NEA President Begins 2011 National Back-to-School Tour

“One of the things I love about teaching is that you get to start brand new with the beginning of each new school year,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said today. Van Roekel was in Dayton, Ohio on Monday visiting Westwood Elementary School and Belmont High School to kick-off NEA’s five-day, seven-city back-to-school tour.

“Standing Strong for Students” is the theme for this year’s tour, which is crisscrossing the country to spotlight school districts that are leaders in union-led innovation and collaboration. As budget cuts and damaging policies undermine their schools and classrooms, teachers and support professionals are forging ahead, working with their colleagues, administrators and community leaders to improve student learning. Dayton public schools is a national leader in this effort.

“From larger classes to shrinking programs, public education is facing unprecedented challenges,” said Ohio Education Association President Patricia Frost-Brooks, who accompanied Van Roekel in Dayton. “Yet with a steadfast commitment to our students, we push on. “

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel (right) in Dayton on Monday with Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Lori Ward (left) and David Romick, president of the Dayton Education Association.

The tour also marks the beginning of the second year of the Priority Schools Campaign (PSC), NEA’s multi-year effort to help transform low-performing schools across the nation.

Van Roekel will also be visiting Romulus, Michigan and Orlando and Miami, Florida. NEA Secretary Treasurer Becky Pringle is visiting Evansville, Indiana, Seattle, Washington, and Clark County, Nevada.

In Evansville on Monday, Pringle was joined by Evansville Teachers Association President Keith Gambill, Indiana State Teachers Association President Nate Schnellenberger and Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation Superintendent David Smith. Pringle visited Evans School and McGary Middle School and witnessed examples of  extraordinary collaboration between the school administration and the union in Evansville. The contract bargained by the two groups put extra focus on three schools that have had trouble raising test scores.  The bargained contract empowers educators to make the changes that they, as professionals, believe will work.

“I talk about Evansville all the time when I speak about school transformation, but I don’t hold up Evansville as a cookie-cutter model everyone should follow,” said Pringle. “That doesn’t work. What administrators did was to empower these teachers to make the best decisions for their school.”

In Dayton, Van Roekel was joined by Frost-Brooks, Dayton Education Association President David Romick, and Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Lori L. Ward. At Westwood Elementary, Van Roekel visited with students, staff, and administrators, and visited classrooms.

In the afternoon, Van Roekel headed over to Belmont High School, where collaboration between staff, administration, the district and local law enforcement has lead to an extraordinary drop in reported crimes and a significant improvement in student achievement. Quite a change for a school once known as “Hellmont.”

Belmont was the school where the lowest-performing and most troubled students were dumped in the district. Not surprisingly, the school was also a revolving door for teachers. But now, with discipline improving, the school is also achieving academic results. In the 2008 – 2009 school year, 30 percent of freshmen were promoted to sophomores. The following year, 63 percent were promoted and this year, 2010 – 2011, 84 percent of freshman will move on to their sophomore year.

Combined with the leadership of President Romick and Principal David White, a key to the Priority Schools Campaign’s work in Belmont is professional development to help educators engage culturally-diverse students and students from low-income families. Van Roekel led a discussion on the importance of effective partnerships that engage all education stakeholders—teachers, parents, community leaders and elected officials. Belmont, he said, exemplifies the NEA value of educators having partners in improving schools.

“In these changing times, providing every child with a world-class education requires more from all of us,” said Van Roekel. “Teaching and learning can’t just occur in the classroom. We must work together to help more students, in more ways and more effectively. We all—teachers, students, parents, elected officials and community leaders—are accountable for our children’s success.”