Teachers Celebrated at Sundance

Joey Lauren Adams and Carol Ann McAdams

Actress Joey Lauren Adams on the right, honored her high school drama teacher Carol Ann McAdams at left at a Teachers Making a Difference Award luncheon during last week's Sundance Film Festival in Utah

It’s nice to see that so many organizations are showing teachers the respect they deserve. While at the Sundance Film festival last week, I stopped into the Creative Coalition’s Teachers Making A Difference Award luncheon, where Tim Daly, actor and president of the Creative Coalition, kicked off the organization’s 7th annual award luncheon. “The mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates, and the great teacher inspires … and we are here to celebrate the teachers who inspired their students to great heights,” said Daly as he introduced two actors and their honored teachers.

The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit social and public advocacy organization of the arts and entertainment industry, each year pays homage to teachers who have had an impact on some of Hollywood’s actors.  This year, actor Bill Pullman, starring in NBC’s 1600 Penn, as well as a new role in May in the Summer, a Sundance premiere, and Joey Lauren Adams, known for her breakout role in Chasing Amy and soon to be seen in Blue Caprice, were reunited with teachers who have made a real difference in their lives.

Long before his name appeared on a marquee, Pullman taught theater at Montana State University, and after being convinced by his students to give the film industry a shot, Pullman found himself working under the tutelage of Paul Austin, actor and founder at the Liberty Free Theatre in Liberty, N.Y. 

Pullman credits Austin for launching his career after he got Pullman involved in an Off Broadway production that received rave reviews, and put him on a fast track to Hollywood.

“When you teach, you look for something in your students that you don’t know,” Austin said after receiving the award from Pullman. “You ask lots of questions, and you eventually get out of the way, so your student can excel.”

Joey Lauren Adams at Sundance

Joey Lauren Adams speaks with ED's Sherry Schweitzer at the Sundance Film Festival.

Also honored at the luncheon was recently retired North Little Rock High West drama teacher Carol Ann McAdams. Joey Lauren Adams said that Carol Ann changed her life during high school. Adams found herself an outcast by not making the cheerleading squad, so eventually she joined the drama club, a setting she said was for geeks and outsiders, but it helped her find her identity.

McAdams said she felt blessed to have Adams in her class. “She was so talented and I told her through her critiques that she could become a professional actress.” McAdams continued, “She always has stayed in touch with me. Recently, she told me that she had kept my critique – and for a student to listen to you, trust you, believe you and love you and then take something that you’ve said to them long ago in a class, and do something with it, that’s what makes a difference in a teacher’s life.”

 McAdams is a true proponent of arts education in our schools. She found that many students would not have wanted to come to school if not for drama or art class or music. She said she always pushed the envelope and helped show her students what they were capable of achieving, leading them to lives they never knew they could have. “If you can make a student believe that they have something else to give, and if the arts will help that student find a niche, then that’s what it’s all about,” said McAdams.

According to a report The Arts and Achievement in at-Risk Youth released last year from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), at-risk students who have access to the arts in- or out-of-school also tend to have better academic results, better workforce opportunities, and more civic engagement.

Another 2012 arts education report from the Department of Education found that the availability of theater and dance instruction at elementary schools has significantly declined in the last ten years. To address this decline, ED is allowing states more flexibility under the No Child Left Behind law, and is making the arts and humanities a competitive priority in the Promise Neighborhood competition.

Secretary Arne Duncan noted at the report’s release that “a well-rounded education is simply too vital to our students’ success to let the teaching of the arts and humanities erode.” Pullman and Adams are award-winning proof.

Sherry Schweitzer is senior communications specialist in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Back-to-School Highlights from Day One

The “Education and the Economy” bus tour shuttled Secretary Duncan and other ED officials to events with students, parents, educators and community leaders from New York to Ohio and places in between. Here are some of the highlights from day one: 

Pittsburgh, PA
Education is Job One.
At Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary, Secretary Duncan linked education and jobs. “A quality education system and a strong, growing vibrant economy are inextricably linked,” he said. “If we do this well, we put our country back on the path to prosperity.” Read the full post.

