Working to Protect College Students from Unfair Banking Practices

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is cracking down on school-bank partnerships that unfairly target college students receiving federal student aid. Last Friday, ED announced proposed regulations that would ensure students aren’t required to receive their federal student aid on prepaid or debit cards that charge fees for overdrawing the accounts. Other proposed changes would:

  • Provide protections against unreasonable account fees
  • Strengthen account transparency offered to students, and
  • Protect their personal information from being shared without their consent.

The proposal will impact over nine million postsecondary students receiving about $25 billion in Pell Grants and Direct Loans by providing tougher standards and greater transparency between colleges and companies in the rapidly expanding college debit and prepaid marketplace.

Additionally, under the proposed regulations, the Secretary would have the right to establish a method for directly paying credit balances to student aid recipients if the Department determines that student and taxpayer interests would be better served.

Some schools across the country are entering into agreements with financial institutions that require students to receive their financial aid on a prepaid or debit card offered only by that financial institution. U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said that the proposed rules would give students flexibility. “Students need objective, neutral information about their account options,” he said. “Students should be able to choose to receive deposits to their own checking accounts and not be forced to utilize debit cards with obscure and unreasonable fees.”

Ultimately, the proposed regulations are about accountability and fairness. Given the number of students affected by the emergence of these troubling practices, the amount of taxpayer-funded assistance at stake, and the expanding scope of the market, regulatory action became necessary.

The Department welcomes input on the proposed regulation and comments can be submitted online at www.regulations.gov for the next 45 days. The Department’s regulations are subject to the Higher Education Act’s “master calendar,” which means that any final regulations published on or before November 1 are effective on July 1 of the following year.

Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

Duncan Highlights Grad Rate, Calls for More Action

Secretary Duncan sat down for a conversation with America’s Promise Alliance’s president and CEO, John Gomperts, Tuesday to talk about the state of education in the country. The conversation came on the heels of the APA’s release of the Building on a Grad Nation report that both highlighted the record high school graduation rate at 81.4 percent and indicated the nation remained on pace to meet the organization’s goal of 90 percent on-time graduation by 2020.

While Duncan celebrated the promising gains in the graduation rate—particularly among students of color—he called for more action to not only improve graduation rates, but to ensure that those who graduate are truly ready for college and career. “This is not mission accomplished,” he said. “This is not the promised land.”

Making sure students today are college and career ready is the real measuring stick for success in today’s knowledge-based economy – not just getting a high school diploma. If a student shows up to college in need of remedial courses, then we as a nation still have much work to do.

“While we should be encouraged by projections like the one in this year’s Grad Nation report, we know that more hard work remains to truly prepare all—not just some—students for success in college, careers and life. Education must be the equalizer that can help overcome the odds stacked against too many of our students,” Duncan said during the event.

Duncan argued that a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is necessary if we are to fulfill the right of all children to have a real opportunity to succeed.

We must “work with huge urgency, honesty, and humility,” Duncan said, if we are going to ensure that our nation, that is for the first time majority minority, continues to show progress that ensures all kids get the opportunity to succeed.

Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

Marking the 50th Anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

esea50

Yesterday, joined by civil rights leaders, students, and educators, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), at the Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial Library in Washington, D.C.

In a speech, followed by a question and answer, Duncan discussed the education progress that America has seen in the past half-century and the work still ahead in closing achievement gaps – including the need for Congress to reauthorize a strong ESEA–also known as No Child Left Behind.

ESEA marked an extraordinary step for education, and for civil rights. The fight for educational opportunity and the fight for civil rights always have been and always will be inextricably linked.

ESEA has built a foundation under our nation’s schools, helping to raise the bar for every child, and to ensure that the resources are there for those most in need. It’s helped create an expectation that no matter where you live in this country, when students aren’t making progress, local leaders will come together to make change—especially if they are students with disabilities, students who are still learning English, students from a particular racial group, students who live in poverty, or students coming from particular school.

But Duncan said that there is still work to go:

“Our work will not be done until we ensure that opportunity is not just a possibility, but a promise.”

Duncan told the audience that teachers and principals know that ESEA is long overdue for repairs, and what needs to be done to fix the bill.

It is broken and it is wildly out of date. We need a new law that does a lot more to support innovation and creativity by educators and communities—and a lot less to stifle that creativity.

