Tour Day One Evansville: Empowering Educators for Student-Centered Innovation
Today through Thursday, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and Secretary Treasurer Becky Pringle are on the road for first-hand views of the work of members. Van Roekel and Pringle will visit schools to view union-led innovation, transformation and partnership in Dayton, Ohio, Romulus, Mich., Orlando and Miami, Fla., Evansville, Ind., Seattle, Wash., and Las Vegas, Nev.
The back-to-school tour coincides with the start of year two of NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign (PSC), the Association’s multi-year effort to help transform low-performing schools. The PSC campaign is in 36 schools across 16 states.
(Here is a report from this morning in Evansville.)
Pringle Visits Teachers Transforming their Schools in Evansville, Indiana
By Alain Jehlen
“This makes me proud to be a teacher,” said NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle visiting Priority Schools in Evansville, Indiana today.
Pringle was on the first leg of a back-to-school tour that will also take her to Seattle and Las Vegas.
In Evanston, she saw an extraordinary level of collaboration between the school administration and the Evanston Teachers Association. The contract they bargained put extra focused attention on three Priority Schools that have had trouble raising their test scores, and empowered educators to make the changes they as professionals believe will work.
In the morning, Pringle watched fifth graders do math on a smart board, talked football with first graders, and saw a team of third grade teachers fine tune their work to make sure each of their children has a learning experience that fits their individual academic skills and personalities.
In the afternoon, she was interviewed by a middle school video production class, turned the tables on them by asking them questions, and even squeezed in a science lesson on how airplanes fly. Pringle is a former eighth grade science teacher.
The third grade planning session came first in the day, before children arrived. It was part of the plan for transforming Evans Elementary School, a plan that the teachers themselves designed, as provided in their Evansville Teachers Association contract.
The three schools also got a federal School Improvement Grant which, among other things, funded extra technology for the children. Each of the three schools worked out their own strategy for helping children learn, within the constraints of state rules.
Speech teacher Claire Reinitz told Pringle the technology helps to level the playing field for Evans students, who come mostly from low-income families but will be mixed with more affluent students when they get to middle school.
The football talk was over cereal and milk at Evans’ Breakfast-In-The-Classroom program. Large, wheeled coolers, paid for by Jeep through a special arrangement facilitated by NEA, are used to bring fresh food into each class as students arrive in the morning. All students share in the free breakfast.
Pringle and a table of first graders talked about their favorite professional teams. One child plays football himself, and Pringle made sure to ask him whether he wears a helmet. He does.
At McGary Middle School, students from a video production class interviewed her on camera, asking about her responsibilities as an NEA officer, and what she liked best in her job.
“This!” answered Pringle. “I miss having students and watching you grow. But I love meeting teachers and students all across the country who are doing exciting things in their classrooms.”
One student asked for her thoughts on testing. Tests are important, Pringle said, but “students are more than a test score. We have to make sure you’re prepared for life, that you can solve problems, because we can’t predict what you’ll face as adults and what careers there will be. You need to be prepared for whatever awaits you.”
Then Pringle asked the students what their favorite subjects are. They all loved the video class, saying it puts them in charge of their own work, and lets them “do cool things with video backgrounds.” None picked science as a favorite subject.
“Don’t you like experiments?” asked Pringle. One boy said he prefers video because “cameras don’t blow up.”
So Pringle quickly gave each student a slip of paper and asked them to predict what would happen if they blew along the top. Every mind was engaged as she had them try it out, and explained that the same principle that lifts the paper when you blow over it also lifts fast-moving airplanes.
Those visiting Evansville schools with Pringle included Evansville Teachers Association President Keith Gambill and Indiana State Teachers Association President Nate Schnellenberger. She also talked with Superintendent David Smith. Smith is a former Evans Teachers Association member. He and ETA President Gambill are both former music teachers and worked together for 25 years.
“If we are not on the same team, we cannot accomplish this work,” Smith said.
“I talk about Evansville all the time when I speak about school transformation, but I don’t hold up Evansville as a cookie-cutter model everyone should follow,” said Pringle. “That doesn’t work. What you did was to empower these teachers to make the best decisions for their school.”