Since the “Little Rock Nine” helped integrate Central in 1957, the school has become a mix of more than 2,400 students of various races, socio-economic backgrounds and communities. It is also now regarded as one of America’s top-performing public high schools. In a nation where more than a quarter of students drop out before completing high school, Central High sends 80 percent of its graduates to college.
This morning, in front of the high school’s Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic façade, Secretary Duncan joined Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and state Commissioner of Education Tom Kimbrell to applaud Central’s achievements since its dark days a half century ago when nine African American teenagers were stopped by National Guard troops when they tried to enter the all-white school.
“From that extra tough experience,” Arne said, “a beautiful flower has grown. And if it can happen here, ladies and gentlemen, it can happen anywhere in the country.”
The Secretary, who was born seven years after what they refer to here as “the crisis,” recalled learning about it in school. He told Minnijean Brown Trickey, a “Little Rock Nine” member in today’s audience, “I can’t tell you how much your courage motivated me and motivated so many young people growing up around the country.”
Arne’s first meeting on campus was with a group of Central’s teachers in the school’s library. They asked questions about federal education policy and the Obama administration’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which most teachers know as No Child Left Behind. The teachers shared their ideas for improving the law and suggested ways to support a well-rounded curriculum and evaluate teachers.
Arne took this away from their conversation: “For all the progress and success [at the school], nobody is complacent. Nobody is saying, ‘We’ve arrived.’ Everybody’s hungry to get better. And that’s what we have to continue to do as a country. We have to educate our way to a better economy.”
For politicians and policymakers, he told the teachers, “our only job is to support you, to help this country start to recognize how critically important teachers are to our future.”
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