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NEA Secretary-Treasurer points to common features of successful schools

Pringle’s Back-To-School Tour focuses on Priority Schools

SEATTLE - September 14, 2011 -

Two days and four schools into her 2011 back-to-school tour of successful schools, NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle told educators she’s observed that these schools have some common elements:

• A committed, empowered staff, working as a team.
• Parents engaged in a meaningful way.
• Labor and management working together to help children learn.

Pringle visited two elementary schools in Seattle yesterday. Both are part of NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign and are getting help from federal School Improvement Grants because they have had difficulty raising student test scores.
Pringle’s tour began Monday in Evansville, Indiana, and concludes today in Las Vegas.

At every school, Pringle has emphasized that no cookie-cutter approach to improving schools will work. “Hawthorne school leaders are doing what’s best for their students,” she said yesterday while visiting Hawthorne Elementary. “Common themes do exist, but every school is different.”

She was joined by Washington Education Association President Mary Lindquist, Seattle Education Association President Olga Addae, Seattle Education Association Vice President Jonathan Knapp, and Seattle Superintendent Susan Enfield. This year, Hawthorne made “adequate yearly progress” as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Teacher Charlene Smith-Brown said when she started working at Hawthorne 10 years ago, “everybody did their own thing.” Now, she said, they work together. But she was concerned about burnout, especially for teachers starting their own families. “It’s the best job in the world,” she said. “But I couldn’t do what I do if I had young children.”

Pringle said she shares that concern, “You are parents. You are community members. You have lives outside the school. We don’t want people working 20 hours a day,” she said.

NEA’s Back-to-School Tour marks the official start of year two of the Association’s Priority Schools Campaign (PSC), a multi-year effort in 16 states to help transform 34 low-performing schools.  PSC works in Seattle at Hawthorne. A critical element in Hawthorne’s transformation has been engaging the families of students. Family support worker Marcel Hauser said he does whatever it takes to help a family bring their child to school ready to learn, whether that’s finding food or shelter or helping with domestic problems.

Later, at West Seattle Elementary, the Association leaders heard more about the work of family support workers, school counselors, outside agencies, and the school nurse.  Staff members told Pringle they are worried that the federal money, which funds much of their work with families, will go away at the end of the three-year SIG grant, and there won’t be state or local money to replace it.

Family support worker Tracey Thompson described a terrible situation last winter when the mother of a third grade Somali girl was stabbed by a deranged man on the street in front of the student and her two younger siblings. The mother survived, but the family was traumatized and the children would not leave their mother to go school. Thompson and two other family support workers became all-around advocates for the family.
This year, the girl is doing well. Her father, who was still in a refugee camp when the attack took place, was able to reunite with his family. Thompson said he brings his daughter to school, and comes to all the family events to find out more about he can help his children learn.

Photos from NEA’s Back-to-School Tour in Seattle will be available here
To learn more about NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign,
including our work in Seattle, Washington, visit here
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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee 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: Steve Grant (202) 822-7823,