Community College Educators Say American Jobs Act Will Fill Gaps

At a recent roundtable, the faculty of Wake tech Community College believed in their students.

“My students have to go out in the community and demonstrate what they can do. I know they’ve learned when I see a reduction in fire loss,” Wayne, a Wake Tech Fire Service Director, told ED Teaching Ambassador Fellows Angela McClary-Rush and Maryann Woods-Murphy, who led the session with Frank Chong, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges.

Wayne’s colleague, Tommy Edwards, from the school’s Law Enforcement Division agreed. “We also see the results in how much cardio training we provide. Our students saved 20 lives.”

The ED team led the one–hour round table event in an outreach effort designed to listen to the challenges and needs of teachers. The discussion immediately preceded the Secretary Duncan’s Town Hall at the community college in Raleigh, N.C.

David Yarley, the Director of Wake Tech’s Bio Network Capstone Center, said that he is happiest when he picks up the phone and one of his students announces he or she has found a job. Steven Hill, the Humanities Department Chair, just wants to “turn the proverbial light bulb on.” Diane Hinson, a Health Science Dean, is thrilled that Wake Tech students score more than ten points higher than the state test pass rates.

These educators do everything they can to get their students engaged in learning and “use muscles they never knew they had,” said Jessica Facciolini, North Carolina’s 2011 Teacher of the Year, who joined the group from ED at the round table and later at Secretary Duncan’s Community College Town Hall.

But even though these faculty members feel that the Wake Tech is the “pulse of the community” and that “college for the real world” has a vital role, they were asking Washington to support to help maintain such successful programs.

Faculty spoke of large class sizes and of facilities with limited equipment for the students to practice their skills. “If you have two beds in a room full of students, they are only going to get limited hands-on training,” said a nursing teacher. “If we’re going to teach students the latest technology for the 21st Century, we can’t use old machines. They’ve got to have what’s out there in the work place.”

Dianne Hison sighed as she moved forward in her seat, “Not one thing we have on our plates is unreasonable, but when you put it all together, it’s impossible.”  Her colleagues shook their heads in agreement.

The faculty were grateful to know that the American Jobs Act, if passed, would provide relief to schools that have facilities needs and would create jobs for educators, including $5 billion specifically set aside for community colleges.

“Ask Washington to keep listening to us,” said one faculty member, “we’re doing magnificent things that help our students. We need support.”

Read more about the American Jobs Act

Maryann Woods-Murphy

Maryann is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Allendale, NJ.

Providing Meaningful Family-School Relationships

During ED’s back-to-school bus tour, Secretary Duncan stated that, “parents have to be part of the solution. Parental engagement must help increase student achievement.” To accomplish this goal, the department is spanning the country to host parent forums in partnership with states, districts, schools, organizations, associations, colleges, universities and businesses.

A parent arrives at the Garland parent forum.

Parents Arrive at the Garland Parent Forum

In late October, ED joined the Garland Independent School District in Garland, Texas, and the Garland Area Alliance of Black School Educators for a parent forum to provide parents with information, strategies, and resources to help increase their child’s educational achievement. A few of the tips on how parents can be part of the solution discussed during the forum include:

    • Listen to your children. Develop a closer relationship with your children by giving them your full attention.  Listen to his/her conversation.  They may reveal concerns and fears of which you are not aware.
    • Ask for help from the classroom teacher. There may be subject topics you and your child need clarification.  Call or write the teacher for an appointment where you both can receive assistance.
    • Email your child’s teacher if your child is having a problem. An email provides documentation of contact. Long emails are dreaded and often not read.  Keep them concise and clear.
    • For teachers, administrators, and school support staff, be sensitive to the needs of the parents. There may be some parents who speak no or very little English.  Find ways to reach out to those parents. They, too, wish to be partners in their child’s learning.

Over 500 parents, community and faith-based representatives, and school district personnel attended the forum. One administrator who attended the forum stated that the forum had prompted him “to do more. I need to thank my parents more for the things they do [at school and at home].”

Secretary Duncan is in Mason, Ohio, today to hold discussions with parents and school officials about programs to promote excellence in education, expand job growth and invest in the economy.

