Last week Congressman Bobby Scott, Brigadier General Brian Layer, and Newport News Public Schools Superintendent Ashby Kilgore joined Secretary Duncan for stops at the An Achievable Dream network of schools in Newport News, Virginia. The stops were part of the Secretary’s “Listening and Learning Tour” across America. Since May, he has visited communities in nearly 30 states to solicit feedback around federal education policy in anticipation of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
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An Achievable Dream is a unique partnership between Newport News Public Schools, the City of Newport News, and the local business community to give students who are at risk an equal chance to succeed. Students at both the An Achievable Dream Academy and the An Achievable Dream Middle and High School campus attend school for eight hours a day and 210 days a year, compared to the six hours a day and 180 days a year in most schools. Also, there are three mandatory 10-day intersessions where students participate in enrichment and accelerated activities, or remediation if necessary.
Character education is the foundation of An Achievable Dream and is taught every day. Banners with motivational phrases and the well-defined rules of the school are hung throughout the school building. Guest speakers and extracurricular activities are planned around character development themes, including close interaction with soldiers from Fort Eustis Army Base.
At An Achievable Dream Academy, Secretary Duncan and Congressman Scott greeted students and soldiers from Fort Eustis assembled in the gymnasium for a community circle. They read to 1st graders in the Verizon Reading Room and talked with 5th graders enrolled in the school’s mandatory Speaking GREEN class. Speaking GREEN teaches the difference between casual/slang conversation and work-place appropriate conversation. In response to the Secretary’s question on why An Achievable Dream Academy was the right school for them, a 5th grade student offered, “I am here because I want a better future. What I learn here will help me be successful in high school, college and in life.”
Following the stop at An Achievable Dream Academy, the Secretary and Congressman Scott convened a roundtable discussion with local business and community leaders, educators, students and parents at the An Achievable Dream Middle and High School campus. The discussion centered around ways to improve teacher recruitment, professional preparation and induction programs; strategies to prepare students for college and the world of work; and replicating effective dropout prevention models.
Although educators and administrators testified to the quality of the State’s traditional and alternative certification programs, many detailed the difficulties in attracting and retaining talented educators. They urged investment in “grow your own strategies” in tandem with local universities that provide high school students with exposure to the teaching profession. Participants stressed the need to “celebrate” the profession, end the “teacher bashing,” and incentivize the next generation of teachers through competitive salaries and meaningful career growth opportunities.
Community leaders talked about the importance of involving parents in schools and ensuring that “no family is left behind.” They noted, though, that involving all parents effectively is a significant challenge. Local business leaders urged educators to continuously court the business community due to their vested interest in America’s educational system. As one local business leader put it, “we want to invest in what works… we have not yet begun to scratch the surface with the business community in this country.” Superintendent Kilgore passionately talked about the need to replicate and expand models that work to close the achievement gap. “An Achievable Dream is an incubator for us. We take what works here to help other children across the district succeed.”
A single mother who raised five boys simply said, “An Achievable Dream was the path to get my kids to college. This school helped me do that and I am grateful for what they have done.”