A new law must stay true to the vision that opportunity isn’t somehow optional; it’s a right—for every child in this country. We cannot afford to leave any of our talent on the sidelines.

Opportunity is a right that inspires teachers and principals to literally dedicate their lives to empowering our children.

It’s a right that encourages parents to expect their child will graduate from college and succeed in life, even if, even maybe especially if, those parents never had that chance themselves.

Our work is not done until we have lived up to that promise. To do that, we need a strong new ESEA that fulfills the right of all children to have a real opportunity to succeed.

Watch highlights from today’s speech:

Learn More:

Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Visit to Virginia Elementary School Underscores Commitment to Early Ed

Secretary Duncan walks and talks to a student at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Alexandria, VA. (Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan walks and talks to a student at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Alexandria, VA. (Paul Wood/U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Arne Duncan and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Learning Libby Doggett stopped at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Alexandria, VA., Wednesday to talk about the importance of early education with a group of parents, teachers, local administrators and community leaders. The school runs a PreK-5 program and has eight preschool classes.  Teachers at the event didn’t hide their enthusiasm for the benefits that preschool brings to their classroom.

“The majority of my students this year have attended preschool. And I have not had a classroom like this. Ever,” said Lori Shabazz,  Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teaching Award winner in 2014 and kindergarten teacher at the school. “I’ve been teaching kindergarten for 19 years.”

In years past, she had to devote most of her time to remediating students who weren’t ready for kindergarten. Students came to her class unprepared both academically and socially—up to 86% of them failed assessments. But this school year has been different. For the first time ever, she has been able to dedicate most of her class time to a kindergarten appropriate curriculum. And the results have been remarkable.

“Each kindergarten teacher should get this experience. That has a class that’s ready for kindergarten,” she said.

Duncan used the opportunity to not only learn more about how the early learning program has transformed the school culture, but also to talk about the administration’s vision for changing the education landscape in the country through ESEA reauthorization. A critical component of the plan includes expanding early learning opportunities for children nationwide—especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We as a nation can take the next step… And work together to make sure every child enters kindergarten ready to be successful. And our kindergarten teachers around the nation will tell us when that happens, amazing things happen in classrooms,” he said.

Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Highlighting Success in Delaware

Howard HS of Technology

Students at Howard High School of Technology. (Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover)

Secretary Arne Duncan made several stops in Delaware yesterday to get a firsthand look at the incredible progress made in education throughout the state. Delaware’s graduation rate has gone up, and dropout rates are at a 30-year low. The state is also making huge investments in early education and has emerged as a national leader in making college more affordable for everyone.

His first stop was at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, a school that was really struggling when he visited the school with Vice President Biden four years ago. But thanks to key reforms put in place since then, the school has made significant strides. While acknowledging the school’s accomplishments, he underscored the need to keep moving forward.

“Long way to go, no one’s putting up a huge ‘mission accomplished’ banner, but… as I’ve seen in schools as I’ve traveled the nation, schools that historically have struggled, have seen significant turnarounds in a relatively short period of time,” he said.

While there, he met with Governor Jack Markell, Education Secretary Mark Murphy, and a group of teachers who are leading key efforts at their schools to transition to higher standards and better assessments.

Other stops included a visit to the Rotary Club in Wilmington, and a stop at Delaware Technical Community College in Stanton with Labor Secretary Tom Perez for a roundtable discussion with students and business leaders and a conversation about the President’s proposal to make two years of community college free for responsible students.

The trip was both an affirmation of the hard work being done, but also an opportunity to remind stakeholders that there is still much left to do. While recognizing the many challenges that come with implementing big and bold changes to education (such as college and career readiness), he strongly urged educators to persevere.


“The lessons here are really profound, and the progress is fantastic, but what happens here, I think has national implications,” he said.


Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach

On Tour’s First Day, a First Lady

The state of Georgia is home to many notable “firsts.” It was the first state to lower the voting age to 18; the first Coca-Cola was poured in Atlanta; and in 1922, 87-year-old Rebecca Felton, of Georgia, became the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. So it’s fitting that the U.S. Department of Education’s “Partners in Progress” back-to-school bus tour had its first stopping point in the state.

