Working Together Is the Only Way

Assistant Secretary Cunningham tours Aurora's Todd Early Learning Center with Principal Laurie Klomhaus. Built in the 1930s as an elementary school, Todd lacks wheelchair access.

“In these times of limited resources, working together is the only way,” said Aurora, Ill., Mayor Tom Weisner during Assistant Secretary of Communications and Outreach Peter Cunningham’s visit to his city last month.

The President’s proposed American Jobs Act and its potential impact on modernizing Aurora schools was the major focus of the visit, since many of the schools are 90- 120 years old.

The assistant secretary, however, was also impressed with the local partnerships. “The leaders here are targeting resources in forward-thinking ways,” said Cunningham.

Like many school districts, both Aurora West School District 129 and Aurora East School District 131 cope with decreased state and local funding.  They collectively serve about 26,000 pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, who are primarily low-income.

Cunningham fields a question about bilingual education from Deborah Crump -- a bus driver for Aurora West School District 129.

How is collaboration helping Aurora’s students?

  • Four separate local school districts, Aurora University, and Democratic and Republican state legislators collaborated to develop a new jointly-operated Science Technology Engineering Mathematics partnership school that will serve 200 third- through eighth-grade students and provide STEM training for teachers of all four districts.
  • Aurora West School District 129 teachers accepted pay concessions to prevent 127 layoffs in 2010 — an action that Cunningham told teachers “reflects well on you, but not on overall prosperity of the country.”
  • Aurora West and Aurora East communities are working together and with the rest of the community to address achievement gaps between minority students and their white counterparts in progressive ways.   For example, fewer than half of Aurora’s at-risk children ages 3 and 4 are attending preschool.  In response, municipal, business and community leaders have partnered with the school districts to form the Aurora Early Learning Initiative, aimed at ensuring that all of the city’s children can start kindergarten ready to learn.
  • The districts partnered with local business, government and higher education leaders for a summit last month on “How to Prepare Our Workforce For A Global Summit” hosted by the Illinois Math and Science Academy.  The keynote speaker was Andreas Schleicher of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development — coined “the world’s schoolmaster”  — who came from Paris to discuss how American schools compare with those of other nations, and how Aurora and other communities can learn from global examples.

Aurora participants also made it clear that an increased federal investment in local schools would be welcome, with the two districts targeted to collectively receive an estimated $7 million to modernize its facilities under AJA. Unfunded needs include the costly replacement of aging heating and ventilation systems with energy-efficient models.

Cunningham said that his day in Aurora was a valuable learning opportunity that he and other senior ED officials need to emulate often, around the country.

“We’re focusing outside the Beltway as much as possible, because the real innovation in education goes on in classrooms and not in Washington,” he said.  “We look at education as an upside-down pyramid, and you’re at the top.”

Julie Ewart, Office of Communications and Outreach, Great Lakes Region


  1. It’s true that working together is one way of achieving goal in life for whatever things you want to do. It also helps to improve self confidence and whatever problems encountered it can easily to solve and find a best way to gather some idea of a problem to be tackled.

  2. Dear Freya – The situation you describe is at a school in Missouri and is not related to Aurora schools or the topics discussed in this story, which I wrote. Issues such as yours are usually best handled at the local level. For information about resources that may be available to you, please contact my colleague Patrick Kerr in ED’s regional office in Kansas City, MO at –JE

  3. These schools are ridiculous. I have an incident where a male coach at Ladue Horton High School tried to help my daughter run away and provided her with his personal cell number, spoke to a third party regarding her persoanl business and the School District has refused to release the details of the investigation. They are always hiding real sexual inproprieties pertaining to their staff. But, rush to have unreasonable and harsh punishments for our children. What is the problem with the district addressing the sexual inapproprateness of this perverted coach. I guess Ladue likes having having perverts on staff. The Superintendent has absolutely no problem employing Perverts, and Staff that release personally information about students to ANYONE.


    It is hard enough being a parent to these teenagers nowadays, than to have the people who are suppose to be helping your child, interfere in such a way that could harm them. You all are suppose to be there to teach children responsibility, honesty, integrity, and education. What kind of lesson are you teaching a child, in helping them defy their parents. In helping them disregard their parents rules. What kind of lesson is that? Is that the type of lesson that you would want that same coach teaching YOUR child. If, not, what makes you think its ok to teach it to my child.
    I put her in your district to learn positive things. To receive an education. To learn that you cant always have your way. To learn that in life there are rules, and sometimes we have to follow them whether we like them or not. To learn that you dont run away from your problems, that you face them head on. To learn that you cant run from yourself, no matter how far you run. Not only are you suppose to be teaching these things by example, and education, WE are suppose to be working together to teach these things, and to create as much of an educated, positive individual as we possibly can. You have a coach giving female students his private cell phone number. You have a coach speaking to outside individuals about a student. What is wrong with your Asst. Superintendent Judy Sclair, that makes her down play the seriousness of this matter. Not only do you need to look at the coach, you need to evaluate your Asst. Superintendents response to this matter.
    Im not really into the racial issues that are sometimes introduced into these type of situations. BUT, I was thinking; If this girl was white, and that coach was black, what would your response had been then???? Outrage, I bet !!! Well, lets just pretend the scenario is just that, and lets see some outrage, and proper response. If that type of imagination is what you need to address the inappropriate treatment of my child, then so be it. But, what ever you need to help yourselves seriously address this, DO IT !!!! Im not going away, until I am satisfied that this has been properly handled.

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