06/07/2011

Weingarten's Detroit Visit Spotlights Teacher-Led School

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AFT president Randi Weingarten and leaders from Detroit's education unions met with educators, community groups, parents and faith leaders June 7 to discuss collaborating on efforts to help turn around the troubled Detroit school system.

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts joined the group for a tour of Palmer Park Preparatory Academy (P3A), a successful teacher-run school.

"We came today to hear ideas from Detroit's educators and the community about what Detroit's schoolchildren need," said Weingarten. "DPS faces huge challenges, which we can begin to tackle if we share responsibility and commit to working together."

Randi Weingarten at Detroit School. Photo credit: Jim West  Following a meeting with New Detroit (a coalition of nonprofit, business and service organizations) and a discussion with parents and community groups, the leaders took a tour of Palmer Park Preparatory Academy. A year ago, the school was considered unsafe and disruptive to the community, and was slated to close. P3A's teachers responded by taking over responsibility for the school, including curriculum, budget and staffing decisions. Today, P3A is safe and secure for students, and now has a waiting list of parents who want to enroll their children.

"Teacher-led schools like P3A are a direct outgrowth of our teacher contract," said Detroit Federation of Teachers president Keith Johnson, who is an AFT vice president. "Our teachers took a school on the precipice of being shut down, and turned it into a sought-after destination for Detroit's schoolchildren." This is one of many models that the group is thinking about for the future of Detroit schools, he said.

While at P3A, the leaders talked to a group of the school's Peer Assistance and Review mentors about their experiences and lessons learned in running a school and providing fellow educators with the support they need to be better teachers. Weingarten said it's a good sign that Roy Roberts joined the group for the school tour, noting that it will take a respectful working relationship with the unions for a successful school district transformation.

"DPS is in a very tough situation, and we need the expertise that Roy Roberts brings to the table," said Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals president Donna Jackson. "At the same time, turning around a school system cannot be done without the input of the community and the teachers and staff who work with our children."

Weingarten concluded her visit by meeting with leaders from Detroit's faith community, followed by a meeting with local building reps and other union activists. Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees president Ruby Newbold, who is an AFT vice president, said that Weingarten's visit sends a unifying message in a time of crisis.

"We all have different roles to play for the schoolchildren of Detroit," said Newbold. "But at the end of the day, we're one union and, more importantly, one community." [AFT press release/photo by Jim West]

June 7, 2011