Cincinnati Visit Highlights Community Schools Program

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During a two-day visit to Cincinnati, AFT president Randi Weingarten discussed education reform in meetings with business and civic leaders, toured a school that is part of the city's innovative community schools program, and joined thousands of working people at the annual Labor Day Picnic sponsored by the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council.

Randi Weingarten at Taylor Academy

AFT president Weingarten during a visit to Taylor Academy in Cincinnati, one of the district's community schools.

  On Sept. 7, Weingarten visited the Ethel M. Taylor Academy. Part of the Cincinnati Public Schools Community Learning Center program, the school offers students and their families an array of wraparound services that include a public health clinic, mental health services, academic tutoring and counseling, after-school programs and many recreational activities.

Taylor Academy, a preK-8 facility with 420 students, is one of 23 schools in the Cincinnati system with fully implemented community learning centers. All 58 of the district's schools have some elements of the program operating.

"This is the biggest wraparound services program in the nation," Weingarten said after hearing a summary of the effort from Annie Bogenschutz, the resource coordinator for the center at Taylor.

After a tour led by Bogenschutz, principal Sean McCauley and Community Learning Center Institute director Darlene Kamine, Weingarten met with representatives from many of the community partner organizations involved in providing services at the school. Joining Weingarten for the tour and discussion were Cincinnati Federation of Teachers president Julie Sellers and Cincinnati Public Schools superintendent Mary Ronan.

Weingarten urged all involved to shine a spotlight on the program. "Cincinnati could be a model for the rest of the country," she said.

Earlier in the day, the AFT president and Sellers met with members of the STRIVE Partnership, a group of business and nonprofit leaders active in Cincinnati public education issues. Weingarten and Sellers also met with the Cincinnati Enquirer editorial board.

In both sessions, the two union leaders addressed education reform issues and the stalled contract talks between CFT and the Cincinnati school district. There has been little progress in negotiations since May, when the school district abruptly changed bargaining strategy after five months of work that had produced provisional agreements on some issues. The district scrapped those agreements, instead making a proposal that would eliminate many key contract provisions.

At the meeting with Enquirer editors and reporters, Weingarten said the issues that have slowed negotiations can be resolved. But everyone must focus on the benefits for kids. "If it's about the educational results, this is imminently solvable," she said. "If it's about political results, it's not." She pointed out that Cincinnati is the only urban school district in Ohio to achieve an "effective" rating on the most recent state report card.

Cincinnati teachers and clerical staff continue to work under agreements that expired Dec. 31.

One issue has been proposed changes to the teacher evaluation system. While emphasizing that Cincinnati already has one of the nation's more progressive and innovative evaluation systems, Weingarten noted that Sellers and the CFT team have been willing throughout the bargaining process to talk about changes to the evaluation framework.

The school district wants to jettison that system, Weingarten said. Instead, the district should "build on what's working right now and make it better." She noted that student achievement can be one measure of teacher performance, but that there must be multiple measures of effectiveness so that the evaluation system is aligned with what kids need to know.

Video: Weingarten and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland both spoke at a Labor Day picnic in Cincinnati.

  At the Sept. 6 Labor Day picnic, Weingarten met with CFT members in the local's pavilion at the event. She praised members for their perseverance through the "really, tough battle" to achieve a contract agreement and urged them to continue to stand together with Sellers and the bargaining team.

Also at the picnic, Weingarten met privately with Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. She and the governor were the featured speakers during an afternoon rally at the picnic. With Labor Day marking the traditional opening of the campaign season for the fall elections, the focus was on mobilizing union members to work and vote for candidates who support working people.

"We know that jobs are the No. 1 agenda" in the elections, Weingarten said. Pointing out that Republicans have done little or nothing to advance job creation, she added: "We will not allow the 'Party of No' to take control of that agenda." [Tom Lansworth/photos by Bruce Crippen/video by Matthew Jones]

September 9, 2010