Moving Toward Better Academics: The Red Hawk Way

On the blacktop and playgrounds during midday recess, Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colo., takes the shape of countless other schools across this country: laughing, red-faced children walking that fine line between having fun and pushing boundaries; forgotten sweaters strewn about on fence posts and tree branches; yesteryear’s worn playground equipment seemingly keeping the whole dance in motion.

Yet this is where the commonalities between Red Hawk and the vast majority of other schools end.

As a 2012-13 Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the Department of Education, I was lucky enough to visit Red Hawk as part of the Department’s back-to-school bus tour across the country.

Red Hawk Elementary

Red Hawk Elementary in Erie, Colo.

Red Hawk principal Cyrus Weinberger was kind enough to put his school on display for me, and in particular the school’s national recognized movement program. Weinberger and Red Hawk physical education teacher Tanya Erands developed and implemented the program that is the school’s lynchpin, and contributed to the school’s recent recognition, including Academic Growth, during the latest round of district reviews.

During the visit, I watched the entire student body—including those with disabilities–engage in their daily dose of “Morning Movement.” The 4th graders collected popsicle sticks as they crisscrossed the soccer field, the 3rd graders jumped rope, and the 2nd graders walked a mile of laps around the building, while the younger grades danced, jumped and twisted to a variety of online dance-alongs in their classrooms.

More than just a catchy subplot and fresh angle, this commitment to movement really seems to be working. If the raw data is not enough, take the word of Jamie Nesbitt, a 4th grade teacher who previously taught in one of the district’s Title I schools. He shared with me that more seat time and fewer breaks ruled his former school, resulting in restless students and more trips to the principal’s office. Principal Wienberger has only dealt with one incident during his fifteen months at Red Hawk, and that surrounded a fight that broke out during a recess football game.

Perhaps the LEED Gold  building is the foundation for this winning culture, or maybe it’s the 1500 square foot student-maintained garden that keeps kids on the up and up. I shouldn’t forget about the Math, Science, Integration of the Arts & Technology Focus this school maintains, or the daring health-food initiatives on which it refuses to compromise (non-food birthday celebrations . . . what?). Together, these many traits represent the well-rounded, 21st century education our children need and too rarely receive.

But in a vast sea of out-of-this world impressive initiatives and programs, I believe just one statistic swims alone in summing up the Red Hawk way: Last year 96% of third, fourth and fifth graders said they look forward, each and every day, to coming to school. Now if that’s not something to marvel at, I truly don’t know what is.

Mike Humphreys is a 2012-2013 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches physical education in Arlington, Va.

Celebrating CTE in Nevada

Brenda Dann-Messier at Veterans

Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier talks with students at Veterans' dispatch training lab. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

Traditionally, education has led many students into a career. However, at some schools, careers are leading students to an education.

Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier recently met with the students, staff, and business partners of the Veterans Tribute Career & Technical Academy in Las Vegas to discuss career and technical education (CTE) and how it benefits students and the community.

Dann-Messier’s visit was part of ED’s Education Drives America back-to-school bus tour, and one of many stops she made during the tour to discuss the blueprint for transforming career and technical education and ways the Department of Education can support CTE education.

Student Marcus Montano explained during the visit that he chose to attend Veterans because he wanted a “real-world education and not just standard curriculum.” The school has two program areas, Law Enforcement Services and Emergency Medical Services, with multiple labs that allow hands-on learning experiences.

The type of CTE taught at Veterans increases motivation for students in all areas of study, as they realize the direct connection between the core curriculum and a career. Student Leah Bories said she felt “limited by not having the right teacher or the right material. I wanted this so bad. I want to learn. I want to succeed.”

Dann-Messier at Desert Rose

Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier talks to a students in the Environmental Horticulture Science program at Desert Rose Adult High School. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

Veterans’ partnership with local employers is the type of community collaboration promoted in ED’s CTE blueprint. The community and business partners are also benefiting from Veteran’s unique career training. Students from Veteran’s are turning internships at local businesses into careers upon graduation. Some students have even used their training at Veteran’s to become dispatchers for emergency services, which is helping them pay for college. Sgt. Dan Lake of the North Las Vegas Police Department believes the program is future-focused, because “students can begin to build a future as juniors in high school.”

Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier also held a roundtable at Desert Rose Adult High School and Career Center, in North Las Vegas, to hear how CTE is being used to help students find success. Desert Rose serves a diverse population of students, many of whom have previously dropped out or become credit-deficient.

At Desert Rose, students can learn multiple trades while obtaining high school credit at their own learning pace. This combination of CTE and personalized learning has led to many students achieving success.

Senior Elizabeth Gomez said that this personalized focus is helping her succeed in school and getting her ready for a job. “I have a really good resume now” she said. The blueprint for transforming CTE calls for accountability for improving outcomes and building technical and employable skills. Desert Rose students are already realizing the benefits of obtaining such skills at a young age.

Some students have already obtained a job through the CTE offered at Desert Rose. After winning numerous awards, including a gold medal from the Skills USA competition, and obtaining multiple certifications from Desert Rose high school, student Keith Griffin was able to find a job in Hawaii and is preparing to move his family “from the desert to the tropics,” he says.

Aaron Bredenkamp is a 2012 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches at Westside Career Center, an Alternative High School in Omaha, NE. He joined Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier during her visit to Las Vegas.

Schools That Can

Shelton Visits Berea Clay

Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton talks with students during a stop at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky as part of the Department's back-to-school bus tour.

For each of the last three years, Secretary Duncan has started the school year with a bus tour visiting schools and communities across the country to find what’s working in education and to hear the concerns, insights, and lessons learned from students, teachers, principals, parents, and the communities supporting them. It’s always a welcome grounding in “real education” — the kind that children and families experience everyday — versus the “education system” policymakers and pundits love to caricature and debate.

This year, I participated more fully than I have in years past — visiting schools, grantees, education reformers, and advocates in California, Missouri, and Kentucky.

In California, I watched a Sequoia High School (Redwood City) student, who entered the school as an English Learner, introduce the music video he produced with his classmates on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus to an audience of more than 500 attendees. Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, then shared anecdotes of individual students, whole classes, and entire schools achieving dramatic gains and fundamentally changing learning and teaching practices.

Shelton discussing eMints

Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton discussed eMINTS during a "Education Drives America" bus tour stop at the University of Missouri.

In Missouri, I visited the New Franklin School to see Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grantee eMINTS at work. Teachers and students were using relevant and engaging project-based and personalized learning powered by technology to improve student engagement, effort, and outcomes. A class of self-directed 5th-grade teams pursued Web quests on American Indian civilizations. High school juniors and seniors completed self-paced accounting courses. Teachers spoke of being renewed by the approach and the new tools. Everyone used words like “ownership,” “empowered,” and “independence” to describe the shift in the school’s learning culture. All of this was especially exciting after hearing from school and system leaders working hard to implement the program despite the challenges of decreased funding, lack of technology infrastructure, and burdensome regulation.

In Kentucky, I visited Sayre School, a high-performing and well-resourced independent school focused on building great character as well as providing rigorous learning opportunities. The students showed extraordinary poise and confidence as we discussed the relative strengths of their program and the infusion of technology as a new, but increasingly ubiquitous, tool. This visit served as an excellent benchmark as I traveled to rural Kentucky to visit the i3 Development and Promise Neighborhoods (PN) Implementation grantee, Berea College, to see their work at Clay County High School (CCHS).

Clay County suffers from all of the ills often associated with Appalachia; but CCHS has leveraged the PN and i3 grants to substantially increase the number of AP classes offered and multiply the number of students taking AP classes and, most importantly, passing AP exams with a score of 3 or better. They’ve used the PN grant to create more comprehensive and coherent student supports that have begun to reverse the dropout trend and increase college going.  Teachers and students spoke eloquently about the impact these efforts have had, not only on their practices, but also on their belief systems.

