Secretary Duncan listens to NYSUT members discuss the union’s work to improve teacher effectiveness.
Teacher effectiveness is the most important factor in student success – and educators and state leaders are working together to improve the quality of teachers in New York.
On today’s second stop on the “Courage in the Classroom” bus tour, Secretary Duncan visited the headquarters of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the state’s teacher union, to hear about how districts and teachers building models to support teacher development and improve teacher evaluation.
“The common goal that we all have is that every child has an effective teacher,” NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi told the secretary, state officials, and union leaders at the event.
Members of NYSUT in six New York cities are working collaboratively with district leaders to create comprehensive models to improve the effectiveness of teachers in the classroom. The work is intended to help “strong teachers get better and struggling teachers improve,” said Karen Rock, a special education teacher in Plattsburgh, which is participating in the effort.
The U.S. Department of Education recently named the teacher-development program a finalist for a grant from the Investing in Innovation fund. With New York’s grant under the Race to the Top program, the state will be creating a new teacher evaluation program.
“We’re investing in you because of your collective leadership, your collective courage, and your willingness to take on these tough issues,” Secretary Duncan told the group.
HATTIESBURG, Miss.–Teachers often have to squeeze lunch into their busy days, so we were honored that a group of educators from Hattiesburg’s public schools took time Friday to have a sandwich with Arne on the high school campus. The conversation touched on topics that have come up throughout the Courage in the Classroom Tour, including how to assess students’ learning and how to recruit, compensate and evaluate teachers.
JACKSON, Miss.—At the Kids Kollege Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School, the children aren’t called students; they’re called scholars. And the adults aren’t teachers; they’re servant leaders.
That’s how this after-school program serving disadvantaged children in Mississippi’s capital sets high expectations for everyone.
The program is a partnership between Jackson State University, a historically black college, and Children’s Defense Fund. CDF’s founder, Marian Wright Edelman, joined the Courage in the Classroom Tour this morning in Jackson. There, Secretary Duncan listened to a group of Kids Kollege interns talk about why they are drawn to the field of education.
Watch video from this morning’s visit to Jackson State University:
We’ve been fortunate on the Courage in the Classroom tour to have a number of state-level leaders join us along the way. On Thursday the state education commissioner of Arkansas, Dr. Tom Kimbrell, and the state superintendent in Louisiana, Paul Pastorek, both hopped on the bus and joined us at the day’s events. On Friday we welcomed aboard Dr. Tom Burnham, Mississippi’s superintendent of education, for stops in Jackson and Hattiesburg.
“I believe very strongly as educational leaders that one of our challenges is to stay connected with the teachers, and stay connected with the classrooms,” he said of the tour’s value.
Dr. Burnham assumed his position in January. It’s his second tour of duty as head of Mississippi’s K-12 public education system. In between stints he has served as the dean of the School of Education at the University of Mississippi and as a district superintendent in Biloxi, Miss., and in Henderson County, N.C. He began his career as a classroom teacher and coach.
Mississippi teachers, he said, “are working each day with a great deal of passion, they’re working each day with a great deal of professionalism, and in most cases a pretty significant level of preparation to be successful”—but, all too often, inadequate resources.
“At the end of the day, each day, many of these people go home very, very tired from having attempted to achieve success,” he said.
Here’s video of our conversation with Dr. Burnham aboard the bus:
TALLULAH, La.—The Madison High School Jaguars brought a ringer onto the basketball court with them Thursday evening: a Cabinet secretary.
After a day of events in Arkansas and Louisiana, Secretary Duncan changed out of his suit and tie for a 30-minute scrimmage with the team. More than 300 students, parents, teachers and members of this 9,200-person community turned out to watch and cheer.
The well-coached Jaguars evidently have developed a system that works for them, running plays smoothly and connecting on their passes. It took Arne’s young teammates awhile to adjust to a new player—his no-look passes seemed to throw them off their game—but they soon found a rhythm. At halftime, Arne’s team trailed 38-42.
One of the teachers watching from the bleachers was Hazel S. Suluki. Forty-three years ago, as a senior in college, she was thrust into leading her first classroom when her student-teaching mentor left mid-year. She has been in education ever since—as an elementary school teacher, a principal and director of school-based health. For the last two years she’s been at Madison. Ask her which of the students on the court tonight were hers and she’ll say “all of them.”
Ms. Suluki teaches “life skills” at Madison. She helps high schoolers create résumés and prep for job interviews. She teaches them how to take the knowledge they’ve gained in their academic classes and apply it to their lives beyond the classroom.
“Not all of our children are going to go to college,” she believes, “but they are going to have some type of job.”
As for her own job, this grandmother of eight has no plans to retire.
“I just want to keep giving something back. I want to be a school marm forever,” she said. “I want to wear out, not rust out.”
