Coffee, Pastries and a Visit from Secretary Duncan 

May 10, 2012 - U.S. Dept. of Education secretary surprises staff at Luke C. Moore High School during Teacher Appreciation Week

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Teachers and staff at Luke C. Moore High School got a lot more than the typical coffee and pastries during their Teacher Appreciation Week breakfast Wednesday morning – they got a surprise visit from U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“It was phenomenal,” said Luke C. Moore Principal Azalia H. Speight. “The teachers were totally caught off guard. You could hear the shock in their voices.”

Steve Townsend, who teaches biology, environmental science, zoology and anatomy at Luke C. Moore, said he suspected something was up when he entered the room and saw a podium flanked by U.S. flags. But, he said, he never thought the special guest would be Secretary Duncan.

“None of us got into this profession for a pat on the back. I’m very grateful for it, but I am more grateful that Secretary Duncan was here to hear from us and talk to us and spend time with us,” Townsend said. “It was a lot more meaningful for me than hearing, ‘Good job.’”

The entire Luke C. Moore staff – from teachers to cafeteria employees – attended the breakfast and met with Duncan, who visited each table to chat and pose for photos.

“I was honored to join Principal Speight in thanking Luke C. Moore staff for their commitment to education,” said Duncan in a statement. “The entire staff demonstrate a shared responsibility for helping children feel supported and have made significant accomplishments that improve students' chances of being successful in school and beyond. Their hard work is inspiring.”

The visit coincided with National Teacher Appreciation Week, May 7-11, and marks Duncan’s second visit to the school. In November 2009, Duncan held a discussion at the school as part of a series of listening and learning events to gather input on education reform and the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act. More recently, Luke C. Moore teacher Rose Smith and senior Daquan Burley joined Duncan on a panel during America’s Promise Alliance 2012 “Building a Grad Nation” Summit.

“It was definitely a pleasant surprise,” said school social worker Dr. Tasheka Cox of Wednesday’s visit. “It was an awesome way for the administration here to show how much they really appreciate us by having someone of his stature here to meet and greet us. I think it’s important because we definitely do good work day in and day out.”

Luke C. Moore in Ward 5 serves disengaged youth ages 17-20 who have dropped out of high school, may have adjudication issues, or have had difficulties in traditional school settings. The school seeks to provide each student with an individualized program that addresses both their academic and socio-emotional needs.

For Vibha Robinson, the New Heights teen-parent coordinator at Luke C. Moore, the visit provided staff an opportunity to talk to a high-level federal government official about their jobs and the work they do with students.

“We love the appreciation and it gave us an opportunity to touch base with him,” she said. “This shows we’re valued outside of the school system. … It was really wonderful.”

In addition to Duncan’s visit, Luke C. Moore has filled the calendar this week with events and kind gestures to honor its teachers and staff.

On Monday, administrators and staff prepared food for a special staff luncheon. On Tuesday, every staff member received a certificate entitling them to a 30-minute early release from school on a day of their choosing. On Thursday, staff will receive gift bags with personalized messages from students thanking them for the work they do. And after school on Friday, administrators will treat staff to a social, complete with light refreshments and dancing.

“We wanted to make sure our appreciation was heartfelt, sincere and creative,” said Principal Speight. “That Arne Duncan is aware of the tremendous efforts we have made and is personally invested to take the time to visit [our teachers] means a whole lot.”

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