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All Aboard the Success Express: On the Road With the Secretary of Education
Day 3

Share Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley is traveling this week on the Success Express-- and Education World is going along for the ride! This year's America Goes Back to School ride will stop in about 20 towns in seven states along the Mississippi River. Follow along as we file reports from the Success Express!

Click here for an introduction to the journey. (Aug 26, 2000)
Click here for the first day with Secretary Riley. (Aug 27, 2000)
Click here for the second day with Secretary Riley. (Aug 28, 2000)
Click here for the third day with Secretary Riley. (Aug 29, 2000)

Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Distance learning, class-size reduction, and after-school programs were the focus of yesterday's stops on the Success Express, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley's annual trip to celebrate his America Goes Back to School campaign. Come along as Education World rides along!



Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Between stops in Hollandale and Rosedale, Mississippi, the bus made an unscheduled stop. A group of young children lined the highway, waving to those on board the Success Express.

About a mile down the road we made a U-turn so we could return to greet the students of Ray Brooks School in Benoit, Mississippi. "Ray Brooks School is the smallest school in the state," principal Barbara Akon told Education World. The school is home to 268 kids in grades prekindergarten through ninth.

Thank you once again to those enthusiastic students and their special welcome!

Did you know?

When Secretary Riley was governor of the state of South Carolina, the state constitution limited the governorship to one term. But Riley was such a popular governor that the constitution was amended to enable him to be elected for a second term!

While at the Delta Blues Museum today, Riley recalled a trip to Lisbon, Portugal, a few years back. He was the chairman of a U.S. delegation sent to a special event there. Blues singer B. B. King was another member of the delegation. Over dinner, the two men got to know each other. During the conversation, Riley recalled, "B. B. King said to me 'Dick, do you know what my first name is?' " Riley admitted he didn't know, so King told Riley his first name -- Riley! "I knew we were blood brothers," Dick Riley told the crowd of blues fans. "But you'd never know it by my rhythm!"

The first stop of the yesterday's Success Express tour was Simmons High School in Hollandale, Mississippi. There, Secretary Riley observed a distance learning algebra lesson. The classroom teacher, Bob Moses, usually teaches the class from Lanier High School in Jackson, the state capital while students in Hollandale participate via a live video/audio connection. But today he switched places in order to be in Hollandale when the secretary made his stop.

"Many rural communities in Mississippi and around the nation are experiencing a shortage of teachers of math," Riley told the students at the end of the lesson. "That's why in rural America it is so important to have distance learning. Through distance learning, a fine algebra teacher in Hollandale can teach algebra to students in 20 communities across the state."

Riley also urged students to take challenging classes in many subjects. "Algebra and other more advanced courses are a gate to higher education," he told the students in the room and in Jackson. "Your future depends on taking challenging courses. It's amazing how algebra opens the door. Algebra leads to other more difficult courses that open the door to career opportunities."

The lesson Moses taught today is part of a program called the Algebra Project, which Moses established in 1982. Moses, an African American, believes the right to vote was essential for blacks to achieve equality in the 1960s. Today, he believes as strongly that African American students must be mathematically literate to fully participate in the information age.

Moses has involved the community in his effort. He works to educate parents, students, and teachers about the necessity of math literacy not only in a post-secondary education but also in the workplace.

Next, Riley stopped in a classroom where a computer engineering class is held. Teacher Paul Goon explained that the program teaches students to problem solve and repair computers. At the end of the program, students can take a certification test that will qualify them for good jobs. The program is open to students in grades 11 and 12. "We look at the students' backgrounds, their work and study skills, and their discipline records, when selecting students for the program," Goon told the visitors.

Goon's computer repair class is part of a national project, ExplorNet, which seeks to expand technology access in rural America. Since the program's inception, Simmons High School students have upgraded 80 computers to be used throughout the district.


"Commitment and teamwork." That's the secret to successful technology integration at West Bolivar Elementary School, according to principal Judy Cutts. That commitment was evident everywhere as Secretary Riley toured the school after a rousing greeting by the entire student body.

Fourth-grade teacher Renee Lemastus demonstrated videoconferencing equipment, obtained through a school-to-business partnership. "We don't have an assembly room," Lemastus told visitors, "so videoconferencing can be used in its place. Videoconferencing can also be used to offer professional development for teachers, for students to share storytelling, or for new teachers to observe master teachers as they teach lessons."

After wandering the halls of West Bolivar, Riley reiterated his commitment to putting computers in every classroom. "If students don't have computers in school, computers will be like a foreign language," he said at a news conference. "Computers in schools-- especially in rural schools -- can make a great difference in the school [and] the community and to increasing business opportunities in the state."

