VAN WERT — Van Wert City Schools soaked in a day of national
attention on Thursday as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos soaked
in some of what the public school district has to offer its students.
visit came after receiving an invitation from American Federation of
Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten. Weingarten, who leads the 1.6
million member labor union, had talked with the Van Wert Federation of
Teachers President Jeff Hood who had encouraged DeVos to visit Van Wert
to see a public school district that is doing great things for its
“It’s been a very inspiring and wonderful day,” DeVos
said at a press conference at the end of the tour of the district. “It
is clear that this community has invested heart and soul into the
students here and the students that you serve. I am just so grateful to
have had the opportunity to see and to learn from you and especially, it
is my favorite to see the students, of course. They are clearly just
having an amazing experience here.”
Weingarten noted that she and
DeVos have been labeled as “combatants,” as DeVos has advocated for
“school choice” through private and charter schools. The two agreed
after DeVos became Secretary of Education to tour a public school
together, which is where Van Wert City Schools came in, and will in the
future tour a private school.
“Van Wert proves that support for public schools transcends politics,” Weingarten said.
more we can make the education of our children all of our
responsibility regardless of whether we’re Democrat or Republican, the
more we will help the future of America and this public school district
has proven that point over and over and over again,” Weingarten said.
DeVos spoke of how the Van Wert community has come together to make Van Wert City Schools what it is.
also observed a really important piece that isn’t necessarily present
in every community and that is a real engagement by the job providers
and job creators in this community to invest in the schools, invest in
the opportunities for their students and that’s a really great advantage
that this school has,” she said.
DeVos continued to push for her
idea of school choice on Thursday noting that about 20 percent of
students in the Van Wert City Schools district elect to go elsewhere.
a wonderful thing that they have that opportunity and it’s an
opportunity that we should continue to offer because the goal is for
every child to be in an education environment that is best for them and
that is the overarching goal I think to keep our eyes focused on what’s
right for each child,” she said.
The budget proposal for the
Education Department for next year shows a $9.2 billion cut in funding.
An allocation of $1.4 billion is proposed for school choice programs
while after school programs and teacher preparation programs would be
cut for a total of $3.6 billion.
“There’s no secret that we are
fighting some of the budget cuts,” Weingarten said noting that those
cuts would be harmful to not only the Van Wert community, but others as
“I think today’s visit was much more about the proactive
positive, what happens when schools work together, when they engage in
the strategies that work for kids, and I think that’s what we saw
today,” Weingarten said steering the conversation away from the proposed
The day began at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center
where three senior students presented about their senior project. The
students had raised over $11,000 for the Van Wert Blessings program.
Weingarten announced after the presentation that the AFT would donate
$2,500 to the program and then said she would also make a personal
donation, but did not state the dollar amount.
The tour then took
the guests to the Van Wert Early Childhood Center where a discussion
between preschool and kindergarten teachers, parents and the visitors
took place. DeVos and Weingarten then joined Laura Foster’s preschool
class to see what they were learning in their playful environment.
tour then went to Van Wert High School where DeVos and Weingarten
learned about the elementary, middle school and high school robotics
groups. They enjoyed watching a demonstration of the Van Wert Robotics
Next on the agenda was a stop in Nate
Hoverman’s fifth grade class at Van Wert Elementary School where the
class was learning about the Great Depression. DeVos and Weingarten read
an article with some of the students and discussed the topic with them
for about 10 minutes.
A round-table discussion with special
education teachers was also held before the closing remarks were made at
the press conference which saw coverage from national and regional news
reporters. In addition to DeVos and Weingarten, other visitors in the
realm of education to the school district were the Ohio Federation of
Teachers President Melissa Cropper, Superintendent of Public Instruction
for the Ohio Department of Education Paolo DeMaria, and Ohio State
Board of Education Representative from District 1 Linda Haycock.
day was packed with information and demonstrations of what the Van Wert
community sees each day where the students are learning through
project-based learning and a wide variety of approaches are taken to
make sure each child can learn in an environment that fits him or her.
Also discussed was the issue of teachers addressing basic needs, such as
feeding the children breakfast, so that they are ready to learn.
With so much being shown over five hours, Hood just hoped to showcase the great programs Van Wert City Schools does offer.
an optimistic person,” Hood said of if he thinks change will come after
the meeting. “I’m also 55-years old and a bit of a cynic at the same
time. You have to engage people and meet them where they’re at and we
did that with Secretary DeVos. We were open and honest and shared our
concerns and showed off our great programs. It’s her responsibility to
take away from this. Policy change and politics is hard to overcome and
maybe as opposed to being so polarized and so many special interests
having their say, maybe this will open some eyes. We can only hope.
We’ve done what we can to shed light on some of those issues, so we’ve
held up our end of it.”
Hood does know that if the proposed budget cuts go through, it will definitely impact Van Wert City Schools.
said she would need to “digest” what all she saw on Thursday and see
what she might take back to Washington, D.C., in terms of changing
“I think it’s really important for me to make visits like
this and to get to schools all across this country as I’ve already done
in a variety of states because what goes on to help students prepare
themselves for their future happens outside of Washington to the
greatest extent,” DeVos said. “That’s where the rubber meets the road
and that’s where we have to be addressing the needs of the students, at
the local level.”