Pittsburgh, PA
Harnessing Research and Technology for Higher Ed Excellence
. And, in a Wednesday afternoon speech to administrators, teachers and students at Carnegie-Mellon University, Under Secretary Martha Kanter outlined the Obama administration’s investments in open educational resources, to broaden access to high-quality higher education for students across the country. “If we get this right, our generation will enable the greatest expansion in access to high-quality education opportunities in world history.  And we are determined to get it right,” Dr. Kanter told the audience.

Bus Tour in the News

The Secretary’s message resonated in Pittsburgh, including his emphasis on the need for schools, teachers unions and communities to partner in improving student outcomes, and his call for more volunteers and mentors to support at-risk youth and their teachers, especially in low-performing schools.

“The battle isn’t with us. The battle is with poverty; the battle is with social failure; and the battle is with unemployment. We have to have a vision of how we are going to overcome those battles together,” Secretary Duncan said at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary school on Pittsburgh’s North Side.

Secretary Duncan brought his message about the need to invest in education to a Pittsburgh elementary school and an early learning center in Erie. He focused on laying a solid foundation from children’s earliest years.

“Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants level the playing field,” Secretary Duncan said Wednesday on his stop in Erie at the Early Connections pre-K Learning Center.

Even the time between stops was newsworthy, as the Secretary was interviewed on the bus by ride-along bloggers and reporters, who covered the day’s events and the conversations on the road.

Saying that the time of high paying jobs without a high school diploma has passed, Secretary Duncan joined educators, parents and community leaders in Cleveland to call for education beyond high school and mentors to turnaround low-performing schools.

In Toledo, Secretary Duncan praised the Toledo teacher evaluation plan, created in 1981 by then-Toledo Federation of Teachers President Dal Lawrence, for its union and management collaboration.

Erie, PA
A Big Start for Little Learners.
The Secretary’s second stop – for a roundtable at a pre-K learning center – showcased strong early education programs as a powerful investment in students’ success in school and life. “There’s nothing more important we can do to get our babies off to a great start,” Duncan noted.

Erie, PA
From Cradle to College–in a few hours!
 Before departing from the roundtable event at the Early Learning Connections Center, Secretary Duncan took a few minutes to meet with Noekhea Williams, a 12th grader at Central Technical High School who has participated in GO College Erie, a national program aimed at increasing college access and completion for at-risk students. Williams and several of her cohorts shared with Duncan that she has benefitted from two programs funded by ED (TRIO and i3), and that these programs have helped her to find options for her to go to college and make her life better.  GO College Erie is five-year program funded by a combined $24 million contribution from the U.S. Department of Education ($20 million) and the GE Foundation ($4 million).

Cleveland, OH
Connecting Communities and Classrooms for Student Success.
 On his third stop, the Secretary met with a capacity crowd at East Tech High School, highlighting progress in the region and the State, including comprehensive reform sparked by the State’s successful bid for Race to the Top funds.

Cleveland, OH
Teachable Moment.
In Cleveland Arne met two teens who described to him their own teachable moment. While walking to school on September 2, James Rhodes High School’s Dontaz Bailey (9th grade) and Juan Goins (10th) stopped to save the life of a woman who was attempting to jump off of the 130-foot Fulton Road Bridge to end her life. Instead, the boys grabbed the woman’s ankles, talked to her, and begged her to hang on. Police reported that once they arrived on the scene, the boys shied away from accolades, saying that they wanted to get to school. Later, Goins offered advice to the troubled woman. “We saved her life, it was an honor to save her,” he said. “But that’s no way to solve your problems.”

Essex, NY
Country Roads Lead to College Access. 
And, from Tuesday, John White, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach, toured three Adirondack schools with Rick Dalton, President and CEO of College For Every Student (CFES). The schools, including Willsboro Central, Crown Point Central and Ticonderoga Middle, have been recognized by CFES as “Schools of Distinction” for inspiring rural students to attend college, and equipping them with skills and resources to reach their goals.

