2011 Back-to-School Tour begins at schools in Charleston and McDowell County
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, a national leader in efforts to improve schools, launched a coast-to-coast, back-to-school tour Monday with two stops in West Virginia.
At schools in Charleston and McDowell County, Weingarten highlighted collaborative efforts by school, union, parent, political, business and community leaders to strengthen schools and help students succeed by confronting poverty and other challenges with targeted programs and services.
In Charleston, Weingarten toured West Side Elementary School, one of two in the city that are becoming true community schools with the support of a grant from the AFT Innovation Fund and the help of an array of community partners, including the faith-based Hope Community Development Corp.
She was accompanied for the tour and a round-table discussion at the school by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and First Lady Joanne Tomblin, former first lady Gayle Manchin, state schools Superintendent Jorea Marple and many others involved with the community school project.
“It takes the commitment of the entire community to ensure that its public schools are the best they can be,” Weingarten said. “That support is clearly in place at West Side Elementary as it becomes the hub of its community — a place not only for academics, but also a center where children can visit a health clinic and obtain other social and recreational services that will help them succeed.”
At a news conference, Weingarten, AFT-West Virginia President Judy Hale and school officials announced a partnership with First Book, a national organization that provides books to low-income children. On Monday, every student at West Side Elementary was able to take home two new books, all donated by First Book. The organization will make a similar donation to students at Stonewall Jackson Middle School. In addition, the AFT Innovation Fund presented the library at each school with a $1,000 grant to be used to purchase books at reduced prices through First Book’s marketplace, and First Book matched the grants with a $1,000 credit to each school.
In McDowell County, Weingarten visited Mount View High School, where she, Manchin and Marple had invited a diverse group of community partners to a round-table discussion of ideas and strategies for how the county school system can help overcome the difficult challenges of high unemployment and poverty that face McDowell students and their families.
The county’s school system has struggled in an environment that includes one of the nation’s highest suicide rates and illegal drug use.
“With this meeting, we are opening a dialogue with state and local officials, parents and teachers, and many committed community partners to consider strategies for improving McDowell schools,” Weingarten said. “Our goal is to figure out what we might be able to do together to make the opportunities for kids better in McDowell County.”
Those participating in the discussion included representatives from Cisco and Frontier Communications, foundations and community groups, Save the Children, school board members and state legislators, as well as the president of Bluefield State College and the chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System.
“It is so exciting to see this broad-based support for public schools,” Weingarten said. “Rather than demonizing teachers and defunding public education as is happening in so many places across the country, West Virginia leaders, parents and teachers are stepping up to the challenge of making schools better.”