One student in particular helped me synthesize everything that I had seen in the past two weeks. As I was ending my visit at CCHS with a student roundtable, I asked the students what impacts the programs had on the school and them. They spoke about the access to more AP courses, the heroic efforts of the new academic specialists to keep kids in school, the impact of grant-funded college visits, and the difference tiny amounts of resources made to teachers who cared but had nothing to work with. Then one standout student I had met earlier in the day, Rex, said:

I know I talked about the AP classes; but that’s not the most important thing.  And, I know I talked about the resources—ROTC students finally having real equipment after having used brooms for years—but that’s not the most important thing. CCHS used to be an I-can’t-school… Now, we are an I-can-school… I can take AP courses. I can go to college. I can do better than my parents.

Evidenced-based programs, technology, professional development, funding — I firmly believe all these are important; but in the end, nothing is more powerful than schools, teachers, and students that believe they can.

The question that motivates me is, what combinations of tools, resources, and know-how can make every school an I-can-school?

Jim Shelton is assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education

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From Farming to the Forefront of Education: A College President’s Story

Rend Lake College President Holds a Tree

Rend Lake College President Terry Wilkerson demonstrates a process to agriculture students in a photo from his teaching days. Photos courtesy of Rend Lake College

As a teen growing up on his family’s 1,000-acre farm in southeastern Illinois, Terry Wilkerson had no plans to go college.

“At that point in my life, I didn’t see the value of an education.  I just needed to get to farming and to making a living,” said Wilkerson, recently named the president of Rend Lake College in Ina, Illinois, site of Special Assistant for Community College Sue Liu’s Sept. 19 visit during the Department’s back-to-school bus tour.

However, he never completely closed his mind to the possibilities of higher education. After much hounding by friends and family, Wilkerson registered for some classes at RLC.

“I got curious to see what it would do for me,” he explained. “The college was close to home and the class times were flexible. I could still farm.”

Wilkerson meets with others

Wilkerson, right, speaks with Special Assistant for Community Colleges Sue Liu and RLC Applied Science and Advanced Technology Division Chair Chris Nielsen during a Sept. 19 visit to Rend Lake College as part of the Back-to-School Bus Tour. Photo courtesy of Rend Lake College

For the first time, Wilkerson found himself in a room full of people who were really interested in developing a deeper understanding of agriculture, and he realized that he wanted that too. It was a good fit:  he went on to earn an associates degree in applied science at RLC; followed by a bachelor’s degree in plant and soil science and a master’s degree in agronomy, both from nearby Southern Illinois University.

He continued to farm as he pursued his college education, and successfully used knowledge he gained in school to improve his farming practices. Wilkerson soon realized that he wanted to help other farmers and future farmers to also thrive in the changing agricultural industry. He’d stayed in contact with RLC staff members, and soon landed a faculty position in the agriculture program.

“Teaching is a lot like farming. Every year there’s a new crop, and you help it grow,” said Wilkerson. “I enjoyed bringing practical lessons I learned on the farm to the classroom.”

After teaching for 11 years and then serving 4 years as RLC’s chair of the Applied Science and Technology Division, Wilkerson was selected by the college’s board to serve as its president, beginning this past July. While he’d never dreamed of achieving his current position as a teen, he’s found that the same fundamental lessons learned from a lifetime of farming help him in his role as the top executive of Rend Lake College.

“If it’s time to plant corn, it’s time to plant corn. You can’t be stagnant and do nothing,” said Wilkerson, who still farms. “Education is like that. If you stand still, you fall behind.

Julie Ewart is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Chicago Regional Office. 

Top 5 Highlights from Education Drives America Tour

After more than 100 events in 48 communities in 12 states, the Education Drives America bus tour came to a close last Friday at the Department’s plaza in Washington. Secretary Duncan wraps up the tour in the video below, and we’ve put together our top five highlights from the road.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

 Top 5 Highlights (in no order of importance): 

Public-Private Partnerships Image

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller stopped at Continental Tire North America in Mt. Vernon, Ill., to discuss Continental’s successful partnership with Rend Lake College. During many of our stops we witnessed how communities are coming together for the benefit of students of all ages—and for their local economies. 

Outstanding Teachers Image

The Education Drives America tour brought top Education officials right into the classrooms of teachers across the country. With town halls, meet-and-greets and more than 50 roundtable discussions with teachers, we were reminded once again that teachers are truly nation-builders. At Emporia State University in Kansas, Secretary Duncan and National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel visited the National Teacher Hall of Fame and held a town hall with future educators. 

