09/10/2010

AFT Tour Takes Charleston by Storm

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The AFT's "Raise Your Hand" tour rolled into Charleston, W.Va., on Sept. 8 and encountered a city where the call for schools that unite and strengthen the neighborhoods they serve is quickly becoming a rallying point—ground for positive engagement that extends from the teachers' lounge to the governor's mansion, from the state school board to the editorial board.

First up on the Charleston leg was a working breakfast on education hosted by Gov. Joe Manchin and first lady Gayle Manchin, who is a member of the state board of education. It brought together AFT president Randi Weingarten, AFT-West Virginia president Judy Hale, West Virginia School Service Personnel Association president Jackee Long, and other top AFT state and local affiliate leaders for a candid discussion of issues that ranged from the federal Race to the Top initiative to community schools. The remarks were off the record, but there was a commitment around the table when it came to keeping positive school reform on track in a charged political environment as well as the need to promote comprehensive improvement rather than piecemeal reform.

Randi Weingarten visits Stonewall Jackson Middle School

AFT-West Virginia president Judy Hale (left) and AFT president Weingarten visit Stonewall Jackson Middle School.

  Comprehensive strategies have been much on the minds of West Virginians these days—the state recently enacted a new pilot program for community schools—and the next stop on the tour was a visit to Stonewall Jackson Middle School, one of the applicants for the pilot. After visiting math and science classrooms at the school, the AFT delegation sat down for a roundtable discussion about the community schools pilot and how Stonewall might use it as a springboard for continued success. Joining the discussion were representatives of the Hope Community Development Corporation, a leader in Charleston's faith-based community on the city's west side and a partner that has been at the table early and substantively as the team from Stonewall Jackson fashioned the school's pilot application.

The roundtable discussion shed light on how a community schools approach could capitalize on new opportunities. Highlighted at the meeting were strategies to build the neighborhood's long-standing interest in school-based sports into a stronger home-school connection—one focused on student academic growth—and the value of well-coordinated wraparound services when it comes to removing barriers to student and family success.

Next up was a visit to the state board of education's regularly scheduled meeting at the West Virginia Capitol. The board members set aside time to hear from Weingarten, who had driven all night so she could make every stop on the tour's Charleston leg, and the AFT president used the time to address the value of well-structured community schools and the need for a new dialogue on teacher evaluations—one focused on professional development and improvement rather than "gotcha" schemes.

The Charleston tour wrapped up with an editorial board meeting with the Charleston Gazette, an appropriate ending since the Sept. 8 visit generated positive wall-to-wall coverage in both print and electronic media across the state. [Mike Rose/photo by Steven Wayne Rotsch]

September 10, 2010