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"Great Schools" Could Have Major Impact

WEAC members — working through the Great Schools initiative — "could well shape the very future of public education in America," NEA President Bob Chase said Saturday (September 25, 1999) in a speech to officers of WEAC's local affiliates.

Bob Chase speaks to WEAC local officers

NEA President Bob Chase congratulates local association officers on taking the brave and bold step of launching the Great Schools initiative. Looking on are (left to right) WEAC President Terry Craney, WEAC Executive Director Michael Butera and WEAC Vice President Stan Johnson.

"You are on the verge of writing a new history of public education, and NEA, 2.5 million members strong, is proud to walk with you in your Great Schools initiative," Chase told about 200 officers.

Chase said no other NEA state affiliate has a program as ambitious as Great Schools, which he described as extraordinarily bold.

"Not only are you seeking to hold a one-on-one conversation with each of our 88,000 members, but in every public school in Wisconsin — and I understand there are 2,006 — you are seeking to seriously engage the public ...," he said.

"To engage citizens in a conversation about how their schools can best meet the needs of their children — I can't imagine a more important undertaking. I can't imagine a better way to begin putting the public back into public education. I can't imagine a more worthy venture for our association," Chase said.

"Like you, I am convinced that our union can and must play a decisive role in revitalizing public education for all children of this country. 'Great Schools — Every Kid Deserves One.' With that as our beacon, we can and must take the initiative."

Chase noted that Wisconsin public school students are No. 1 on the ACT and that 72% go on to post-secondary education. But he also noted that Wisconsin has the longest-running private school voucher program in the nation, an unequal distribution of public school resources, and "the most serious abridgement of our members' collective bargaining rights" with the Qualified Economic Offer law.

The Great Schools initiative can help reverse these negative public policy trends, and not only in Wisconsin.

"What you do here in Wisconsin to reconnect with your communities could have implications far beyond your borders," Chase said. "What you do here could well shape the very future of public education in America."

Chase also promoted new unionism, saying union members can "take the first step to end the head-butting between union and school management."

"We can put issues of school quality front and center at the bargaining table," he said. "We can promote community and parental involvement in public schools. We can insist on a more robust role for teachers and support staff in organizing their schools for high performance. We can be the champions of school reform measures such as smaller class sizes that our members know will work. ...

"We must move forward and create a new NEA and new style of unionism — with sharp new emphasis on maximizing learning for every child. This is not a matter of repudiating our past, but building upon it."

Posted September 25, 1999


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