AFT president Randi Weingarten logged two more stops—visiting New York City and White Plains, N.Y.—May 9 on the "Making a Difference Every Day" tour, which celebrates the tremendous work of AFT members, including educators who help students excel.
AFT president Randi Weingarten joins a class at Highlands Middle School.
The tour got under way at a New York City middle school, the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology, M.S. 223, which has won awards for its math and science programs and was described recently in the New York Times as one of the best middle schools in the South Bronx. For educators at M.S. 223, there is a distinct culture of hope. (Watch United Federation of Teachers video about the school.)
One of the school's big accomplishments was its selection last year as an Intel "school of distinction" in math, which came with $160,000 in grants and gear from the computer chip manufacturer. (Read related story.) However, given M.S. 223's collaborative culture, extensive professional development, schoolwide "mock economy," two math clubs and other teacher-driven improvements, its principal, Ramon Gonzalez, has pointed out that excellence in education comes from teachers, not technology. Another clue to the school's success is its involvement in a literacy project that provides books at laundromats and bodegas so that parents can read to their children—an important bridge to math and science.
Weingarten told the school staff that, at a time when the sentiment in some quarters is that America's best days are over, educators like themselves are defying such low expectations. "Kids shouldn't just dream their dreams, they should achieve them," she said. "You are helping these kids down the right path."
When Weingarten asked what one thing they would like President Obama to do for them, one teacher said Congress needs to pass and Obama needs to sign the DREAM Act—short for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act—which would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students who were brought as children to the United States. For more than a decade, AFT members and their students have been fighting to get this legislation enacted. The issue is particularly relevant at M.S. 223, which has a largely Hispanic student population that includes a high proportion of English language learners.
Another educator said the president must not ignore or forget the impact of poverty on America's children. United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew, an AFT vice president, pointed to the unprecedented number of city kids in homeless shelters. Recalling similar stories she's heard all over the country, Weingarten told principal Gonzalez, "Thank you for respecting and supporting teachers, and recognizing that they are a key to success."
Local president Kerry Broderick (left), AFT president Randi Weingarten and New York State United Teachers president Richard Iannuzzi (right) visit White Plains High School.
Next, it was on to White Plains High School, where the focus was on collaboration between the AFT-affiliated White Plains Teachers Association and the school district to improve teacher evaluations and to educate a diverse student population. "Teachers and school administrators here value and respect each other, and that translates into solid outcomes for students," Weingarten said.
She was joined by New York State United Teachers president Richard Iannuzzi, an AFT vice president, and White Plains Teachers Association president Kerry Broderick, who said the keys to any successful school are "celebrating new ideas and building trust between management and labor." In addition to visiting classrooms at the suburban high school and nearby Highlands Middle School, they watched a presentation of the district's work using student data as one component of teacher evaluations, including value-added measures based on student test scores.
"Student learning has a role in teacher evaluations, and it's great that White Plains is going about it in a thoughtful, collaborative way," Weingarten said. "In too many places, it's being done haphazardly and with little input from teachers, and the result is a system that isn't accurate or fair."
Weingarten took part in a discussion with students and teachers on how to boost academic success. She also met with local educators and community leaders at a luncheon at the district's staff development center. [United Federation of Teachers, Annette Licitra, John See, Ruthanne Buck/photos by Maria Bastone]
May 10, 2011