ST. LOUIS—U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and state and local education leaders in a back-to-school visit today to applaud union-district collaboration that has yielded several innovative reform programs.
“A very productive collaborative partnership between the union and the school district is now bearing fruit for students and teachers. There are innovative programs in St. Louis public schools now that can be models for other cities,” Weingarten said. She said the good working relationship illustrates that a “with us, not to us” approach is the right way to go for students, teachers and school staff.
At a news conference, Weingarten, Duncan and state and local education leaders praised the St. Louis Plan, a union-district partnership program to improve teacher quality that is starting this school year. The districtwide peer assistance and review program utilizes mentor teachers to observe, evaluate and offer assistance to every new teacher. Each mentor will work with no more than eight teachers.
“Teaching presents its own set of daunting challenges, particularly for new teachers. The St. Louis Plan will go a long way in providing the nurturing and support that brand-new teachers need to do a great job for kids and stay in the profession,” Weingarten said.
St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams and AFT St. Louis President Mary J. Armstrong emphasized that students and teachers are benefiting from the positive partnership between the union and the district.
“Academic achievement is our primary focus at St. Louis Public Schools. We will work with AFT and our teachers to provide a quality education to St. Louis children as we prepare them to be successful in their adult lives and as members of our community,” Adams said. Armstrong added: “The union and the district have a stronger relationship as partners in education reform. The district is listening and asking for our input. This cooperative spirit has made it possible to create and develop many of our new, promising programs.”
Armstrong said the schools and programs highlighted today exemplify the union’s five-point plan for school excellence: a zero-tolerance discipline policy; smaller class sizes; targeted, quality professional development; educating the “whole child”; and full access to preschool beginning at age 3.
Weingarten visited three schools—Innovative Concept Academy at Blewett, an innovative alternative school for at-risk youth and children with individual educational needs; Clay Elementary School, which has an early childhood center and a variety of community partnerships; and Lexington Elementary School, which has a peer assistance and review program.
Weingarten said turning around low-performing schools takes both a commitment to working collaboratively and a real sense of shared responsibility to support and implement good programs. She said the focus of education reform must be on “four C’s”—children, community, collaboration and curriculum.
After today, the AFT tour continues in Houston (Aug. 28); Baltimore (Aug. 31); Portland, Ore. (Sept 3); San Francisco (Sept. 4); Kenmore, N.Y. (Sept. 8); Boston (Sept. 9); and Philadelphia (Sept. 10).