For Cutts, both federal and community resources have had a measurable impact on student achievement in core academic subjects, such as reading and math. Department of Education Class Size Reduction (CSR) funds have helped reduce class sizes and helped offer teachers more professional development opportunities. Survey results indicate that parents feel their children are getting individual attention in smaller classes. Technology Literacy Challenge Fund (TLCF) dollars have been used to place hardware and software in K-6 classrooms, as well as to provide technology training for teachers. The district also used Title I funds to support a stationary computer lab housing 60 computers.


Next stop: The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. There, a handful of young blues-trained musicians had the crowd cheering and begging for more!

The Delta Blues Museum Education and Arts Program was established in 1998. During the 1999-2000 school year, 25 to 30 students from the Clarksdale Public Schools participated in this community-based organization's after-school program. Students who participate in the Education and Arts Program choose to learn voice or an instrument-- guitar, bass, keyboard, harmonica, drums, or voice-- then they learn to perform together as a band. The program is open to any student willing to adhere to a strict behavior code.

"Every child should have quality after-school programs to expand their learning opportunities," Riley told the pumped-up crowd. "That's why the president has requested to double funding for after-school programs.

"So far, the Congress has said no," Riley added. "But this isn't the first time they have said no. Every year they [said] no to the expansion we [tried] to put in place for education, and every year we got it done by the end of the year. Why? Because the American people say 'Wait a minute, this is important to us!'"


At a community supper at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Arkansas, Secretary Riley announced the donation of 15 wireless telephones to the Helena Public Schools. The phones, donated by Nokia with free airtime provided by ALLTEL, are part of the Wireless Foundation ClassLink program to provide teachers with the means to communicate with parents and increase school safety.

TOMORROW: We cross the Mississippi twice as we travel from Arkansas to Tennessee and back to Arkansas!

Monday, August 28, 2000

Yesterday, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley made four stops on the Success Express tour of the Mississippi Delta region. He visited schools in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi -- and Education World was there with him! Riley called on Congress to provide more federal school funding to rural communities and to raise teacher salaries. He chided education cynics to get out and visit schools in their communities.

"Teachers are the great patriots of our time," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley told people in Winnsboro, Louisiana, on the first stop of a busy day. Riley vowed "to make some things happen in Congress in September" to help raise teacher salaries across the nation.

The issue of teacher salaries is important to teachers in Winnsboro, part of Louisiana's Franklin Parish. For teacher pay, Winnsboro is the lowest-ranking town in the lowest-ranking state. "Why do teachers teach for four or five years, then go off to work in business?" Riley asked the audience. Teachers are no different from other Americans, he said. They want to do better for themselves and their families.

Riley's stop at Winnsboro High School was planned to draw attention to the school's technology program. The school is part of a five-parish consortium that received a five-year, $8.7 million Technology Innovation Challenge Grant (TICG) in 1998. The TICG provided funding to more than 25 projects to create technology-enhanced classrooms and train teachers. Winnsboro High has also benefited from more than $45,000 in discounts through the e-rate program.

"When I was a child, I was very lucky," Riley told the gathering. "My family was able to afford a set of the World Book Encyclopedia, but every family couldn't afford World Book. Today, children can come home or go to school and have access to World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica and the Library of Congress. They have the whole world at their fingertips."


"Back to school time is a great time of year. [It's] a time to tell the cynics who spend all their time criticizing schools that they ought to get out and get into a public school and see the great things that are going on there," Riley told a crowd gathered outside Wilmot Elementary School, the first Arkansas stop for the Success Express.

In Arkansas, Governor Mike Huckabee's Smart Start program to promote early achievement has gained national recognition. Huckabee spoke to the crowd after Wilmot students offered their rendition of the Smart Start theme song. Speaking about the successes at Wilmot and around the state, Huckabee credited the dedicated teachers. "No one in Little Rock [the capital] can take credit for this," Huckabee told the crowd. He praised teachers for their dedication and hard work in "an area of the state where some people say this kind of success shouldn't happen."



Monday, August 28, 2000

Enrollment at Winnsboro High School grew from 490 to 642 over the summer! A smaller high school in a neighboring community closed because of declining enrollment, and all the students were reassigned to Winnsboro High School.

To accommodate the influx of students, the school installed eight portable classrooms in addition to the two already in place. Over the last few years, three school bond referendums to build new facilities and increase teacher salaries have failed. A new bond issue is planned.

At Wilmot Elementary School, the school slogan is simple -- "Where Everyone Succeeds." The acronym WES also happens to be the initials of the school. The following acrostic sets out the school motto.

Learners who strive to be
Motivated and seek every
Opportunity to display our

Did you know ... ?

Mississippi ranks number three in the United States in the number of teachers who earned national teacher certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)

Kermit the Frog, of Muppets fame, was created 7 miles east of Greenville, in Leland, Mississippi. A museum in his honor is located in Leland.