Carrie Jasper

Carrie Jasper works in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Helping Community College Students Get Back on Their Feet

What do an out-of-work mother, a high school dropout, a woman in the middle of a career switch, a professional musician, and an African immigrant have in common? They are all are trying to carve out a successful future by going back to school by attending or aspiring to attend St. Louis Community College (STLCC). After speaking at the National Council for Continuing Education and Training/National Council for Workforce Education’s Joint Annual Conference last Tuesday, I stopped by STLCC to tour the college’s Nursing Simulator Lab and to hold a community roundtable with students, college officials, and local employers.

Dann-Messier and STLCC Students

Brenda Dann-Messier (in green) with STLCC students.

STLCC and consortia partners throughout the state of Missouri recently received a $20 million grant under the  Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program. The program supports partnerships between community colleges and employers to develop programs that provide pathways to good jobs, including building instructional programs that meet specific industry needs.

Officials at STLCC are using the grant to expand partnerships with area hospitals that provide clinical training and future employment for students in the school’s nursing program.

The Nursing Program at STLCC has done an outstanding job of developing effective partnerships between students, educators, and employers.  Their collaboration model is critical to getting people back to work during these tough economic times. While some of the students were in the school’s nursing program, some were still trying to get their GED so they could begin their postsecondary education. For many of the students, getting to where they are today wasn’t easy, but they’ve persevered in the pursuit of their dreams.

One woman, for instance, lost her family mortgage business and was forced to sell her home while another student aspired to one day get her PhD after dropping out of high school several years ago. They had the common goal of completing the education necessary to achieve their newfound path in life. None of them could afford to attend a more expensive state school and were thankful for the many opportunities provided by STLCC.

“I couldn’t have gone back to school if it weren’t for STLCC,” said one student. “They have been instrumental in helping me get back on my feet.”

Brenda Dann-Messier is the Assistant Secretary in the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Students at Wake Tech Community College Talk Reform and Jobs

As a 16 year veteran educator, I am always keen to what students feel and how to address their concerns.

At a roundtable discussion with students at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, N.C. after Secretary Duncan’s town hall meeting last week, the students were open and honest about educational reform and the need for jobs in this country.

Their voices were clear: institutions that provide high-quality education, ongoing use and creation of technology to fuel educational practices, training programs for non degree-seeking displaced workers, are important priorities to ensure a strong American economy.

Johnny, a 25-year veteran of the Hospitality industry is a displaced worker who found himself at Wake Tech because he was laid off and has found it difficult to find another job. There was no laughter in the room when he stated that “age” discrimination is real and that he has faced it while trying to become re-employed. He was adamant when he said a bipartisan coming together to create jobs must occur now to ensure America’s stronghold as a world leader, especially in terms of the economy.

Fiaunna, a mom of a high school senior, is unwavering in her opinion that we must reform how we teach young people and the uses of technology in the classroom. After receiving a bachelor’s degree years ago, she noted that her two years at Wake Tech has been a stronger learning experience than her time as an undergraduate at another institution. After her previous job as a veterinarian’s assistant was eliminated, she took it upon herself to return to school. She is learning the hands-on skills that she needs to be highly successful as the owner of her own veterinarian facility one day. She notes that traditional colleges and universities must implement courses that will make graduates more career ready. Internships, hands-on experience in fields of study, and real-world experiences are just as important as traditional study.

Keyona is a young woman who was accepted into several universities but her family could not afford the tuition. She decided to attend Wake Tech. Her experience has strengthened her control of herself as a student and she feels a sense of comfort and belonging because of the innovative practices that have been implemented at the institution. With sincerity, she says that the financial challenges of furthering her education are real, and that she and other students would like some relief in terms of ways to pay for their education.

Jeannie, a nursing student, was a stay at home mom who has returned to school and strongly believes that giving students the support they need to be successful is a hallmark of a great institution of learning. Wake Tech’s open and clear communication and varying class times were instrumental in her choice to attend. She notes that schools should be aware that easy access to information through websites and simple instructions for registration and other processes draw students in.

