Who inspires you?
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s hero is his mother, Sue Duncan, who founded a tutoring center in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods 51 years ago, and continues to lead it today.
The Secretary used his mom’s story to stir an audience of more than 3,000 members of volunteer organizations from throughout the U.S., as she listened from the front row at the plenary session on “Celebrating the Power of Service in Education” for the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in their hometown Chicago on June 19. Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and CNN’s Soledad O’Brien joined Secretary Duncan for the session.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” said Duncan of his mom’s work, which began not far from the conference’s site with “just 9 girls in the downstairs of a church” and has grown to help thousands.
“You had kids — who started off very low, academically — start to do extraordinarily well,” he said. “There were no excuses. If kids weren’t fed, she’d feed them. If kids didn’t have clean clothes, we’d take their clothes home to wash them and bring them back the next day. Whatever it took to help kids fulfill their potential, that’s what her focus was.”
Sue Duncan also demonstrated courage, said her son.
“The church (where the tutoring center was located) was fire bombed,” he explained. “One of my earliest memories is of carrying boxes of books to a new church, to start over again. We went from this situation with lots of potential violence early on to the community really embracing, supporting and actually protecting us.”
Community support is the vital ingredient of the Together for Tomorrow (TFT) initiative kicked-off earlier this year by ED, CNCS and the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at a town hall meeting in Iowa. This has been followed-up with additional forums throughout the nation. With about 25% of young Americans dropping-out of high school each year with no good job opportunities awaiting them, TFT “rallies entire communities to bring together resources in a very targeted and strategic way, to change children’s lives,” said Duncan.
“We need to wrap our hands our arms, our love around these children and support teachers, faculty members, administrators in any way we can. We can do this with service,” Spencer said.
Spencer said that she and Secretary Duncan will soon be announcing the first one-hundred communities across America that will participate in the TFT School Improvement Challenge for the 2012-2013 school year. The Challenge is an opportunity for schools and districts, institutions of higher education, and nonprofit organizations to join with other partners to improve their neediest schools by raising key measurable student outcomes. It is not a new grant program, but rather an approach to better coordinate resources and efforts. Applicants have until June 29, 2012, to submit their plans. More details about the Challenge are at tft.challenge.gov.
While funding is a consistent issue in education, Duncan has learned through his own experiences – beginning with his mother’s efforts — that money is not the ultimate solution.
“Some people think that the only way to fix education is to fix poverty first,” he said. “I think the only way to fix poverty is to fix education.”
–Julie Ewart is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Chicago Regional Office.