In keeping with the “first” theme, the tour began at Spelman College, America’s first historically black college for women, in Atlanta. There, Secretary Arne Duncan met with 15 students from Spelman and two other HBCUs in the area, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, for a roundtable discussion on preparing teachers from a variety of backgrounds to work in America’s increasingly diverse public schools.

arne_selfie

Students at Spelman welcomed Secretary Duncan during the first stop on this year’s “Partners In Progress” Bus Tour. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Whether through traditional preparation programs at schools of education like Spelman’s or through alternative routes like Teach For America, our country’s schools need to recruit the next generation of talent from many different backgrounds, Secretary Duncan said. Schools — and the people who work in them — need to be connected to the communities they serve.

“Where schools are isolated from their communities,” he said at the roundtable, “that makes the work of that teacher that much harder.”

The next stop was at nearby Booker T. Washington High School, where Secretary Duncan was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama. The two were greeted by hundreds of cheering Bulldogs in royal blue shirts, fired up by the marching band and cheerleaders.

students_cheer

The Booker T. Washington High School Bulldogs cheered as the First Lady took the stage to talk about her Reach Higher initiative. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Booker T. Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. attended high school, was the latest high school to hear from Mrs. Obama about her own journey to college, from the South Side of Chicago to Princeton University — and how some adults along the way doubted she could do it.

The First Lady’s main objective was to talk about her Reach Higher initiative, which seeks to inspire all students in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school. That can come in the form of a four-year college degree, a two-year degree or a certificate that helps them get a job.

“You have to understand that completing high school is not the end but the beginning of your life’s journey,” Mrs. Obama said. “It’s just the beginning. In today’s world, in order to compete in an ever-globalizing economy, you’ve got to continue your education after you graduate from high school.”

Day one of the bus tour wrapped up in Carrollton, a small Georgia community near the Alabama border. Duncan met with school officials and representatives from the Southwire Company to hear more about the “12 for Life” program, which offers students who have fallen behind in high school the opportunity to attend class and make money by working in a Southwire manufacturing facility.

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Tour time! Secretary Duncan joined students enrolled in the “12 for Life” program on a tour of a Southwire manufacturing facility. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Similar partnerships between Georgia school districts and business have resulted in 34 locations throughout the state, at Southwire but also in the grocery industry, furniture manufacturing and local government. A four-year $3 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education is helping to expand the number of students participating in 12 for Life from 160 to 320.

Students from the program led Arne on a tour of the factory floor — Southwire is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of telecommunications and home wiring — and they shared inspiring and deeply personal testimonies about the technical, leadership and life skills that they’ve acquired while earning their high school diploma.

Brittany Beachum was pregnant when her high school counselor suggested she apply to 12 for Life. “Not one time did not graduating cross my mind,” she said, “Being here gave me the opportunity to attend school and not give up, because of the supports.” Now Brittany is enrolled at West Georgia Technical College and expects to be certified as a nursing assistant by December. There’s a job waiting for her at the nearby veterans hospital, she said, and she wants to continue her training to become a registered  nurse.

This year marks the fifth back-to-school bus tour for Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education. Traveling through Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama will provide an opportunity to see innovations in education and to discuss progress, promise, and results.

Throughout the tour, we are focusing on the changes in education and the challenges that accompany them, all while highlighting the champions of reform — teachers, parents, community members, and others — who are leading the effort to improve education for all students. Traveling through places that represent the cradle of this country’s civil rights effort, the tour also focuses on important work that is closing opportunity gaps that many young Americans face.

Today, our tour bus will roll through Birmingham and Huntsville, Ala., and Chattanooga, Tenn. Check back for a recap of those events. And for more information about the tour and to follow along virtually, visit here.

Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development team in the Office of Communications and Outreach. 

Bringing the Classroom Outside Creates a Lasting Impression

WOLF Archery Photo

Students line up for archery class, one of the many outdoor activities included in the program at Wonders of the Ozarks Learning Facility in Springfield, Missouri.

Imagine a school that allows students to canoe down a river, hold a bird of prey, and rappel down a cliff wall, among numerous other fun and exciting outdoor activities, for an entire school year. This one-of-a-kind opportunity is available through the WOLF (Wonders of the Ozarks Learning Facility) program, the product of a successful public-private partnership between the Springfield, Missouri public school system, Bass Pro Shops, and the Wonders of Wildlife Museum. And the best part about it is it’s free.