The voices of these students and the others in this discussion were powerful.
Students want their voices heard. They plea for high-quality educational services, but more than anything, they want to be assured that they will have jobs to match their skills upon completion of their degrees.

Angela McClary-Rush is a teacher at Williamsburg County School District in South Carolina, and a 2011-2012 Teaching Ambassador Classroom Fellow

Hope Rises at Philadelphia’s Bodine High School



Unlike Bob Marley’s reggae music, when budget cuts “hit” a public school, they hurt.

Consider the case of Philadelphia’s Bodine High School for International Affairs.  The public high school lost over 10% of its teachers this year, and the school’s students and teachers acknowledge that the loss has resulted in a challenging teaching and learning environment.

Last week, I joined ED’s Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Shelton at Bodine High to meet with its passionate and hopeful students and teachers.  With their share of the $30 billion for teacher jobs in President Obama’s American Jobs Act, the Bodine community hopes that their teachers can be retained or even restored, thereby alleviating the stress create by recent cuts.  What does that stress look like?

During our visit, five students described how the loss of teachers caused disruptions, including:

    • Fewer teachers are available for formal and informal collaboration with students.
    • The number of study halls have decreased.
    • A drop in the number of clubs and extra-curricular activities offered this year because of faculty cuts.

Both students and teachers feel like they are less able to create the dynamic learning environment that engages the community and fosters success.  Several Bodine teachers described how the cuts had affected collaboration among peers and time available to create solutions.

When it comes to teacher solutions, the Blueprint for Reform is very clear about teacher professionalism.  If teachers have the time and resources to develop sustainable solutions to the challenges that our schools face, all of our schools will be better off.  Shelton encouraged the students and teachers to share their solutions with each other, with the hope that the sustained collaboration, in itself, could enrich the relationships within the school.  Mr. Shelton also asked the participants to consider the benefits of the American Jobs Act that would preserve 400,000 teachers jobs across the US and over 14,000 teachers’ jobs in Pennsylvania alone.

When it comes to teacher professionalism, what solutions have you come up with that can help enrich and sustain your school? Let us know in the comments below.

Gamal D. Sherif
 is a teacher at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Pa., and a 2011-2012 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow

Secretary Duncan’s Straight Talk Is Music to Puerto Ricans’ Ears

Secretary Duncan speaks in Puerto Rico

Secretary Duncan speaks at the Puerto Rico Education Summit. (Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover)

On the island of Puerto Rico, home to the third-largest school district in the United States, Secretary Duncan on Monday brought a tough, but optimistic message to the “Investing in Our Future” Education Summit.

Puerto Rico, Duncan said to the more than 300 attendees, must choose “the path of embracing innovation, academic rigor, accountability, and effective strategies for accelerating learning for all students.”

In the first official visit by a U.S. Secretary of Education to Puerto Rico in 18 years, Secretary Duncan delivered opening and closing remarks at the 7-hour summit.

Duncan’s message was summarized Tuesday in the front-page headline of Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, which read; “U.S. Education Secretary Sings the Truth.”

Convened at the recommendation of the President’s Task Force Report on Puerto Rico’s Status, the summit brought together local elected officials, teacher unions, nonprofits, Puerto Rico Department of Education stakeholders, mainland education experts, as well as the business community.

Participants in the summit included Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño; resident commissioner Pedro Pierluisi; San Juan mayor Jorge Santini; Vadim Nikitine, founder of the Flamboyan Foundation, and Nelson Colon, President of the Community Foundation of Puerto Rico.

Summit panels included System Wide Education Reform; Labor Management Collaboration as Key to Student Success; Beating the Odds in Traditionally Failing Environments; and a Business and Philanthropy in Education roundtable.

Student achievement has floundered in Puerto Rico, and 63 schools have been identified as persistently low-achieving.

Duncan acknowledged the challenges, but pressed summit attendees to meet those challenges, including poverty, with a spirit of collaboration and optimism.

“I know that poverty is not destiny,” Duncan said.  “We have all seen lives change because of opportunity, support, and guidance from great teachers and mentors.”

