Teachers Rally in Atlanta for RESPECT

By Aileen Dodd Contributing Writer | 6/28/2013, 6 a.m.
At the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, ambitious students equipped with school-issued laptops, internships and classes led by ...
National union draws 9,000 members to NEA convention.

At the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, ambitious students equipped with school-issued laptops, internships and classes led by veteran teachers are graduating at a rate of 100 percent.

A few miles away from that district-run charter school, Meadowcreek High, a campus with a higher poverty rate, fewer resources and more then three times as many students, has a graduation rate that is slightly less than 50 percent.

While students who live in the same county should, in theory, receive the same quality education, social and economic factors can dramatically impact student achievement.

This week, 9,000 members of the National Education Association, a union and professional organization with members from every state, will rally in Atlanta for more equity in education funding to help all students be successful regardless of address and income.

The educators will convene at the NEA’s 151st annual conference, “NEA: We Educate America,” which began Thursday and will run through July 6 at the Georgia World Congress Center.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said social justice challenges facing schools are lowering graduation rates and are landing kids in jail instead of college.

“The status quo just is not acceptable,” said Van Roekel. “We graduate about 70 percent of kids overall. For many African-Americans, Latin Americans and American Indians, it drops off to 50 percent in some urban settings. It is just not something that we as a nation should tolerate nor accept.”

At the conference, educators from across the U.S. will discuss issues facing teachers, students and classrooms and how to begin to overcome them. Delegates will adopt a strategic plan and budget, a legislative platform and policies that will set the agenda for the national organization for 2014.

Volunteers with the organization will visit Georgia schools and spend time giving one low income campus (The Thomasville Heights Elementary School) a facelift complete with new paint, furniture, bulletin boards and equipment. Several hundred educators from across the country are expected to join the effort to transform the grammar school.

“This is a great opportunity,” said Calvine Rollins, president of the Georgia Association of Educators. “If our students are in a great environment, they tend to learn better.”

On Saturday, the conference will hold a session called “Action Now: Organizing the Power of Diversity” which will feature talks by labor and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta and fair pay advocate Lilly Ledbetter.

On Sunday The Atlanta Braves will join the NEA’s “Read Across America” campaign by hosting a “read-in” at 11 a.m. at the Homeplate Patio at Turner Field.

Improving educational outcomes begins with hiring good, honest teachers that are committed to kids and willing to stay in the profession, Van Roekel said.

According to the Department of Education, 47 percent of new educators quit teaching in the first five years.

The NEA supports offering incentives to attract veteran teachers to low income, struggling schools that often have some of the least experienced teachers and the highest turnover rates, Van Roekel noted.

“We have to figure out a way to better prepare (teachers) so they are ready to go into these schools,” Van Roekel said. “What we know from the places that succeed is that they build a solid, highly-trained workforce that stays in the school.”