The next stop on the tour was just down the road in Portland, Arkansas. There, principal Ernest Smith leads a team of teachers who have been getting a lot of national attention. "One of the tiniest schools in the country is making a lot of noise," Smith told the assembled group of dignitaries and community members. "We're an unexpected showplace in Portland, Arkansas."

When Smith arrived in Portland in 1995, half the students in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade were scoring two years or more below grade level on standardized tests. In 1999, 100 percent of the students at Portland achieved scores at or above grade level. In 1999, Portland Elementary was selected as one of 21 schools featured in a Heritage Foundation study of high performing, high poverty schools.

Governor Huckabee credited Smith and his staff, "who refused to believe that these kids couldn't be as successful as any other kids in any other school."

In 1995, Smith said, his school was an "embarrassment to our neighboring communities." That's when he set out to learn all he could about a new approach. "Direct instruction" had been gaining recognition in a handful of communities, including Houston, Texas. Smith visited Houston, but he was unimpressed. Then he visited another direct instruction school, in Pine Bluffs, Arkansas. "I listened to kids do things that my kids couldn't do -- and I returned to Portland a disciple."

After Portland Elementary teachers visited Pine Bluffs and became converts to the direct instruction approach, Smith used Department of Education funding to implement the program. Direct instruction is a research-based teaching model that offers teacher-directed instruction in core academic subjects, demands high levels of student participation, and provides teachers with intensive training.

Portland Elementary School's success will be the subject of a story in an upcoming issue of Reader's Digest.


Two hundred members of the Greenville community turned out for a barbecue at Solomon Middle School. Following dinner, Riley again addressed the need for increased assistance to rural schools.

"A lot of these communities have a limited tax base," noted Riley, "so they really do have to be more careful about spending their money and working better with partnerships. But I tell you, we've got to do more from Washington. We've got to do more from all of the state capitals. We've got to realize that regardless of the hard work of families, the partnershipping that is going on, and the careful expenditure of money, people in those areas with low assessed values really have to have some help to make the kind of education system that we all want to have."

Riley noted that in March 2000, the Greenville Public Schools received $2.5 million in Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZAB) to facilitate school modernization. He highlighted the efforts of area businesses and community members who contributed $250,000 to the Greenville Public School District so the district could qualify to receive QZAB money, which requires schools to form partnerships with businesses or community groups.

Greenville also received $5.5 million in discounts through the e-rate program. All classrooms in the 17-school Greenville School District are currently connected. Greenville Public Schools used Class Size Reduction funding to hire 14 new second-grade teachers, reducing second-grade class sizes from 27 in 1998 and 1999 to 14 in 1999 and 2000.

TOMORROW: The Success Express visits the "Dales" -- Hollandale, Rosedale, and Clarksdale -- three Mississippi communities.

Sunday, August 27, 2000

As the department of education kicked off the annual America Goes Back to School campaign, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley urged parents and businesses to get involved in the education of the nation's children. "I urge all parents to slow down your lives to help your children learn and grow," pleaded the secretary in his opening-day speech at the Monroe County (Louisiana) Regional Airport. "Education is everybody's business."

"Research has told us over the last 30 years that it makes a real difference if you get family and communities working together on the right track," added Riley. "Families and communities that are on the right track are putting kids on the "success express" to better education."


Sunday, August 27, 2000 --

Secretary of Education Richard Riley couldn't recall a warmer welcome than the one he received at the opening press conference for this year's Success Express road trip. Warm indeed! On Sunday afternoon, the temperature on the tarmac at the Monroe County (Louisiana) Regional Airport was 103 degrees!

I wonder if the secretary felt the breeze. Just about everybody in the audience of several hundred people waved school bus-shaped fans bearing the words "I am an education fan."

By late afternoon, the Success Express was parked in Rayville, Louisiana, up the road a piece from Monroe. The staff of Rayville High School hosted a traditional Delta supper for the secretary, his traveling companions, and dozens of community members. The menu featured red beans and rice, catfish, greens, and cornbread, and the Rayville Stingers drill team provided rousing entertainment.

Thanks to the elementary school artists who created dozens of colorful placemats for the community supper. A special thanks to Gabrielle (fifth grade, section 2) for the placemat I'm taking home to hang on my office wall!

Did you know ... ?

Delta Airlines began in Monroe County, and Coca-Cola was first bottled there.

Country singer Tim McGraw grew up near Rayville and played baseball at Rayville High School?

The starting pay for a first-year teacher in Rayville is in the low $20,000 range, according to the teachers I had dinner with. That can make attracting the very best teachers to Rayville difficult because a starting teacher can go to Monroe County, just 20 miles down the road, and earn several thousand dollars more.

Secretary Riley is the only U.S. secretary of education who has traveled to all 50 states.

Participants in the Success Express, including Riley; local, state, and regional leaders; educators; and journalists, will make their way to 20 communities in seven Mississippi Delta states. The focus of this year's trip is education in rural towns and cities. "Often we don't pay much attention to rural education," the secretary said in his opening remarks, "but those schools represent one-fourth of all schools. In the Mississippi Delta region, about a third of the schools are rural."

Noting the limited tax bases that many rural communities face, Riley said, "I'm very proud that our administration has put such a strong emphasis on working to help Louisiana and other Delta states to participate more fully in the nation's economic success."


In a powerful conclusion to the Success Express kickoff, Riley turned the podium over to the new president of the American Association of School Administrators, Dr. Benjamin O. Canada. For Canada -- currently superintendent of schools in Portland, Oregon, and the first person of color to head the AASA -- the Success Express kickoff was something of a homecoming. Canada grew up 60 miles down the road from Monroe, in rural Madison Parish. Not all Canada's memories of his hometown are fond.

After graduating from college, Canada returned to teach in Madison Parish. When the first payday came around, Canada was surprised to learn that the school system had a dual pay scale. Black teachers earned less than white teachers did. Canada queried the school's administrator about his paycheck. That administrator used the N-word in his reply: "Boy," the superintendent told him, "that's what all the N's make."

When Canada told the superintendent that he wouldn't accept that, that he'd resign instead, the superintendent said, "Oh, by the way, I'll make sure you're never successful. You'll have no career in education."

"But I'm here today to tell you," Canada told the gathered crowd, "it's like the Success Express. Together, a lot of people helped me be successful. America's future is tied to success for all children. It's in our hands," Canada concluded.

Canada left Madison Parish and went on to teach and administrate in schools in Nevada, Arizona, and Washington. Later, he served as superintendent of schools in Atlanta.


Speaking at a community supper later in the day in rural Rayville, the secretary again emphasized the importance of parent involvement as some of the school system's top students were introduced. Riley took the opportunity to introduce two more themes he has championed in his seven-year tenure at the helm of the department -- class size and reading.

"Research states that if you can get class size in grades K-3 down to 18 or less, and if the teacher is well qualified to teach reading, those things will impact that child in that class that year, in junior high, in high school, and in college," the secretary told the crowd. "We all know that reading is the foundation upon which all of education is built. If children don't read well, they'll have a struggle in school and they'll have a struggle in life."

TOMORROW: Next Stops -- The Success Express follows the Mighty Mississippi to Winnsboro, Louisiana; Wilmot, Arkansas; Portland, Arkansas; and Greenville, Mississippi.

Saturday August 26, 2000

Our bags are packed!

Education World gears up to join Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley as he tours 20 mostly rural communities in the Mississippi River Valley. Dubbed the Success Express, the bus tour will make stops in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, and Illinois. (See the sidebar for a trip itinerary.)

Success Express Itinerary

Education World is aboard the Success Express, taking part in this year's America Goes Back to School ride. Come on along as we stop in a number of Mississippi River Valley towns.

Sunday, August 27
* Monroe, Louisiana
* Rayville, Louisiana
Monday, August 28
* Winnsboro, Louisiana
* Wilmot, Arkansas
* Portland, Arkansas
* Greenville, Mississippi
Tuesday, August 29
* Hollandale, Mississippi
* Rosedale, Mississippi
* Clarksdale, Mississippi
* Helena, Arkansas
Wednesday, August 30
* Marianna, Arkansas
* Memphis, Tennessee
* Blytheville, Arkansas
Thursday, August 31
* Union City, Tennessee
* Hickman, Kentucky
* Charleston, Missouri
* Cairo, Illinois
* Metropolis, Illinois
* Paducah, Kentucky

Riley said that some of the more than 200 counties along the river are struggling. He sees encouraging signs of progress, however, as states in the region launch some important school-reform measures. "We'll visit some exciting places -- schools that are using new technologies, innovative reading programs, after-school programs, family resource centers, award-winning schools that serve primarily students from low-income families. We'll see examples of the kinds of partnerships that have proven so effective in bringing parents and teachers, business leaders and educators together to make schools better."

As the nation's longest-serving secretary of education, Riley has visited more than 325 schools. "Better education is everybody's business," Riley said, "and I hope everyone will go back to school this fall -- as a student or parent, a mentor, a volunteer, or just as a concerned citizen."

Last fall, Riley, a former governor of South Carolina, took a back-to-school bus tour along the South's I-85 corridor, visiting schools in five states.

The bus tours are part of an annual nationwide effort called America Goes Back to School, which aims to encourage greater parent and community involvement in improving education.

Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2000 Education World

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