The summit’s panel on labor-management collaboration was the subject of particular attention, and Dr. Linda Lane, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent, and Nina Esposito-Visgitis, President of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, shared with the audience how they forged a strong working relationship.

“It all began when they asked me to participate in a teacher evaluation discussion, and I realized they were listening to me,” Vigisitis said.  “That really is where things began.”

The Department of Education, along with the Task Force, will continue to follow-up on the recommendations and lessons learned from the Summit.

During his visit, Secretary Duncan also conducted a town hall with parents and teachers at a school in Bayamon, as well as a small meeting with high school seniors at a school in San Juan.

What Inspires Young Teens?

What inspires young teens to do well in school?

The admission from President Obama that he wasn’t always a perfect student really struck a chord with 6th – 9th graders as they watched the President’s  3rd Annual Back-to-School speech on Sept. 28 in Chicago.

“I was really surprised when he said that he wasn’t the best student in middle school,” said Maurice, an 8th grader at Ryerson Elementary School, where he joined a small group of other students and educators from Ryerson and Gage Park High School to watch the address and participate in a follow-up discussion.

Students in Classroom

Dexter Chaney speaks with Ryerson students after watching President Obama's speech

“I always thought that to be President, you’d have to be the smartest student in your school. He wasn’t, but he became the hardest worker,” he said, sparking vigorous nods from students around him.

“My parents are always telling me that they want me to have more opportunities than they had. That inspires me,” said Dyanne, a 6th- grader.

While several teens echoed that positive response, a few others said that drug dealing and other negative influences in their neighborhoods are what drive them to succeed in school.

“I want more for myself. I want to graduate from high school and college. I think that if I put all of my efforts into school, I can be anything I want to be,” said DeAndre, a 6th grader.

The students also had plenty of suggestions for making class time more inspiring:

  • One said that there was no free time in his school day, making him often wish that he could “fast forward” through some classes.
  •  Others wished their teachers would try new ways of teaching material to make classes more interesting, and to better reach kids who don’t all learn at the same pace.
  • Several teens, concerned about plans for a longer school day in Chicago Public Schools, hoped that the extra time would include art and music classes.

Ryerson’s Dexter Chaney II — one of ED’s 2011-2012 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAF) – urged his students to draw on inspiration from within themselves.

“You need to be committed to being successful,” said Chaney, who was joined by Gage Park teacher Xian Barrett, a 2009-2010 TAF.  “You need to take risks, and you need to be more involved with the world around you.  Most young people don’t believe that their thoughts and ideas can make a difference, but they can.”

Click here to read more about President Obama’s back-to-school speech.

StoryCorps Project Honors America’s Teachers

Secretary Duncan Speaking

Secretary Duncan speaks at the launch of the National Teachers Initiative (Photo Courtesy of StoryCorps)

If you could tell your favorite teacher what influence he or she has had on your life, what would you say?

And if you are, or ever have been, a teacher, what would you say to a student who made those long hours at school worth it? How would you thank that mentor who made you a better educator?

These are the kinds of conversations that America will be hearing over the next year thanks to the National Teachers Initiative, a new project of StoryCorps, the oral history project. The initiative aims to record more than 600 conversations with Americans talking to and about teachers, some of which NPR will broadcast and all of which will be archived in the Library of Congress.

On Sept. 19, Secretary Duncan helped launch the National Teachers Initiative at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House. An audience that included teachers and students heard previews of several powerful interviews that StoryCorps has recorded.

In one, Lee Buono thanks his science teacher from Medford (N.J.) Memorial Middle School, Al Siedlecki, for encouraging him to become a neurosurgeon. “Mr. Sie,” as he’s known to students, first noticed Buono’s surgical talents as he dissected a frog. Years later, Buono called his teacher and thanked him after helping a patient regain his ability to speak.

“It made me feel really important that I had that influence on you,” Siedlecki recalls in their conversation for StoryCorps. “Lately I almost am afraid to say that I’m a teacher to some people. But I’m not, because you called me. I’m a teacher. I’m going to help as many people as I can to find their passion, too.” (Listen to their conversation here.)