When the basketball players come to class on Friday, Ms. Suluki plans to discuss what they learned from their pick-up game with the visiting Secretary of Education. She noticed the boys seemed comfortable enough with their temporary teammate to shove him on the court like any other opponent. “It’s like he’s just a big friend out there to them,” she said.
The final score of Thursday evening’s game: 58-56. Arne and his half of the Mighty Jaguars squad pulled out a victory.
“I love the school spirit here,” he told the crowd after the game. “I love the camaraderie. Hope you guys have a great, great school year.”
The “Courage in the Classroom” tour pulled our big blue bus into Monroe, La., on Thursday afternoon. Here’s what we did in town:
Growing Good Habits
Just as there’s promise in a new school year, there’s promise in the sprouts that have popped up through the dirt of the garden at J.S. Clark Magnet School. In time there will be peppers, eggplant and herbs.
Teachers, students and families at J.S. Clark have been embarking on a schoolwide health, nutrition and exercise program. The cafeteria menu has been redesigned to include more whole grains and vegetables, and a registered dietitian teaches healthy habits to students—and adults.
“All of us need to be in better shape,” Principal Christie Taylor said during a roundtable with folks involved in this important initiative.
We got word that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers was having a back-to-school meeting at a Monroe community center, so we rolled on over for a drop-in before heading out of town. This was no ordinary meeting. For one thing, it had a soundtrack. We had a great time with these teachers. See for yourself.
HAMBURG, Ark.—In this small town Tonya Higginbotham is a student, a teacher—and a role model. It’s not her job to also mow the grass outside the elementary school, but she does it anyway. A single mother, she wants the best for her two sons, her school, the community she serves, and the school district that paid her way to college.
As in many rural areas, Hamburg’s schools are the center of community life, and partnerships with the education system benefit the entire community.
Hamburg has teamed up with the University of Arkansas-Monticello to train engaged parents like Ms. Higginbotham to become early childhood teachers, creating a pipeline of talented, passionate and motivated teachers with a personal stake in the success of their schools.
Working together, parents, schools and the university are preparing Hamburg’s children to be successful from the moment they enter elementary school. They are attempting to create better outcomes for students as they progress through secondary school and enter college and the career of their choice.
Secretary Duncan toured Hamburg’s Pre-Kindergarten program on Thursday afternoon.
With approximately a million teachers expected to retire over the next five years, our nation needs to nurture more ways to recruit and develop the next generation of great teachers. Our economy, our national security, and our standing in the world depend on it.
Small rural communities, like Hamburg, are showing how partnerships and an investment in their community can empower parents and career-changers, and set an example for students to follow. They are meeting their immediate need for quality early-learning programs and planting the seed for students to follow into a career in teaching, where they will have the power to positively influence the lives of children.
Case in point: Ms. Higginbotham’s son Blake attended Hamburg’s preschool program as a boy and is now in his third year at UA-Monticello’s education school. A former Americorps volunteer, he wants to return to his old grade school to teach.
“I want to be here,” he says. “I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
Hamburg’s schools are giving families a reason to stay here, and are using a partnership with higher education as a way to strengthen their schools and their community’s future.
See photos from Secretary Duncan’s visit to the Hamburg Pre-Kindergarten program.
John White Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach
Recovery Act funds paid for new lighting in the library's media center, along with other school improvements.
HAMBURG, Ark.—The people of this rural town in southeastern Arkansas will be the first to tell you there aren’t many jobs here, but thanks to the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) there have been more jobs lately. More than $1 million in federal stimulus funding has gone into the local schools, Superintendent Max Dyson told us this afternoon.
At Hamburg High School, that investment has meant better lighting in the library’s media center and hallways, new exterior doors and a camera system to improve campus security. To students, the best improvement has been the ARRA-funded upgrades to the school’s bathrooms.
“Kids take care of something that’s nice,” Dyson said. “If they know you took time to improve it, they’re going to be nice to it.”
Hamburg Supt. Max Dyson shows off the high school's improvements to Asst. Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana.
Hamburg High was built in 1972, an era of flat roofs in school construction. With money from a local school bond, the roof is being raised and replaced, and new classrooms and science labs are being added so that 9th graders can move over from the middle school campus.
These improvement projects have meant work for local contractors in Ashley County, Dyson said, including some with family members in Hamburg’s schools.
“We’ve done a lot with the stimulus money, and we think we would not have been able to have done it if we had not had the money,” Superintendent Dyson said. “Did stimulus money work? Yes, yes, it did.”
AR Commissioner of Education Dr. Tom Kimbrell knows about teaching. He was a science teacher for 4 years. Then, he served as Superintendent of Paragould District and North Little Rock District for another 15 years. As the Commissioner of Education, his mission is to ensure that students in Arkansas have effective teachers in the classroom. This morning, he joined us on the bus tour. This is what he had to say:
LITTLE ROCK—The building of Central High looks almost exactly as it did when the school was built in 1927. The students, however, do not.
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.”