Shooting Hoops Image

It’s no secret that Secretary Duncan is partial to basketball, and there were plenty of opportunities to shoot hoops during the tour. In Denver and Richmond, Va., Duncan spoke of the importance of keeping active while highlighting the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative. Duncan also signs an official Department of Education basketball for each school he visits. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Student Voice Image

Nothing is a better reminder of why we come to work each day than meeting and listening to students. Students were part of our roundtables, town halls and classroom visits, and student bands, dance groups and choirs enlivened events all along the route. 

Education Drives America image

With more than 100 events during the Department’s Education Drives America back-to-school tour, we are more convinced than ever that education really does power our country, and that investing in students and educators is essential to a strong and prosperous nation. Here’s to a great school year for everyone!

Read about the entire tour by visiting www.ed.gov/bustour.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital engagement and blogged and tweeted his way from coast to coast during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

Back-to-School Bus Tour Ends on High Note

Secretary Duncan at Virginia Western

Secretary Duncan participated in a town hall at Virginia Western Community College during the last day of ED's back-to-school bus tour across the country. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

On its final day, the Education Drives America bus made stops in Roanoke and Richmond, Va., and a final rally at the Department of Education headquarters in Washington. In Roanoke, Secretary Duncan joined Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier for a town hall at Virginia Western Community College, where they announced the new Adult College Completion Toolkit.

Following the town hall, the bus stopped at Henderson Middle School in Richmond,  where he highlighted First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign. Duncan toured the school, visited with local officials, and played basketball with middle and high school students and Virginia Commonwealth University Coach Shaka Smart.

Secretary Duncan talks with students at Henderson Middle School in Richmond, Va. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Secretary Duncan talks with students at Henderson Middle School in Richmond, Va. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

The Education Drives America bus made its final back-to-school tour stop in Washington on the plaza of the Department’s headquarters. Hundreds of area students, ED staff and community members gathered for remarks by Arne, student performances and a concert by the up-and-coming band Kids These Days.

During the tour’s eight days, we met thousands of dedicated students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members. ED staff left each stop with new ideas on what is working as well as what things aren’t working. The tour gave staff new ideas of how, fresh insight, and a keen understanding that education really does drive America.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we reflect on the Education Drives America back-to-school tour or sign up to receive blog updates in your email inbox.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital engagement and blogged and tweeted his way from coast to coast during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

Appalachian Bound: Bus Tour Day Seven

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller joined a class at Picadome Elementary in Lexington, Ky. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller joined a class at Picadome Elementary in Lexington, Ky. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Lexington: Finding inspiration in language

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller stopped by Picadome Elementary School in Lexington, Ky for the first stop of day seven of the Department’s back-to-school bus tour across the country. Picadome is a unique school in that all 500 students study Japanese. Miller, who speaks a little Japanese himself, took part in a classroom lesson, then joined Maureen McLaughlin, director of ED’s International Affairs Office, and community members for a roundtable discussion.

Picadome is one of three elementary schools in the Fayette County Public Schools system to offer Japanese—a district that offers foreign language classes in more than half of its elementary schools, which is four times the national average.

During this stop, the message was clear: foreign language study helps to develop students who are career and college ready.

Miller commented that schools like Picadome “are making magic every day.” Praising the school and its teachers, Miller said that, “we are going to take this message with us as we travel.”

Charleston: Early learning in West Virginia puts children on the right track

Duncan greets students at Elk Elementary.

Secretary Duncan were greeted by students from Elk Elementary. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

After saying Sayonara to the students at Picadome, the Education Drives America bus visited Elk Elementary Center in Charleston, W.Va., where Secretary Arne Duncan rejoined the tour and was accompanied by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Learning Jacqueline Jones and Office of Special Education Programs Director Melody Mugrove.

Greeted by a throng of cheering children outside the school, Secretary Duncan made the rounds to shake hands and exchange high-fives with the excited group.

Elk has two preschool programs, and is part of West Virginia’s universal pre-k initiative that has built strong collaborations between state preschool, Head Start, and childcare to provide more high-quality preschool opportunities for children across the state.

