NEA President: Public Schools are the Cornerstone of our Communities

public schools weekOn Wednesday, the Learning First Alliance brought together a panel of educators and parents to discuss the pursuit of excellence in America’s public schools and how lawmakers and communities can support public education. The panel, “Faces of Success,” was moderated by Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. The event was part of Public Schools Week 2020, Feb. 24-28, 2020.

“America’s public schools educate the vast majority of our students in the United States, regardless of ability, race, wealth, language, religion, zip code or country of origin,” said Eskelsen García. “Public schools are the cornerstone of our communities. We’re asking our federal lawmakers, state officials and community leaders to recognize the important roles that public schools play in securing our students’ and our nation’s future and asking them to give public schools their full support.”

Eskelsen García began by asking the panelists to identify some of the best ways we can support students and educators in their schools. Here’s how they responded. (Answers edited for brevity)

ElizaBeth Branham, president of National School Boards Association, said we need to do a better job of telling our story, like during Public Schools Week, so we can advocate for the resources we need. We need to be working together for full funding of IDEA, for example, and finding ways to address the teacher shortage. “It’s frightening how few people are going into public education as a career,” she said.

Lesley Bruinton, Public Relations Coordinator of Tuscaloosa City Schools, Alabama, and President-elect of the National School Public Relations Association, said we to support teacher voices as part of decision making; we need teachers at the table. “They are talented, creative, and incredibly smart. We’ve got to elevate the teaching profession,” Bruinton said.

Kerensa Wing, National Association of Secondary School Principals 2019 Principal of the Year, Collins Hill High School, Suwanee, Ga., pointed to Social and Emotional Learning. She believes ensuring there is a caring adult for every student in our buildings is essential. “With the highest rates of trauma than ever before, we need training for teachers and leaders to be trauma-informed.” Wing added that self-care for teachers who work with students in trauma is also incredibly important. 

Laura Ross, American School Counselor’s Association 2020 School Counselor of the Year, Five Forks Middle School, Lawrenceville, Ga. replied that counselors need more time to apply training and skills to support students and truly connect with them.

Andy Jacks, NAESP Center for Innovative Leadership Fellow, 2018 Virginia Principal of the Year, and a 2018 National Distinguished Principal, Ashland Elementary School, Manassas, Va., said we need to support all students from all backgrounds and we need more personnel to address their different needs.

Ashley Kearney, District of Columbia Public Schools Teacher of the Year 2020 and math teacher, Ron Brown College Preparatory High School; Washington Teachers Union, Washington, D.C., said policy makers and lawmakers need to shadow teachers so that they can see and feel what we do, to really understand what students go through each day. “Untie our hands,” she said. “Give us resources, and don’t be so prescribed with curriculum that we can’t enjoy the art of teaching.”

Dr. Curtis Jones, AASA – The School Superintendent’s Association, 2019 Superintendent of the Year, Bibb County School District, Ga. said our educators need more time for learning and growing as educators. “We tell them about new problems, and then they have to figure out how to learn how to solve those problems and practice those new techniques during the school year,” Jones explained. “There’s no time. We need to dig deeper into new practices to figure it out and get it right. That takes time.”

The panelists also addressed how to engage the community, identified emerging issues in public schools, and discussed the challenges and changes in public education that energize and excite them. You can watch the entire discussion below: