Putting public schools in the national spotlight

It was a chance for one small Midwest city to showcase the great work going on inside its public schools, and Van Wert, Ohio, made the most of it.

The April 20 school visits hosted by Van Wert, a northwest Ohio community of roughly 11,000, for AFT President Randi Weingarten and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos drew coverage from a full complement of local, state and national media outlets. And the stories that filled the day focused not on partisan rancor but on robust, well-supported public school approaches from prekindergarten through high school.

Weingarten, DeVos and others in Van Wert

That public education can build consensus and flourish in this Republican-leaning community is proof positive that "support for public schools transcends politics," Weingarten told reporters at a wrap-up press conference.

DeVos, who has drawn fire for promoting an education budget that would ax $9 billion from federal programs, and for using her Cabinet post as a bully pulpit for vouchers and choice, agreed that something exemplary was happening inside these public schools. "It was clear that this community has invested heart and soul into the students here."

The visit was featured nationally by the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Associated Press. It also received prominent coverage in local and regional media as well as publications closely tracked by policymakers and the education community, such as Politico and Education Week.

Weingarten and DeVos visit a classroom

The community proves "what is possible when we meet children's needs, focus on their well-being, engage in powerful instruction, work with people in a collaborative way and help make sure they have the tools they need," Weingarten told Van Wert leaders and residents at the final press conference.

Many of the classroom educators participating in the visit said they hoped that the lessons from Van Wert would stick with national leaders, particularly at a time when battles are brewing over budget priorities and the future of the country's public schools.

"I hope [DeVos] sees we're more than a line item in the budget," Jen Arend, a literacy specialist at a Van Wert early childhood center that receives Title I funding, told the New York Times.

[news and staff reports/bottom photo by Kirsten Barnhart]