National AFT Leader, in Austin on Back-to-School Tour, Spotlights Teachers and Bus Drivers “Making A Difference Every Day”

AFT Executive Vice President Lorretta Johnson was in Austin on September 7, where she visited with drivers at a school bus barn and toured an elementary school where an innovative partnership involving teachers, administrators, and the business community supports the efforts of successful educators who are helping to raise student academic achievement.

Johnson’s visit to Austin was part of the AFT’s coast-to-coast back-to-school tour of schools making a difference in the lives of students despite education budget cuts and other challenges.

“All around the country, education budgets are being slashed, but the educators in Austin never let their kids down,” Johnson said. “Despite the distractions, teachers and other school staff continue to give their all to their students.”

Johnson—who was joined by leaders of Texas AFT and Education Austin, as well as school district officials—met in the morning with bus drivers and other transportation employees at the Sunset Valley Bus Barn. “Every day bus drivers and other transportation staff make sure that kids get to school safely,” Johnson told those gathered after morning bus runs had been completed. “What you do is vital to the educational mission of Austin’s public schools.”

Among those joining Johnson at the bus barn were Kris Hafezizadeh, director of pupil transportation for the school district, and Louis Malfaro, secretary-treasurer of Texas AFT, who is also an AFT vice president.

Johnson also visited Pickle Elementary School, which is part of the Austin Independent School District’s REACH program, a strategic compensation and professional development initiative that was launched four years ago. The program—a partnership of teachers, the school district, and the business community—provides highly praised mentoring to new teachers and offers incentives to educators who help raise student academic achievement.

“The REACH program is an exciting example of how teachers, administrators, and community partners can collaborate to change the way we work with kids in the classroom to make sure they succeed,” Johnson said. She noted that the program has also boosted the recruitment and retention of successful teachers at some of Austin’s highest-needs schools.

“Education Austin members have been at the forefront of pushing the envelope to implement innovative ideas that are good for kids, good for school employees, and good for parents and the community,” said Texas AFT President Linda Bridges, who also joined Johnson on her visit to Austin. Bridges is also an AFT vice president.

The AFT’s “Making a Difference Every Day” back-to-school tour includes pre-K to higher education stops from coast to coast, highlighting approaches that are sustainable, are scalable, and will help all kids succeed. The tour has included stops in Charleston and McDowell County, West Virginia; Palm Beach County, Florida; Hartford, Connecticut; Tacoma and Seattle, Washington; Detroit, Michigan; Austin, Texas; and Long Island, New York.

Stories, photos, and videos of the “Making a Difference Every Day” tour are available on this AFT Web site:  http://www.aft.org/difference.