StoryCorps

Photo Courtesy of StoryCorps

At the White House, Siedlecki, who has taught science for more than three decades, expressed his hope that StoryCorps’ project would help teachers regain the respect they deserve. “Teachers need a boost in this country right now,” he said.

Secretary Duncan agreed. He called the National Teachers Initiative “the right project at the right time” and praised StoryCorps for capturing “the extraordinary power” of listening.

“In places like Washington and around the country, everybody wants to talk,” Arne said. “Everybody wants to tell you what their ideas are and, how convinced they are that their vision is the only way, and I think none of us spend enough time actually listening and engaging with folks.”

While back home in Chicago earlier in September following his back-to-school bus tour, Arne recorded a conversation with his mother, Sue Duncan, who founded an afterschool tutoring program 50 years ago for low-income children on Chicago’s South Side. StoryCorps founder Dave Isay played a short clip from the conversation.

“One of my biggest battles I feel I’m fighting every day is lots of folks sort of believe that poverty is destiny,” Arne told his mom. “But you always had this incredible hope. I guess that’s why I’m always trying to challenge people and challenge schools to do better, because the outcomes for so many of the kids that came to your program—where they ended up in life—was just so radically, radically different from where they started. And it just showed me what was possible.”

Mrs. Duncan summed up her half-century supporting children’s educations this way: “I tried to be consistent and kind and trustworthy and just have an infinite hope for the children. Just do the best you can, every moment. We only have one moment at a time.”

To learn more about the National Teachers Initiative and listen to stories about teachers and teaching, go to StoryCorps’ website.

Massie Ritsch is Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach

Top 10 Highlights from the Back-to-School Tour

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

America’s students weren’t the only ones getting back on buses last week. Secretary Duncan and senior Department of Education staff also hit the road, for a Midwest back-to-school tour focusing on  “Education and the Economy.”

With more than 75 events across seven states, Duncan and ED staff spoke with teachers, students, parents, administrators, and business and community leaders on the importance of investing in education to secure our country’s future. Here are the top 10 highlights from this year’s tour.

10An automotive teacher gets ED revved up. At the bus’s final stop at Carl Schurz High School in Chicago, Secretary Duncan visited the classroom of Clairene Terry, an automotive class teacher who has restored automotive mechanics’ stature as an exciting and promising career path for Carl Schurz students.

9Ready. Set. Educate. Before Secretary Duncan delivered his message about the need to educate our way to a better economy in Merrillville, Ind., students from the One Region, One Vision initiative sent a message to Duncan saying they accept the challenge.

8All hands on deck. Nine hundred and sixty new sailors were formally welcomed into the U.S. Navy by Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, when she delivered remarks at the basic training graduation for Navy recruits.

7A panel of Wolverines. Secretary Duncan joined a faculty and student panel at the University of Michigan’s School of Education, in Ann Arbor, Mich.. The panel discussed training a new generation of effective teachers, and Duncan highlighted the need for a diverse teaching force.

6. The red coats are coming. In Cleveland, City Year corps members—donning their signature red jackets—cheered for guests as they arrived at East Technical High School for a forum featuring Secretary Duncan. On any normal school day, you would find Corps members cheering for 9th graders in the city who are at risk of getting off track and dropping out of school.

5I’m with the band. Secretary Duncan joined Pittsburgh Superintendent Linda Lane and other officials to discuss labor-management collaboration in Pittsburgh. Secretary Duncan jokingly offered to write a note for the Perry Traditional Academy marching band so they could be excused from classes to join the tour.

4Robots! Secretary Duncan not only shook a robot’s hand in Cleveland, but at the School of Career and Technical Education in Milwaukee, students displayed a number of robotic and mechanical creations.

3One nerdy teacher and cows for college. Day two of the tour produced a number of interesting stories, including a visit with @TheNerdyTeacher on the bus, and a student raising a cow to help pay for college.

2Bet your bottom dollar you’ll lose the blues in Chicago. At the final event of the “Education and the Economy” Back-to-School Bus Tour, Secretary Arne Duncan returned to his hometown of Chicago with an urgent message: Our country needs to invest in education today.

