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President’s Viewpoint

A New Way Forward


Photo by Kevin Lock

Wellpinit is a community located in the Spokane Indian Reservation in the heart of the Northeastern Washington wilderness. Over the years, the Wellpinit School District has suffered from isolation both geographic and educational, which often affects rural schools. But today that is changing with NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign (PSC).

Our members are resourceful and creative people. They give their best despite the barriers and limiting factors. But desire, will, and creativity are not enough to overcome all constraints. Our priority schools initiative targets the lowest-performing schools, the ones that are receiving federal School Improvement Grants, and makes professional staff renewal and development a priority—supported by commitments of both time and money.

If you work in one of these schools, we have resources that can help you plan ways to transform the school. And if you don’t work in one of these schools, you still have much to give and to gain from this campaign.

I say that because I believe strongly that we, as educators and leaders, must take the lead in transforming these schools. The status quo is not acceptable, and too many students are not receiving the education they need and deserve.

The people who would like to dismantle public education have their own ideas about turning these schools around: fire all the teachers, close the school, bring in external charter operators. PSC is our answer – it’s our ammunition to fight these bad ideas that are wrong for students and communities. Nobody knows more about education, and what it takes to make a school successful, than the teachers and ESPs who work there every single day.

We have to lead the way in this transformation. PSC will build cyber-networks between teachers to exchange knowledge and information on classroom management and best practices. It will look at new and innovative ways to involve parents and boost community engagement.

We know that professional isolation is not unique to low-performing schools. PSC will be our laboratory for testing exciting ideas, tools, and strategies that we can eventually ramp up for use by all of our members.

NEA’s Mission Statement defines our commitment to “fulfill the promise of public education to prepare every student to succeed.” We have a responsibility to embrace the challenge of priority schools. We must transform the system and define the road to success. If we don’t do it, who will?

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel

Priority schools campaign gets local

The NEA Executive Committee – Greg Johnson, Christy Levings, Paula Monroe, Princess Moss, Len Paolillo, and Joyce Powell – has fanned out across the country to see what’s happening in priority schools and to bring the depth of NEA’s expertise and experience to the members working in those schools. They are blogging and sharing their insights. Follow along at:

Come join a growing online community of educators and concerned citizens committed to improving America’s

priority schools. Connect with NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign through


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