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NEA’s week-long school innovation tour wraps up in Austin

National parent and community summit set for September 13-14 in Washington, D.C.

AUSTIN, TX - August 27, 2010 -

A week-long, multi-city back-to-school tour, designed to get school staff energized about the upcoming school year, wrapped up today in the Lone Star State with visits to San Antonio and Austin. Along the route, the head of the nation’s largest teacher’s union visited with educators and saw up close some of the great things happening in America’s public schools.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, was on the road all this week to spotlight public school innovation, partnerships and teacher- and union-led initiatives—all of which are helping transform low-performing schools. During the tour, NEA awarded more than $560,000 in grants to local communities where educators are collaborating with parents, business and community leaders, elected officials and others to help create great public schools for all students.

“For long-term, sustainable school transformation, shared responsibility and collaboration are both essential,” said Van Roekel. “All stakeholders must be at the table, working together for the benefit of students.”

Covering five states and thousands of miles, the tour stopped in Denver; Columbia and St. Louis, Mo.;  Columbus, Ohio; Tampa, and  St. Petersburg, Fla.; and San Antonio and Austin, Texas. The schedule was set so the NEA president could visit schools during the first week of the new school term, and it coincided with the Department of Education’s announcement that Florida and Ohio would receive $700 million and $400 million, respectively, as winners of the second phase of the Race to the Top competition. (In addition to those two states, seven others and the District of Columbia nabbed the federal dollars from the Obama administration’s $4.3 billion education initiative.)

At each stop, Van Roekel emphasized that involving parents more in their children’s education is critical to student success.  “A partnership between parents and educators is key to raising student achievement,” he said.  “It helps ensure students get the supports they need to succeed in school and in life.”

In the Mile High City, Van Roekel visited the Math and Science Leadership Academy, a new teacher-led public school where educators collaborate on all aspects of the school’s operation. The groundbreaking employee and management partnership has transformed the teaching-learning environment, and students there are as enthusiastic as their teachers.

Van Roekel—along with Colorado Education Association President Beverly Ingle and Denver Classroom Teachers Association President Henry Roman—also met with the teachers and administrators at Lake International Baccalaureate Middle School which is beginning its first year of transformation. Educators, parents and the local union worked collaboratively throughout the summer in creating a comprehensive plan to improve academic achievement—which even included the task of recruiting students.

Columbia, Mo.
On the second day of the tour, Van Roekel visited Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary School today and presented a $10,000 grant to educators to boost parent outreach, an effort already underway in the 17,000-student school district. Educators in other communities have used NEA grants to increase parental and community engagement in schools and raise student achievement.

Accompanying Van Roekel on stops in the Show-Me State were Missouri-NEA President Chris Guinther, Columbia Education Association President Susan McClintic and Chris Belcher, superintendent of Columbia Public Schools..

Columbus, Ohio
At a news conference at South Mifflin Elementary School in Columbus, Van Roekel announced NEA would be awarding a $550,000 service-learning grant to Columbus City Schools to help students connect learning with real life. On hand for the announcement were Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Deborah Delisle. The grant was made possible by Learn and Serve America, a part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that also houses AmeriCorps and Vista.

Earlier in the day, Van Roekel helped students at Columbus’ West High School usher in their first day of school—and calm those first-day jitters—along with Ohio Education Association President Patricia Frost-Brooks, Columbus Education Association President Rhonda Johnson and Columbus City Schools Superintendent Dr. Gene T. Harris.

Van Roekel used the tour not only to find out what’s working but also to discern how great innovative ideas can be replicated in other areas of the country.  In Tampa, Van Roekel hosted a town hall meeting with local educators about hot education topics, including the state’s new Race to the Top grant, which will be used to meet two goals: to double the percentage of incoming high school freshmen who graduate and go on to college and to help cut the achievement gap in half by 2015. 

San Antonio and Austin, Texas
In San Antonio, Van Roekel and Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker visited Highland Park Elementary School, which offers three preK classes. Meeting with members and leaders of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, Van Roekel heard firsthand about the school’s focus on early childhood education initiatives.

The tour ended with a back-to-school town hall meeting at Paredes Middle School in Austin where Van Roekel brought a national voice to lively discussion about education policy. Topics included the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; the sometimes-controversial Race to the Top federal grant competition; education funding for public schools; and recruiting and retaining quality educators.

Although the school innovation tour officially ends today in Austin, the Association’s work to transform schools continues full force. On September 13-14, NEA is hosting a national summit on family/parental engagement in Washington, D.C., for parents, educators and elected leaders from around the country.

“When parents are involved in their children’s education, students are more motivated, they get better grades, and they are less likely to drop out,” said Van Roekel. “Everyone gets excited during back-to-school time, but we have to come up with creative yet practical ways to sustain that energy all year long. We want parents involved throughout the school year and at every grade level.”

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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: Staci Maiers  (202) 822-7823,