession as a whole. It is a group that is there to do a lot of things. There’s advocacy, we’re there to answer a lot of teachers’ questions, but we’re also able to talk to lawmakers about things we are concerned about with education law,” stated Cook. 

Sienna Holl, an English l teacher at Blackman High School, is the vice president of this association.  

“The Rutherford Education Association is a group of passionate educators who believe in public education and believe in working towards what public education could be and should be. It is hopeful and it is passionate,” said Holl. 

Both Cook and Holl give a lot of their time to make a difference.  

We work to make a difference in public schools by contacting and meeting with our local legislators. We tell them about the most critical needs in our school system. This week we are contacting the state Board of Education to tell them how increased school funding will improve the educational experience for Tennessee students,” stated Cook. 

Joining this association, both Cook and Holl did not know they would have a passion for helping better the public school system.  

Holl initially joined for legal reasons.  

“You just never know when something might be misunderstood, and you have to answer for something that came out of your mouth. I know that happens to educators often, so originally, I wanted to be protected. But as I got involved and started meeting the people who are involved, I realized I have a real passion. . . for advocacy and for working toward making the system better,” said Holl. 

As for Cook, she did not always have a leadership mindset. 

“For many years, I was just a member. I paid my dues, but I was not really involved. Once my own children grew up, moved out of the house, and I had some more time on my hands I was like I really want to be more involved,” stated Cook. 

Many believe this system has flaws and have a passion for change. Who exactly can be a part of this particular association? Holl has the answers. 

“Primarily teachers as well as administrators [can join REA]. We do have some support people: custodians and [educational assistants] are also members. I just signed a sub teacher a few weeks ago so anybody in our realm, just about, is eligible to be a member,” said Holl. 

If any students are interested in this cause, there is another association for them. 

“There is a Tennessee Education Association Student Teachers, which I was a part of when I was in college,” stated Holl. 

Each meeting held leads to more conversations. 

“I meet with the President all the time. Our Executive Board meets once a month, and President Cook and I meet with Super Attendant Spurlock on a regular basis,” said Holl. 

The COVID-19 pandemic was a big issue last year. Now, that issue is slowly becoming smaller. 

“The biggest thing right now, really, is teacher planning time. State law requires that teachers have 150 minutes in a week but because there’s been a real problem with not having enough substitutes, teachers are having to watch other people’s classes during their planning time, so they are not getting that. This is all over the county at every school, and it’s really all over the country,” stated Cook.  

Even with substitutes, the time teachers get to plan for their job is questionable. 

“Even the law-mandated planning time is not enough to do everything we need to do and do it well, so teachers already spend lots of time out of school to do this job well. We care and want to do it well, so when you take away the in-school planning time, too, that is even more a problem,” said Holl. 

The pressure teachers feel is real and abundant, especially during these unsure times. The conversations about these topics will continue. 

“Teachers feel as if the weight of the world is on our shoulders. Nobody seems to have answers. We have had conversations, but no solutions,” stated Holl. 

These issues do not just apply to Rutherford County Schools. This is happening across the country.  

With the help of the Rutherford Education Association run by Cook and Holl, real change can happen.