All Students Deserve Great Public Schools, Van Roekel Tells National Audience
By Kevin Hart
Sunday, September 20, 2009 -- People from every corner of the country tuned in Sunday night to hear National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel deliver a simple but powerful message: Every student in America deserves a great public school.
Van Roekel appeared as a panelist discussing education along with comedian Bill Cosby, “school choice” advocate Derrell Bradford and Washington, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, as part of a two-hour MSNBC special titled "About Our Children." The discussion was held on the campus of Howard University and was moderated by Michelle Bernard, president and CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum.
"Wherever it is you want to go, education is your vehicle," Van Roekel said, describing his rise from growing up in a small town to becoming a successful math teacher and president of the NEA.
Van Roekel made is clear to the Howard University students and the television audience that NEA and its affiliates are leading the charge to improve public education in America. He discussed NEA's efforts to ensure all students have a highly qualified teacher, and the association's commitment to mentoring and "a solid, good evaluation system that is tied to professional development."
"About Our Children" told stories of schools that have overcome difficult odds to boost student achievement. One of those schools, Jack Britt High School in Fayetteville, NC, has helped narrow achievement gaps by focusing on a data-driven approach to helping at-risk students. Veteran teachers are volunteering to work with struggling students, and all staff are engaging parents and students to boost attendance rates.
Van Roekel stressed that educators are willing to go these extra miles, because they are driven by the conviction that a strong public education is critical to helping students achieve their dreams.
The job of educators has become even more challenging, Van Roekel pointed out, in light of state budget cuts that have resulted in tens of thousands of teachers and Education Support Professionals losing their jobs. Those educators are no longer in schools, but "the children are still there," Van Roekel said, and they need instruction, clean classrooms and healthy lunches as much as ever.
NEA will continue its fight to ensure America's public schools are adequately staffed to provide the excellent instruction and supportive learning environments that students deserve.