The yearlong school is open to 46 fifth-graders (23 boys and 23 girls) who are chosen from throughout the district by lottery system. They come from an economically and culturally diverse population of students, and include children from rural, urban, Title I, and high-need schools. It is not a gifted program and there are no academic requirements for acceptance.

Students initially learn about conserving local ecosystems in the classroom, and then experience those lessons firsthand by exploring the natural wonders of the Ozark region. By seamlessly blending a traditional 5th grade curriculum into a hands-on, place-based education, the school has successfully created a bridge between the students and the outdoors. “We still teach them everything, but with a nature angle,” says Sue Dyle, a teacher at the school.

It is an optimal way to reach a generation of youth that has become increasingly disconnected from the natural world. “The WOLF program changes the dynamics of how you learn, what you learn, and why you learn,” says Martin MacDonald, Director of Conservation for Bass Pro Shops.

While no one can argue WOLF is a welcome break from the confines of the traditional classroom setting, how effective is it from an academic perspective? According to Dyle, the school continues to see high marks from all its students in both classroom and statewide assessment tests. Students really develop a passion for learning, she says. But it is the intangibles such as improved self-confidence, teamwork, and an increased understanding of the environment that really set the program apart.

For former student Brock Metcalf, WOLF taught him things he never would have dreamed of learning in his previous school.  A self-avowed animal lover, he discovered creatures he never knew existed and got to handle rescued animals such as a barn owl he skillfully displayed during a recent tour. His most valuable takeaway: be respectful. An important lesson continually reinforced throughout the program, both inside and outside the classroom.

Patrick Kerr is the Region VII Director of Communications and Outreach in the U.S. Department of Education’s Kansas City office.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Why Teachers Succeed in the Classroom

Teacher and students

Teacher Deborah Apple leads her 11th-grade physiology class at San Francisco’s Wallenberg High School in an activity illustrating how rewards can affect behavior.

What inspires teachers, and how do they inspire students? ED’s regional officers found some common threads as they shadowed educators from coast to coast to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. From a teacher who found her calling while volunteering in Peru to the National Teachers Hall of Fame honoree who uses music to communicate difficult science concepts, the variety of teachers they met spanned all styles and subjects. All of the teachers, however, were united by their passion for their work and dedication to getting the best out of their students. Highlights are below:

  • Thirty-year teaching veteran, Linda Krikorian of Milford, Mass., always finds something positive about the most challenging students: “I try not to leave anyone out; if not, the students fall through the cracks, and as a teacher you never want that to happen.”

    teacher and students

    Paula Williams, Early Learning Teacher at Sheltering Arms Early Learning Center in Atlanta, reviews sight words with her students.

  • Bradley Ashley, Technology Coordinator at NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies, empowers his students to learn on their own: “I’m not very creative, but the kids are and I get the opportunity to show them ways to be creative. Like the teacher that can’t draw but provides the pen and paper.”
  • Breanna Ratkevic, George B. Fine Elementary School, Pennsauken, N.J., credits a trip to Peru in which she volunteered with children as the reason she pursued the teaching profession: “This experience was so rewarding that I wanted to continue my desire to make a difference in the world.”
  • Ninety-nine percent of Ella Davis’ students at Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, Ga., passed the Georgia High School Graduation Test. The school was also one of the first-ever U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.
  • Rachel Jones, 8th grade Science teacher at Brooks Middle School in Bolingbrook, Ill., realized she wanted to be a teacher after 9/11: “That tragedy caused me to take a look at my life and when I did I was not happy and wanted to do something more meaningful.”
  • National Teachers Hall of Fame honoree, Beth Vernon of Blue Springs, Mo., has dedicated her career to finding the best possible medium to make classrooms more “brain compatible” in all STEM subjects.
  • A team of hand-selected teachers in a brand new school, and a leader with deep community roots coupled with the structure of the STRIVE Preparatory Schools adds up to success for children of color living in poverty at Denver’s STRIVE  Prep SMART Academy.  “Our work does not belong to us,” said school director Antonio Vigil, “it belongs to our students and their families
  • Students of Deborah Apple, 11th grade physiology teacher at Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School, San Francisco, appreciate the way she uses fun and creative ways to turn every lesson into an adventure. “Ms. Apple keeps it real. She’s honest with us,” said one student.
  • Barbara Isaacson, Head Start teacher at Lister Elementary School in Tacoma, Wash., summed up the week best with the following statement: “I love teaching, and feel there is no greater joy than to help a student learn something new for the first time and share in their excitement.”