1Six States. Three Days. Secretary Duncan takes a minute to summarize his back-to-school bus tour and describe his wish for the upcoming school year for America.

Check out ed.gov/bustour for all the stories from ED’s 2011 “Education and the Economy” Back-to-School Tour, and keep up to date with the Department of Education by subscribing to our email news alerts.

Out-of-Work Teachers Visit White House, Weigh In on Jobs Bill at ED

As President Obama held up a copy of his American Jobs Act in the White House Rose Garden Monday and urged Congress to put aside political differences to put Americans back to work, he was surrounded by a supportive audience that included more than 20 educators who have personally felt the sting of tough economic times.

Special education teacher Terrell Williams works in a Baltimore, Md., school that is in such poor condition that he gets angry with the debate about whether or not to fix it.

Teachers who have been laid off because of budget shortfalls applauded loudly as the President described how “all across America teachers are being laid off in droves” and argued that this is “exactly what we shouldn’t be doing if we want to prepare our kids for college.”

These teachers had very personal reasons for applauding the President’s plan. More than half off them have been laid of or are facing potential layoffs. Others work in schools that are falling apart, where brown water flows from faucets, ceilings leak and they share their classrooms with rodents.

Later in the day, many of the educators who had come to Washington for the President’s speech congregated at ED to share their stories with some of the ED staff and Secretary Arne Duncan.

They included teacher Lisa Bruska, a mother of three who’s fighting cancer, who described being laid off from teaching first grade at Becker Primary School in Minnesota. Her husband, Randy, a machinist, is also out of work. Bruska described the President’s speech as “inspirational” and urged Congress to invest in putting educators like her back to work.

Lisa Bruska, a mother of three who’s fighting cancer, described being laid off from teaching first grade in Minnesota

Stephanie Harris Walker, an English teacher from Amsterdam, Ohio, who lost her job at Jefferson County Joint Vocational School, said that when the President described “schools that desperately need renovating,” she could really relate. “I was picturing my own school with a leaking roof,” she said, through tears.

Special education teacher Terrell Williams works in a Baltimore, Md., school that is in such poor condition that he gets angry with the debate about whether or not to fix it. “Sometimes I just find it offensive,” Williams said. Explaining that it is difficult to assure children that education is important when their schools are falling apart, Williams urged teachers and families to show decision-makers what the conditions are like for his kids.

Today, Secretary Duncan is traveling with President Obama to a school in Columbus, Ohio, to talk about the need to fix sub-standard school facilities. After his discussion with teachers, Duncan said, “These are the very conversations we need to be having across this country right now.”

The White House has prepared a fact sheet explaining how the American Jobs Act will help upgrade schools and community colleges, including how much money for modernization and renovation will flow to each state and some of the nation’s largest school districts.

Laurie Calvert

ED Teacher Liaison Laurie Calvert, a high school English teacher, is on loan to the Department of Education from Buncombe County, North Carolina.

AFT and TFT Share “The Toledo Plan” with Secretary Duncan

Ed. Note: Maryann Woods Murphy is a Spanish teacher and a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from her school in Allendale, NJ. This former New Jersey State Teacher of the Year and 33-year teaching veteran travelled with Secretary Duncan’s bus tour to meet with teachers and teachers unions.  Here she shares her first-hand experience with a visit to the AFT Union Hall in Toledo, Ohio on Wednesday, where the Secretary viewed a demonstration of Toledo’s innovative program to mentor and evaluate teachers.

 “Welcome to the home of peer review,” says Francine Lawrence, Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers and the former president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers. “We are so proud to recognize what we have done together.”

The room at Union Hall, Toledo, is packed. Teachers, educational leaders and community members are here to share “The Toledo Plan” with the Secretary of Education on his bus tour. There is excitement in the air.

 “The Toledo Plan” is a peer review process that uses master teachers to guide and support the professional development of a newly hired probationary teacher or a non-probationary teacher who needs assistance.

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

Dal Lawrence, former President of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, was a key player in the creation of the plan 31 years ago. He says that it’s about seeing which teachers can “fly on their own” after they get expert mentoring.