Secretary Duncan visited with Elk students in art class, on the playground, and at an indoor pool equipped for special needs children.  He then met for a roundtable with state and local leaders to discuss their efforts to increase the competencies of the early childhood workforce and congratulate the West Virginia Department of Education on the creation of the new Office of Early Learning, charged with promoting greater collaboration across state agencies.

McDowell County: Working to create great schools and communities

Following the stop in Charleston, Secretary Duncan’s tour wound its way through West Virginia’s rural hills to McDowell County, W.Va., where he joined Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and Gayle Manchin, former West Virginia first lady and wife of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, for a community discussion on how to build public-private partnerships to support educational improvement as the path to a brighter economic future.

After many of the local coalmines closed, and following major floods a decade ago, the McDowell community suffered serious economic stagnation. The AFT has created the “Reconnecting McDowell” program that brings together business, government and nonprofit organizations to establish programs that address the challenges faced by this community.

“Every child deserves the best,” Secretary Duncan said at the McDowell town hall. “To see everyone rallying around not just the schools, but the entire community, is inspiring.”

The Education Drives America has one more day of exciting stops in Roanoke and Richmond, Va., and a final homecoming event at the Department of Education headquarters in Washington.

See what people said on Twitter during day seven.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital engagement and is blogging and tweeting his way from coast to coast during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

Back-to-School Tour in the News

Back-to-School Tour in the News -- West Virginia

The Education Drives America bus tour recently stopped in Illinois Kentucky and West Virginia. Check out some of the press coverage from the past few days of the Education Drives America back-to-school bus tour.

Lexington, Ky.

Jim Shelton spent two hours at Sayre School to see how this private school is using technology to replace textbooks in many of its classes and Tony Miller visited Picadome Elementary to learn about their work with foreign language instruction. Earlier, Shelton visited the New Franklin School District (Mo.) to see how schools are approaching inquiry-based learning.

Charleston, W.Va.

At Elk Elementary Center, Secretary Duncan toured the school to see the “great things” that West Virginia is doing to improve early learning and access to education and how the community is thinking very broadly about how to improve education.

Welch, W. Va.

Duncan attended town hall where educators outlined strategies to tackle impoverished McDowell County and help troubled schools, including improving literacy, offering housing options for teachers and parenting classes for pregnant teens. At Mount View High School, he heard from students and spoke about seeing their passion, a passion that indicates “they deserve the best.” Read about the “tremendous success” turning around the poorest of schools that the Department witnessed in the area.

Mt. Vernon, Ill.

The bus tour made a stop in Jefferson County to talk about partnerships between education and industry and to tour Rend Lake College and talk with students and staff. Learn about how programs like TRIO and STARS are giving students the resources they need to succeed in college.

Back-to-School Tour in the News

Back to School Tour in the News, Columbia

The Education Drives America bus kept rolling east on Day 6 with multiple stops in Missouri and Illinois and Indiana by U.S. Department of Education senior staff.

Columbia, Mo.

U.S. Education’s Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton traveled to Columbia, Mo., where they participated in a video conference and roundtable discussion with local rural educators and participants in the eMINTS program (enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies and an i3 grant recipient). The Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune reported on the success of that program by rural district leaders which provides technology for schools and professional development for teachers focused on using those tools.

St. Louis, Mo.

Following the visit to Columbia, the Education Drives America bus rolled into St. Louis where Miller discussed college affordability in Missouri. The St. Louis Beacon reports that Miller “told a theater full at Harris-Stowe University today that college access and affordability is key to development.”

Mt. Vernon, Ill.

The U.S. Department of Education’s 2012 bus tour made a stop in Jefferson County, during which it hosted discussions about partnerships between education and industry. The Southern Illinoisan reports, “The 13 Rend Lake College students who visited with Department of Education official Sue Liu on Wednesday attributed their academic success to college support services—the Student Transfer and Retention Support (STARS) Program in particular.” Liu joined Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller at Continental Tire in Mount Vernon, where they visited with local business and education leaders about partnerships established here between education and employers.”

Evansville, Ind.

More than 150 teachers, students and community members attended the public forum in Glenwood’s auditorium with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller discussing labor/management collaboration and community partnerships in education. Read it here in the Evansville (IN) Courier & Press.

