"I applaud the groundbreaking educational public-private partnership in McDowell County, West Virginia that the American Federation of Teachers has helped launch. This public-private partnership is helping to show communities across the nation--especially poor, rural communities--the way forward. It is helping to show all of America what we need to do to provide a world-class education for students in the 21st century.
"The Reconnecting McDowell partnership is a great example of how union-management collaboration and leading non-profits can come together to push for dramatic improvements in education. This partnership had its inception in a request from Gayle Manchin--Sen. Manchin's wife and a member of the state Board of Education--to Randi Weingarten, the AFT president. More than 30 public, private, and non-profit groups have since signed the McDowell Covenant, and all of them have committed to providing services, money, products and/or expertise to McDowell County's schools, children, and families.
"The McDowell partnership is a powerful affirmation of the Obama administration's Promise Neighborhoods program, which also empowers communities to tackle both out-of-school and in-school obstacles to children's success. Just like the Promise Neighborhood program, the Reconnecting McDowell covenant recognizes that education must be the centerpiece of the effort to expand opportunities for children.
"It's my hope that the McDowell County initiative will help move us beyond the narrow, either--or debates over the causes of academic failure. Everyone who has worked with poor children knows that poverty matters and affects school performance. But everyone who has witnessed the life-altering impact of great teachers and great schools knows that schools matter enormously, too. In America, poverty is not destiny, and neither is geography.
"The Reconnecting McDowell covenant acknowledges that poverty, job loss, drug and alcohol abuse, housing shortages for teachers, limited medical services, and inadequate access to technology and transportation are all serious educational challenges. But as the covenant states: 'We refuse to see those challenges as reasons not to achieve.' The Reconnecting McDowell partnership is an urgent reminder that it takes a school and parents to educate a child. But it takes a community, too."