Tonight we are watching how the panel reviews the work of two probationary teachers. Each intern teacher has been assigned a trained, consulting teacher who has worked with the intern extensively throughout the year. Now it’s time for that consulting teacher to present a case for the retention or release of their mentee to the panel.

One of the teachers that the consultant presents, shows great organization, an ability to connect with students, expertise in the design of learning activities, clear expectations and terrific routines. This intern seems to be a capable and caring educator and this is what the consulting teacher recommends to the panel.

But the panel needs to probe and clarify any doubts, asking the consultant for evidence of the intern’s positive performance. Finally, the panel decides to affirm the consultant’s recommendation. This teacher will be offered a non-probationary contract for the following school year.

The next probationary teacher presenting to the panel really struggles. Though she is well meaning, her directions are unclear to kids. In her kindergarten class, students are distracted, doodling on themselves with markers, standing up at will and tossing paper cups. Despite the fact that the consulting teacher has offered many helpful suggestions and strategies, the intern cannot get her teaching together. The year has gotten progressively worse, and students are just not learning.

The panel agrees with the consultant’s negative recommendation. This teacher has not learned to “fly” and won’t be invited back to teach in Toledo. She didn’t make the cut.

After the mock peer review process concludes, Arne takes the microphone: “I have followed this model very closely for years,” he says, “I am always looking for models that the country should be looking at.” He goes on to say that he’d like to see more “tough minded collaborations” and “more districts working together in a thoughtful and collaborative way.”

Francine Lawrence, the Vice President of AFT closes the evening by saying that “in every school where you have significant student achievement, you have union and staff collaboration.”

The positive climate I see tonight and the long history and success of the peer review process show that working together for the good of students is possible. In fact, it’s been happening in Toledo for a very long time.

Maryann Woods-Murphy

Read a previous bus-tour post about the Toledo event.

College Access Gets a High Tech Boost

YPSILANTI-There was a field trip on just the third day of the school year at Ypsilanti New Tech High School @ Ardis, but it wasn’t students doing the traveling.  Instead, the school itself was the destination, for Greg Darnieder, Education Secretary Duncan’s senior advisor on the College Access Initiative, who visited the school as part of ED’s back-to-school tour through the Midwest.

As one of ten schools in Michigan’s New Technology High School Network, Ypsilanti New Tech @ Ardis employs the system’s Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach to “use technology and inquiry to engage students with issues and questions that are relevant to their lives,” according to promotional materials.

The public school, in just its second year of operation, is funded in part by more than $1.2 million in Federal Title II support to the state of Michigan that has helped seed six New Tech schools.

Darnieder toured several classes at the school, including Geo(graphy)Tech and PhysicsTech, guided by sophomores Kelsey Scott and Zachery Roberson.

While the campus bristles with high-end technology like high-definition cameras, flat screen TVs and laptop computers, school officials say the goal is for students to embrace technology – in all its forms – as a tool to advance learning.

Scott and Roberson enthusiastically endorsed the approach, describing a class project from their freshmen year where students put together a multimedia project on the Roaring 20′s, including producing a newspaper, videos and class presentations built around research into the technological developments, significant events and important figures of the time.

“It’s a really fun way to learn,” Scott said, “and you don’t even realize until later how much you have learned.”

Holly Heaviland, director of the New Tech network in Michigan’s Washtenaw county, explained to Darnieder that the school strives to “marry innovations with other things kids need,” including strategies to increase college access.  She introduced him to two teams of College Advising Corps members from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.  Together, the teams provide valuable college counseling support to 33 Michigan urban and rural schools.

“You guys are in a key role,” Darnieder told the group, mentioning President Obama’s goal of reaching 8.2 million new college graduates by 2020.  “I want to thank you for stepping out there and venturing into the land of young people.  So much of success in this area is about building relationships.  It’s about academics, too, but especially for first generation college-going students, success revolves around relationships.”

His point was echoed by Joilyn Stephenson, a member of the University of Michigan college advising corps.   “A lot of people don’t realize that these students are helping us as well,” Stephenson said.  When we can see some of the challenges they’re overcoming, it encourages us to do our best.”

-Daren Briscoe
Office of Communications and Outreach