Teachers’ Voices Heard on U.S. Department of Education Bus Tour

Over eighty meetings with teachers and school leaders in a two-week cross-country blitz—not bad work for a team of twelve Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAFs) working for a year with the U.S. Department of Education.

The Department of Education’s third annual back-to-school bus tour kicked off at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, California on September 12 and culminates with rally at the Department’s plaza on September 21, with nearly a hundred events in between featuring Secretary Arne Duncan and top federal officials. While Secretary Duncan’s appearances have naturally soaked up most of the attention—whether he is dancing at a Denver elementary school for “Let’s Move” or honoring the Topeka, Kansas site of the Brown vs. Board of Education case—TAFs have been hosting intimate events to ensure that educators’ voices are heard.

The Teaching Ambassador Fellowship, now in its fifth year, includes six teachers from across the country on leave from their schools to work full-time for a year with the U.S. Department of Education, and six who remain teaching in their local districts while consulting and conducting outreach part-time with ED. The September bus tour has been a prime opportunity for TAFs to lead important discussions on how to improve student outcomes. As a TAF just six weeks into the fellowship, it was refreshing for me to hear from folks around the country.

The outreach extravaganza started in California as ten current and former Teaching Ambassador Fellows fanned out across the Bay Area to talk with educators. In one memorable event, Seattle-based TAF Kareen Borders hosted a discussion with current and future science teachers at the NASA Ames Research Center. Locales for TAF-led discussions in California included district and charter schools, where teachers weighed in on the Obama Administration’s education agenda, the RESPECT Project for transforming the teaching profession, and their own thoughts on how to increase student learning.

Travelling to over 30 communities in 11 states, TAFs convened teachers in Silicon Valley, Las Vegas and across Wyoming through Louisville, St. Louis and Richmond and many rural communities in between. At Salt Lake City Community College in Sandy, Utah, Arizona-based TAF Cheryl Redfield and I recruited local National Board Certified Teachers to facilitate breakout sessions at a 200-person educational technology summit. At Emporia State University in Kansas, TAF Cindy Apalinski from Linden, New Jersey met with teachers-in-training and introduced Secretary Duncan at a town hall attended by approximately 400 future educators.

Seeking and respecting teacher perspectives must be a crucial part of shaping policies that teachers ultimately implement. Over the past two weeks, Teaching Ambassador Fellows have been on a mission to learn from a wide range of stakeholders from across the country. The next step after the bus tour dust settles is to report back to senior staff and Secretary Duncan.

Here is a sampling of what TAFs heard along the way:

On the importance of great teaching:

“Technology won’t save education; great teachers with great tools will save education.”

“All you need is a teacher and a program to open students’ hearts and minds to help them become global citizens.”

“Never forget how complex the teaching profession is. Great teachers have to make high stakes decisions almost every minute of their day. Any policy changes that try to teacher-proof the curriculum are bound to fail.”

“Middle school STEM is so important because that’s when they are trying to figure out who they are.”

“We can teach students about heroes, or we can create our own heroes.”

On professional development and career paths:

“I love the classroom, but I need opportunities to advance that aren’t taking me away from being in the classroom.”

“We need to be in an ongoing process of growth, professionally, not just stuck as either a ‘new’ educator or an ‘experienced’ one.”

“I would love to stay in the classroom, but can I afford to stay in this pay grade forever? No. So, unfortunately, I will have to leave. I need the opportunity to stay.”

“We want to better ourselves. Let us. Offer teachers the opportunities to advance, not just by seniority or maxing out by credits.”

“Teachers want to be in positions that allow them to learn while they still teach. They want to learn their subject and their craft.”

“Merit pay is okay as long as teachers are evaluated on what we value.”

“Ideally leaders would move into a leadership role, and eventually return to the classroom. However, returning to the classroom would mean a pay cut, and it’s difficult for someone who has ‘lived the life’ to then go back to their old salary.”

“After five years of teaching, I moved into a mentorship role. From there I could really study the profession and study it from an academic standpoint, rather than an emotional one. I really grew from that. We have term limits for mentors to allow more people to do it and to stay in touch with the profession.”