The visits were a reminder of the indelible impact teachers have on students each and every day.   As Secretary Duncan said in a recent blog celebrating our nation’s teachers, “they astound me with what they accomplish…they do work that few of us could accomplish on our best days.” Teachers give so much and expect so little in return. They deserve our undying gratitude.

Patrick Kerr is Communications Director at the Regional Office in Kansas City and Julie Ewart is the Communications Director at the Regional Office in Chicago. 

ED Resources Honor Those Who Serve

From post-traumatic stress disorder, joblessness, to months of separation from loved ones, members of the military, their families, and veterans face a myriad of challenges these days. In conjunction with Veterans Day, ED has assembled multiple resources that commemorate the veteran experience and address some of the needs faced by the military community as a whole. It’s the Department’s way of saying “thank you” to everyone who has served and an opportunity to give back to those who have sacrificed so much on behalf of this country.

The first resource provides a compilation of materials that can be used by teachers to celebrate veterans both inside and outside the classroom environment. One of these is a comprehensive guide provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs in honor of Veterans Day. It contains suggested activities for students such as a flag-raising ceremony, poster contest, and musical tributes. It also explores ways students can volunteer for veteran-related causes, provides information on various military scholarship opportunities, and discusses the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day and the history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The link also contains a couple of references from the Library of Congress that focus on military history and feature first-hand interviews and other audio/visual portrayals of those impacted by wars, past and present.

The General Services Administration explores different ways to observe and learn about Veterans Day and National Veterans Awareness Week, including census facts about veterans, U.S. coins honoring veterans, and more.

Lastly, ED has compiled a web page dedicated to military families and veterans.  The page leads with a statement that includes the following excerpt:

“…We want all military-connected school children to have an equal and fair opportunity for academic success. This requires that those individuals who make up our nation’s educational system—our teachers, principals, school nurses, coaches, and counselors—understand the unique situations the children of our service members experience.”

It also discusses mental health resources available to the military community and provides an overview of Secretary Duncan’s commitment to supporting military families. The page contains a wealth of additional information on issues ranging from military child care, public school attendance policies, and Federal Student Aid resources.
The willingness of America’s veterans to give so much for the country has earned them eternal gratitude.  This Veterans Day, be sure to thank a vet and share their story with others.

Patrick Kerr is ED’s communications director in Region VII, based in Kansas City. He served 10 years in the Marine Corps and recently completed his graduate degree using the Post 9/11 Montgomery GI Bill.

Strengthening the American Workforce through Innovation

St. Petersburg (Fla.) College engineering and technology student Tungo Harris has a plan: “I want to get gainfully employed — and I figure I will be after this — with a decent salary,” Harris told the Tampa Bay Times. Thanks to a new $15 million grant announced last month by U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis at St. Petersburg, Harris, a Navy veteran who is recovering from a brain tumor, can now get help in fulfilling his plan.

Overall, $500 million in grants will go to almost 300 community colleges and universities around the country as part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative. The grants promote skills development and employment opportunities in fields such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care, as well as science, technology, engineering and math careers through partnerships between training providers and local employers.

The Department of Labor is implementing and administering the program in coordination with the Department of Education. The grants announced in September are the second installment of a $2 billion, four-year initiative.”These federal grants are part of the Obama administration’s ongoing commitment to strengthening American businesses,” Solis said.

“It’s a big deal,” St. Petersburg College President Bill Law said in the same Tampa Bay Times article. His college is leading a consortium of a dozen Florida colleges in developing programs to prepare workers for advanced manufacturing jobs. “Our goal is to take the Florida college system and see if we can build on some success across the state.”

Patrick Kerr works in the ED Office of Communications and Outreach’s Region VII office, based in Kansas City, Mo.

Back-to-School Tour in the News: Day One

The first official day of the “Education Drives America” Back-to-School Bus Tour saw Secretary Duncan and other ED officials meeting with education stakeholders in California, Nevada, and other points of the compass. Prior to the official kick-off, senior staff held several additional events throughout the region. Check out some of the media coverage from the first few days.

