Detroit Meeting Kicks Off Effort To Turn Around Schools

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About 7,000 teachers, paraprofessionals and other staff gathered at the Cobo Center in Detroit on May 26 as part of a new effort between the AFT, our affiliates and the district's new administration to turn around the city's public schools.

Joining AFT president Randi Weingarten at the meeting were new superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett, emergency financial manager Robert Bobb, and AFT leaders and staff from around Michigan and the country. The daylong session, which featured an afternoon of professional development workshops, grew out of recent discussions between Weingarten, new Detroit Federation of Teachers president Keith Johnson and the district's administrators on how to approach school reform there in a collaborative manner.

"It was just a remarkable day," Weingarten says. "You saw hope and promise in a sea of lots of frustration."

In her talk on "Meaningful Reform that Works," Weingarten said administrators and teachers alike need to make sure reforms meet two standards: They should be good for kids and fair to teachers. "If we don't do this in a way where we take control of our own destiny, you know what will happen," she warned. "You know they will do it to us."

Johnson said that to restore confidence in the Detroit school system and improve student achievement, teachers must be willing to change. "Reform does not necessarily mean that you have to give up something, or that you have to lose something," he said.

Two days before the event, AFT-Michigan and the Detroit Federation of Teachers placed an ad in the Detroit Free Press about the need to work together to make sure Detroit's schools succeed.

The event attracted widespread media coverage in Detroit, including a news report and an op-ed in the Detroit News.

May 28, 2009