“We don’t just need mentors at the beginning of our careers—we need them throughout.”

“So much that I’ve learned about good teaching has been by watching great teachers.”

On the future of education:

“The achievement gap won’t be closed by one person working in isolation; we need to work together… a group of teachers together is a real impetus for change.”

“We need to demystify the definition of college and career readiness so that every student can actually attain it.”

“In our work, it’s not that good things aren’t happening; it’s that we aren’t doing the good things enough.”

“Not all education happens in the classroom.”

“We can’t continue to fund schools the way we do and hope to be successful. There’s a possibility of three weeks being cut off our schedule if a sales tax initiative does not pass is November [in California].”

“A huge recruitment issue is respectability—we’re just not respected as teachers, so we need to better educate the public.”

“If we want to improve our schools we need to get back to basics and build relationships in our schools and communities.”

“The idea of a ‘full teaching load’ needs to change. If you asked me what I would ideally be doing, I would teach a 3/5 load full-time, and spend the extra energy on those classes. Class sizes do matter. To think about doing anything else in addition to our full-time load is impossible.”

“It is up to our current and future educators now to lead the country in the direction we need to go.”

On teachers’ realities:

“To go to these meetings where every trainer and attendee has an iPad, but not one of my students does, that’s an issue.”

“I see teachers working their hearts out, one kid at a time.”

“Data doesn’t say what relationships make happen.”

“Our country’s acceptance of mathematics illiteracy is appalling.”

“We have too many things to do, so we can’t do any of them well, and especially not with a 32 minute planning period.”

“We need leaders who make us feel wanted, valued. We need to know our input is valued… we also need this among ourselves, letting each other know that we’re valued and respected.”

“Collaboration is about trust.”

“Teachers don’t operate in a vacuum and kids need lots of other support service to survive. From psychological help, to breakfast programs, to extra support for struggling students, to basic health needs. If that’s not available, no matter how good of a teacher you are you are not able to get the best from students.”

“At one point my contract said that I taught 20% mentored 80%, but in reality the teaching part actually took 75% of my time and 90% of my emotional space. Serving as a leader and a teacher I asked myself the following question, “If you’re teaching, can you do anything else well at the same time?”

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.

Collaboration on Display in Three States: Bus Tour Day Six

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller took part in a town hall on college affordability at Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis on day six of our back-to-school tour. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller took part in a town hall on college affordability at Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis on day six of our back-to-school tour. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Columbia: Rural educators teaching with technology

Rural educators face a challenge of isolation. Miles away from their peers, collaboration and training can often be difficult. Technology is helping bridge this geographic divide, and was the focus of our first Education Drives America event on Wednesday at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri.

Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton joined rural educators, both in person and via video conference, to discuss the eMints program (enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies), an Investing in Innovation (i3) grantee that focuses on providing professional development that uses interactive group sessions and in-classroom coaching/mentoring to help teachers integrate technology into their teaching.

St. Louis: Improving college access and affordability

Yesterday, I wrote about the impressive student bands that have greeted the Education Drives America bus, and at Harris Stowe University in St. Louis, we discovered that student choirs are equally impressive. The Harris Stowe choral students set the tone for an important discussion on college affordability and access.

Deputy Secretary Miller joined Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of ED’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Harris Stowe students, as well as community members for the town hall discussion. (Earlier in the week, the Department of Education announced that Harris Stowe received $1.6 million grant – one of 97 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to receive nearly $228 million to strengthen their academic resources, financial management, endowments, and physical plants.)

“In the past three years,” Miller said. [The Obama Administration has] done more to help students afford college since the G.I. Bill.” Miller spoke of the Administration’s steps to helps students, including increases in Pell Grants, a commitment to keep student loan interest rates low, and the President’s plan to keep college affordable.

Mt. Vernon: Celebrating successful public-private partnerships

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller speaks with a worker at the Continental Tire facility. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Deputy Secretary Tony Miller speaks with a worker at the Continental Tire facility. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Following St. Louis, the bus kept us moving to our third stop of the day. The floor of a tire factory isn’t your typical spot to celebrate educational success. Yet, that is exactly where the Education Drives America dropped off Deputy Secretary Miller and staff to talk about the successful partnership between Continental Tire North America (CTNA) and Rend Lake College in Mt. Vernon, Ill.