Redwood City, Calif.

U.S. Secretary of Education kicks off cross country bus tour at Sequoia High in Redwood City, Calif.

Duncan says teachers are key to making technology and digital education work.

Sacramento, Calif.

In a meeting with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and area education leaders, Duncan Says Complacency Biggest Threat to Schools

Duncan promises to listen and learn during Town Hall in Sacramento.

Reno, Nev.

Arne Duncan discusses college affordability during telephone interview on the way to Reno.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan faces questions about Dream Act during Reno visit.

And in related news, ED officials fanned out across the region as part of the Back to School Bus Tour.

Mountain View, Calif.

Martha Kanter talks about how to improve STEM education nationwide at Google HQ.

Redwood City, Calif.

Karen Cator joins students on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus at area high school.

Palo Alto, Calif.

Karen Cator and Richard Culatta attend Silicon Valley Digital Learning Meetup at Stanford University.

Elk Grove, Calif.

Greg Darnieder celebrated GEAR UP week at Elk Grove School District.

Las Vegas, Nev.

Brenda Dann-Messier seeks input from local officials during trip to Las Vegas.

Carson City, Nev.

Brenda Dann-Messier visits Western Nevada College in Carson City.

School Sees ‘Turnaround’ Progress in Just Two Years

Those questioning whether a school can dramatically turn around should look no further than Emerson Elementary School in the Argentine community of Kansas City, Kan. The school recently opened its doors to a group of local, state, and federal education officials, including Jason Snyder, deputy assistant secretary for policy and the head of ED’s Office of School Turnaround.

Following a tour of the school and conversations with school leadership, teachers, and students, Snyder said: “Our goal here is to understand what’s working and share that success with other schools across the country. The progress at Emerson is very encouraging.”

Just three years ago, Emerson was identified as the lowest-performing school in Kansas and was awarded a grant through the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program to implement one of four turnaround models. At Emerson, where 90% of the students are eligible for free or reduced priced lunches, over 43 percent of its students were performing in the academic warning area in math and 45 percent in the warning area in reading (compared to the state average of six percent in both subjects).

Jason Snyder visiting Emerson

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Snyder visits Emerson Elementary in Kansas City, Kan.

Enter new principal Brett Bernard, a revamped staff, and a strong vision focused on student achievement. The school today is barely recognizable from where it was two years ago when the SIG program was first implemented. Students are engaged in meaningful instruction because of the school’s new focus on literacy instruction, data-based classroom decisions, and increased learning time connected closely to the school’s curriculum.  Moreover, thanks to robust outreach efforts by a new parent-community specialist, the community is engaged in the turnaround efforts.

But the sweeping change wasn’t without its challenges – especially early in the process.  After learning that their school was the lowest-performing in Kansas, Emerson’s teachers felt a wide range of emotions: from anger and embarrassment to uncertainty and fear. Bernard worked to convince them that they were up for the job through positive reinforcement and a can-do/no-excuses attitude. Bernard said he realized that if true change were to happen, “it had to come from within them – and from within the PLCs (Professional Learning Communities).”

Through the turnaround process, test scores have risen dramatically: newly released 2012 scores show that barely two percent of Emerson students are now in the warning area in reading.  Just as telling: enrollment has increased from 130 students to 195 students in two years, as word of the dramatic improvements has spread across the local community.

Norma Cregan, of the Kansas Department of Education, who toured Emerson along with other education officials, noted that she had witnessed a “remarkable change” since her first visit to the school in 2010. It is a change that she continues to observe in other SIG schools throughout the state.  “What we see in all our SIG schools is strong leadership and strong growth,” she said.

Superintendent Lane expressed her appreciation for the additional resources provided through the SIG grant process. “We know what works to turn around struggling schools,” Superintendent Cynthia Lane said, “and Emerson demonstrates that, with support, districts can assist struggling schools to achieve at high levels.”

Ultimately, it is schools like Emerson that serve as models for other struggling schools across the country.  “It’s encouraging to see courageous leaders, like those at Emerson, improve outcomes of students and share their strong work with others,” said Snyder.

–Patrick Kerr is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Regional Office in Kansas City