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NEA Delegates Focus on Improving Schools Through Collaboration

Opening Day Activities Show Attention to Shared Responsibilities

July 01, 2011
By Will Potter

The “Day of Learning”—an all-day event packed with workshops and panel discussions on improving our schools—helped set the stage for NEA’s Representative Assembly on Friday with a conversation about where our public schools are headed.

Sessions addressed the often short-sighted programs and policies that have cropped up in the recent attacks on public education, and also proposed solutions. The interactive town hall featured NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association, Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, and Debra Strauss, a member representative of the national Parent Teacher Association board of directors.

The plenary session was moderated by Tavis Smiley, host of talk shows on PBS and Public Radio International.

“I can’t think of anything that’s more important than an equal, high quality education,” said Smiley. “The future of our country is inextricably linked to whether we get this education thing right.”

The panelists all agreed that the best way to improve education and to achieve lasting impact from any reform is through collaboration.

“We cannot be continually battling each other,” said Bryant. “Unions and school boards should be singing the same song, focusing on student learning, and coming together to effect change.”

The first-ever “Day of Learning” also put the spotlight on NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign, allowing educators to share what’s working—and what’s a waste of time—when it comes to transforming struggling schools.

Kerrie Dallman, a social studies teacher from Pomona High School in Arvada, Colo., currently serving as the president of the Jefferson County Education Association, says she signed up for a breakout session titled Transforming Schools is Union Work to hear from other educators and plans to take tips home to her members, especially those on cultural competency and collaboration.

“We have to take ownership over our profession and make the change we want to see,” said Dallman, who took copious notes during the session. “We have a lot of schools, though, that are performing just above that line, and we are really anxious to begin working now so that our schools don’t turn into [School Improvement Grant] schools.”

In another forum on Friday, sponsored by NEA’s Office of Minority Community Outreach, leaders from diverse, ethnic minority communities discussed the labor and education issues facing our schools and offered strategies for get beyond the rhetoric to help everyone understand the alliance between communities and labor.

“The struggle for labor rights is the struggle for the middle class,” said panelist Gregory Cendana, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), AFL-CIO.

In addition to their business at NEA’s Annual Meeting, teachers and other school staff have been rolling up their sleeves to help needy families across the host city.  At Lakeview Pantry, educators cleaned, organized and restocked food and clothing donations for those in need. NEA members have also been volunteering with the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Ronald McDonald House and Habitat for Humanity.

The Expo Center will only be open for two more hours on Saturday; if you weren’t able to visit Jeep’s all-terrain driving course, you can still check out our video from the driver’s seat

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