Since 2005, CTNA has partnered with Rend Lake College to develop and staff a new training center at CTNA. The facility boasts a 24-station computer lab with teacher station, a distance learn¬ing room which seats 24 students, and Rend Lake provides a coordinator to work full-time in the training center, over¬seeing the college programs.

The public-private partnership allows CTNA employees to take classes that meet the CTNA’s business needs and puts its employees on a path towards an associates degree and in some cases a bachelors degree. It is an impressive partnership that is model for communities throughout the country.

Evansville: Collaboration is key

Because two states in one day wasn’t enough for day six of ED’s back-to-school tour, our last stop of the day took us to Glenwood Leadership Academy in Evansville, Ind., for a discussion on labor-management collaboration.

Deputy Secretary Miller joined National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel, Superintendent of Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation David Smith, and President of the Evansville Teachers Association Keith Gambill.
Glenwood is both an NEA priority school and a recipient of an ED School Improvement Grant, and has pulled in the entire community to ensure success of its students.

Superintendent Smith spoke passionately about the need for collaboration, saying that it is necessary to “take time to invest in relationships.”

At a number of stops on the Education Drives America tour, we’ve witnessed communities coming together to help their children succeed, and Evansville is another powerful example of support and commitment.

During the town hall, you could hear the emotion in the voices of the audience as they spoke of how proud they were to be a part of the school’s success. One student asked how she could give back to her teachers because she sees that they work so hard. In response, the entire audience gave the Evansville teachers a powerful standing ovation, which left a deep impression on those of us passing through.

The Evansville stop made for a perfect ending to a great day in the Midwest. The bus moves on and will be rejoined by Secretary Duncan today for stops in West Virginia.

See what people had to say on social media during day six, stay connected to the Department of Education throughout the year by getting email updates, and watch our video summary of day six:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital engagement and is blogging and tweeting his way from coast to coast during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.

Back-to-School Tour in the News

Back-to-School Tour in the News--Denver

On Monday, Secretary Duncan traveled to Denver to visit Lowry Elementary School with Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. In the afternoon, Duncan participated in a Constitution Day presentation in Limon, Colo. On Tuesday, Arne visited the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kan., and the National Teachers Hall of Fame in Emporia, Kan. He ended the day with a town hall meeting in Kansas City, Mo. Check out some of the press highlights from these events.

Denver and Limon, Colo.

Dance Off: Arne Duncan Schooled By Kathleen Sebelius? Arne participated in nutrition and fitness events at Lowry Elementary School and got quizzed on Constitution Day by “very smart fifth graders” in Limon. Read the story in EdWeek and view the video embedded in the story. Watch a video highlighting Duncan’s tour of the Lowry wellness program and the lunch he shared with students and a news report about the garden at Lowry, which food preparer “Princess Green” uses to make lunches for the school. Later Duncan told reporters, “What happens in Denver, what happens in Colorado has national implications.” “Bigwigs from Washington and Colorado… walk the walk, talk the talk… and get down a little” in Denver.

Topeka, Kan.

Speaking from the steps of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Arne called for educators to work to “close the opportunity gap” among students.

Offering an “eye-opening message about continued segregation across the country,” Duncan spoke with students, teachers and administrators about the opportunity gap. He pointed out that U.S. schools are more segregated now then they have been since the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Duncan indicated that nearly 40 percent of black and Hispanic students attend schools where more than 90 percent of students are non-white. And he urged educators to do more to lower the dropout rate.
Emporia, Kan.

The Gazette in Emporia, which is home to the National Teacher Hall of Fame, ran a profile of the Secretary that included a biography of his early career and some highlights of his tenure at the U.S. Department of Education. Read Who is Arne Duncan?

Kansas City, Mo.

Arne held a Hispanic town hall with Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, and urged the nation to “stop playing catch up” with education.

As part of the wide-ranging discussion of education Secretary Duncan spoke with passion about the need for consistent educational leadership in Kansas City. He also talked about the importance of keeping our schools open more hours to make schools “the heart of the neighborhood” and help parents to become more involved.