Back-to-school tour stops in Florida and Pennsylvania

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The latest stops in the AFT's 2012 back-to-school tour took president Randi Weingarten to Osceola County, Fla., on Sept. 28 and Philadelphia on Oct. 1.

AFT president Randi Weingarten in Osceola, FLa. Photo: GregMatthews.

The Florida stop highlighted two of the AFT's large-scale initiatives: the Share My Lesson online resource bank and the union's partnership with First Book to get books into the hands of children from low-income families. Weingarten was joined at Ventura Elementary School by Florida Education Association president and AFT vice president Andy Ford, Osceola County Education Association president Apryle Jackson and Osceola schools superintendent Melba Luciano for an event that featured noted children's author Erica Perl, who read from her book Dotty. Weingarten, Ford and Jackson helped hand out more than 1,000 books—including Dotty—to students at Ventura, which were purchased through the AFT's First Book partnership.

After visiting some classrooms and reading to students, Weingarten participated in a workshop on the Common Core State Standards with first-grade teachers, and then introduced Share My Lesson to teachers who came together from a number of Osceola County schools. The Share My Lesson website includes many resources dedicated specifically to implementing the Common Core standards.

The Osceola visit ended with a community forum about how the union and its members can work with administrators, parents, religious leaders, community members and others to improve schools. "They want us to work together, invest in public schools and focus on learning," Weingarten said. "We need to find solutions that unite teachers and parents instead of allowing people to tear the community apart."

AFT president Randi Weingarten at a school in Philadelphia, Pa. Photo: Laurie Beck.

Weingarten's Philadelphia stop included a visit to the Andrew Jackson School, phone banking with members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and a meeting with community activists.

Weingarten called Jackson, a K-8 school in South Philadelphia, "a neighborhood jewel." The school has experienced steady academic improvement in recent years, as the result of strong parent involvement, committed teachers who have a voice in school decisions, and strong leadership from the principal. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president and AFT vice president Jerry Jordan, Philadelphia schools superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and principal Lisa Ciaranca-Kaplan joined Weingarten at Jackson.

The educators at Jackson have emphasized school-community partnerships, including those with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which have enabled the school to offer rich music and arts programs. The school has a large English language learner enrollment, with at least 14 different languages represented among the students.

"As we see in Philadelphia," Weingarten said, "a strong relationship between educators and communities is the key to high-quality public schools." [Dan Gursky, AFT press releases/photos by Greg Matthews (Osceola photo) and Laurie Beck (Philadelphia photo)]

October 2, 2012