DETROIT—AFT President Randi Weingarten visited two Detroit elementary schools today and met with teachers, administrators, community leaders and elected officials, emphasizing the need for educators, parents and community groups to work together to make a difference for students and turn around Detroit's public schools.
"Despite the numerous crises facing Detroit schools, teachers and school staff are back at school today, as dedicated as ever, and working hard to overcome the obstacles thrown in their path. But it's going to take the entire community to pull together to work on solutions that will improve teaching and learning," Weingarten said. Her visit was part of a coast-to-coast "Making a Difference Every Day" tour highlighting approaches that are sustainable and scalable, and will help all kids succeed.
Weingarten visited Maybury Elementary School, where volunteers, community groups and business leaders recently came together to create a new physical education program. The program has been expanded through a partnership with Michigan State University and grants from BlueCross BlueShield of Michigan and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Joining Weingarten at the school was Maria Navarrete, president of Our Kids Come First, a community partner that spearheaded "Got Teachers?," a campaign to make sure schools were fully staffed and ready to open.
The AFT president was later joined by Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson, who also is an AFT vice president, for a visit to Greenfield Union Elementary-Middle School, a school that boasts a comprehensive arts program developed in partnership with—and sponsored by—the University of Michigan. Despite being a high-poverty school, its students are exceeding district and state averages in reading, and outperforming other schools in the district in math, science and social studies. Weingarten spent time with the school's principal, teachers and students, who all talked about the possibilities for the new school year, even in this time of fiscal crisis.
"The teachers at Greenfield Union all talked about the school's supportive, collaborative environment focused on the students," said Weingarten, "This is the kind of school where children perform at a high level, regardless of socioeconomic background."
Weingarten, along with leaders from AFT Detroit, also met with Diplomas Now founder Bob Balfanz for an in-depth discussion of how the AFT and its state and local affiliates can help facilitate a partnership among the city, educators and community groups to improve schools and secure a better future for Detroit. The groups discussed building on the work of the new Detroit Collegiate Prep Academy, which opened today as a partnership of AFT Detroit, Detroit Public Schools (DPS), Diplomas Now, Communities in Schools and City Year. Partnerships like this are possible because of the Priority Schools Agreement negotiated by AFT Detroit and DPS.
Weingarten concluded her visit with a meeting with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.
"AFT Detroit leaders and members are working hard to improve schools, but there is still much to be done," said Weingarten. "The conversations we've had today reflect that sense of urgency, but also a sense of excitement and optimism about our ability to work together to face and overcome the challenges."
The Detroit visit was part of the AFT's "Making a Difference Every Day" back-to-school tour. The tour includes pre-K to higher education stops, highlighting approaches that are sustainable, are scalable and will help all kids succeed. Other cities on the tour include Charleston and McDowell County, W.Va.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; Hartford, Conn.; Tacoma and Seattle, Wash.; Austin, Texas; and Long Island, N.Y.
For stories and photos of the "Making a Difference Every Day" tour, see: