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NEA President Dennis Van Roekel to meet with Colorado educators and legislators

WASHINGTON - April 22, 2010 -

William Smith High School educators, students, and parents today will share with National Education Association President, Dennis Van Roekel, results of the experiment they’ve launched to transform their school in Aurora, Colorado.

“There’s no silver bullet when it comes to turning around schools, but one thing I know is collaboration is key,” said Van Roekel who will visit William Smith on Thursday morning before testifying in front of Colorado state legislators later in the afternoon.

Williams Smith is among three Pilot Schools.  The Aurora Education Association brought the idea of Pilot Schools to the school district in 2008 after learning about successful Pilot Schools in Boston and Los Angeles. The program focuses on small campuses (no more than 500 students) where students can receive more individual attention as well as flexible schedules for students and teachers that maximize learning time and ensure time for staff to plan lessons and develop their skills.

Turning around low performing schools is a high priority for NEA.

NEA has pledged to invest $1 million per year the next six years to pursue strategies to increase teacher effectiveness at low performing schools. Educators have vowed to work side-by-side with students, parents and community leaders to attract and keep the best educators and necessary resources at schools with the greatest need.

NEA successfully lobbied the Department of Education to include a collaborative model among the four models (restart, restructure, closure and transformation) schools receiving DOE School Improvement Grants could choose from to improve achievement. 

Transformation is the only model that gives all the stakeholders an opportunity to actually change the system and it’s proven to be sustainable. For students who attend low performing schools in rural areas, other models just aren't workable.  In her new book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” education historian Diane Ravitch notes that studies conducted by the Washington-based nonprofit Center on Education Policy, concluded that restructuring “very rarely” works in improving student achievement enough to meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The Department of Education recently awarded Colorado $39 million to help low performing schools. 

Across the nation, educators and their unions have launched, participated in and championed collaborative efforts to transform low performing schools.

In Evansville, IN educators launched Equity Schools that aim to transform schools through professional development for teachers and extended learning time for kids.

In nearby Denver, teachers and parents have teamed up to build the Math and Science Leadership Academy, a teacher-led public school.  There, teachers have the freedom to try new methods.  They also work together to evaluate each others' performance.  As a result, parents are more involved and students are more engaged.

Van Roekel today will justify his message of local-level collaborative innovation when he testifies before Colorado legislators as part of the debate surrounding SB 191, which proposes changes to the tenure and evaluation systems.  

“Policy makers need to make the right decisions for students,” said Van Roekel.  “Too often, flawed education proposals in Florida today end up in California tomorrow.   To make sure we are providing all students with the best possible education, we need to move the discussion from the federal and state levels to the local level, where all stakeholders in the local education community have a seat at the table and a voice that is heard."

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Dana Fisher  (202) 822-7823;