Our Favorite Tweets

@newtechnetwork: Beginning the right way @ArneDuncan welcoming students first! #edtour11

@JTFlynny: Cleveland All City Drumline – awesome! #edtour11

@Joy_Resmovits: @arneduncan‘s applause line in Cleveland “In tough economic times, we have to continue to invest in education” #edtour11

@StriveTogether: “U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urges community support of schools and schoolchildren” http://bit.ly/npamrQ #edtour11

@khefling :Duncan: “You can’t have a great city without a great school system.” Praises work between teachers union and district in Pit #EDTour11

@thenerdyteacher: #EDTour11 – .@arneduncan – We’ve (Dept of Edu) been part of the problem. Too focused on compliance and not enough on innovation. #Truth

—Laurie Calvert, Sherry Schweitzer, and Melissa Apostolides
Office of Communications and Outreach

Keep following the progress of this year’s back-to-school tour by visiting ed.gov/bustour, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter, or by signing up for email updates from the Department of Education.

The Quiet Revolution Turning Around Michigan City Area Schools

Secretary Duncan Visits a Classroom at Lake Hills Elementary School in Michigan City, Indiana

On a visit to Lake Hills Elementary School in Michigan City, Ind., earlier today, Secretary Duncan saluted the community for renewing a spirit of enthusiasm and pride among teachers, staff, parents, students, and the community and he commended everyone for working together to improve student outcomes.

Michigan City Area Schools (MCAS) is an example of labor and management working together to improve education. MCAS recently reached a contract agreement with teachers that establishes school-based leadership teams to ensure collaborative decision-making and planning. The agreement also included a new principals’ compensation package that incorporates a “pay for performance” component, showing that through collaboration, school leaders are being held accountable for student achievement, and rewarded for student success.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Barbara Eason-Watkins and with the support of Mayor Chuck Oberlie, MCAS is working to re-energize and re-focus, offering more choices and opportunities for students. This fall, the district will launch their first two magnet schools, with Lake Hills Elementary School transitioning to a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) focused school, and Pine Elementary will become a visual and performing arts themed school.

MCAS has been recognized at the state and national levels for its innovative classroom technology, and by the way it uses new ways to engage students in learning. Believing that economic success is closely tied to school success, MCAS is working to realign career and technical education by partnering with local businesses, Ivy Tech Community College and Purdue University North Central to create a better trained workforce that will meet the needs of area businesses.

The reforms being implemented at MCAS are the same reforms that ED is supporting through programs such as Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, School Improvement Grants, and the Teacher Incentive Fund. Secretary Duncan calls this the “quiet revolution,” and it is largely being driven by motivated parents, great educators and administrators challenging defeatism, elected officials and stakeholders who value education, and foundations and entrepreneurs who are bringing fresh new thinking to help schools and students grow and improve.

–Sherry Schweitzer

4-H and Extensions Offer Partners for School Turnarounds

“I couldn’t be more hopeful, more optimistic about your generation” Secretary Duncan told a group of nearly 500 4-H youth delegates earlier today at the National 4-H Youth Conference in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Secretary Duncan at the conference where both Secretaries answered questions from the audience and talked to students about the challenge of educating our way to a better economy. In his State of the Union address this year, President Obama emphasized that “to win the future, we have to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world, tapping the creativity and imagination of our people.”

Secretary Duncan said that one of our greatest challenges is turning around the bottom 5% of our nation’s schools.  To address this challenge, the Obama Administration dedicated more than $4 billion in school improvement grants to states through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the budgets for fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

States have identified their lowest achieving schools and we are challenging them to compete for this funding by putting forth their best turnaround plans. However, schools and districts cannot do this work alone. They need to engage and work with public and private partners such as the 4-H and land grant university extension programs. “Forming these kinds of partnerships provides the best chance for rural areas to turn around their lowest performing schools and keep children from dropping out,” said Secretary Duncan.

4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization and a program of our nation’s cooperative extension system. Each U.S. state and territory has a state cooperative extension office at its land grant university and a network of local and regional offices that can work with schools. The 4-H and extension programs can provide community-based partnerships that help schools create sustainable community changes in a number of ways.

The National 4-H and Extensions can work with schools to create programs that are specific to the school community’s needs, including financial literacy, parenting, healthy living, food and nutrition, science literacy, robotics, and civic engagement to bridge formal and non-formal learning experiences.

Check out the USDA’s Youth Development and 4-H page for more information.

- Sherry Schweitzer