PWEA Education Town Hall Addressed Closing Achievement Gap

| April 27, 2017 | 0 Comments | Education

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia speaks to Prince William County educators and parents, April 19 at Stonewall Jackson High School.

Keynote speaker NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia spoke about closing the achievement gap at an ESSA town hall, April 19, organized by the Prince William Education Association (PWEA) and held at Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas. 

Eskelsen Garcia attempted to mobilize educators and community members to return their passion for teaching and address inequality in schools.

President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act or “ESSA” into law. It eliminates some of the mandates of No Child Left Behind and allows states and localities more input into public education requirements, the amount of standardize testing and how best to help students succeed. 

The objective of the town hall was to gather input from Prince William County educators and community members to pass the information to the school division and elected officials with the goal of influencing education legislation.

Hundreds of Prince William educators who hoped to bridge the achievement gap attended, especially those who work with ESOL, special education, low-income or minority students 

Before the meeting began, attendees named one thing they would change to help every student succeed should money be no object. A representative announced that the number one answer was to,“reduce the amount of SOL (Standards of Learning) testing.”

Other top answers included more professional development and raises for teachers; better adherence to homework policy that limits homework; reducing class sizes; more life-based classes; moving students out of trailers; equity of funding; hiring more teachers; sensitivity and diversity training; fewer suspensions for minority students and more recess and physical activity for elementary students.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia spoke as to how the current system of learning for testing is upside down. She aims to get education back to a point where teachers are able to do their jobs the way they know best. ESSA can bring education back to teaching the whole student, igniting a passion for learning and free teachers to deliver creative, stimulating lessons again.

PWEA ESSA town hall panel (L-R) Avis Richardson, Family & Consumer Science teacher at Freedom High School; Warren Hill, History teacher at Potomac High School; Jim Livingston, VEA President; Lily Eskelsen Garcia, NEA President; and Riley O’Casey PWEA President.

She also spoke about the differences between students home lives, saying the most successful students around the country “have never missed a meal in their lives.” While all parents want their children to succeed, educators and lawmakers need to acknowledge that well to do families will have ample opportunities to help their children succeed, but some families do not. 

In addition to home life, schools are equally inequitable. She said that for many schools having a librarian is like finding a unicorn. Many schools also have no access to college level courses.

This is true for the state as well as VEA President (former PWEA president) Jim Livingston said he traveled all over Virginia and found Prince William County Schools offer multiple opportunities that other communities do not.

Eskelsen Garcia said nothing needs to be taken away from the upper-class neighborhood schools to provide all students with the opportunities they already have. 

“You don’t take anything away from them. You take inventory and say ‘this is the standard for Virginia,'” she said. 

Eskelsen Garcia believes that vouchers are not the answer to improve failing schools, calling them “a deflection,” and “a way to evade the question.” A better question is “why are some schools allowed to have [such poor conditions?]”

Eskelsen Garcia said it is not because it is too costly.

“We did afford it. We just afforded it for these kids. It was an intentional systematic process. It’s not by accident,” she said, saying racism has been institutionalized into the American education system since the beginning. 

She asked teachers to lead the effort to promote change, saying “You don’t have to wait for it; you can do it now.” She said it is time to stop allowing people who have no contact with children to make the decisions.

“You are the right people to solve this…Start dreaming…Once you get people to dream, they won’t let anyone stop them.”

One teacher asked how do they do achieve this when the education secretary has in the past favored vouchers over investing in public schools. Eskelsen Garcia said they will need to overcome obstacles by creating a powerful movement. The PWEA handed out flyers asking attendees to advocate for students through speaking publicly, writing to media, talking to their colleagues and neighbors about the issue and contacting their legislative officials.

PWEA President Riley O’Casey was happy with the outcome of the meeting.

“The town hall was exciting and just the beginning to make changes for our students. All stakeholders shared their ideas to improve education. There is a lot of work to do; I hope participants will stay involved.”

© 2017, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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