Escambia Union-District Leaders Network to Improve Learning

Outstanding records of achievement qualify six teams for the NEA Foundation Institute for Innovation in Teaching and Learning

A team from Escambia led by the Escambia Education Association president, Kathy Breakall, and Dr. Malcolm Thomas, superintendent of the Escambia School District have been selected to join the second cohort of the NEA Foundation Institute for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, a national effort to address challenges facing public education.

Escambia Public Schools was selected for its history of collaborative work, including the development and implementation of a new, evidence-based teacher evaluation system and the development of the START program, a peer evaluation and review program for all novice teachers. Their Institute work will focus on building teacher buy-in and support for a professional growth system.


“A quality public education is the birthright of all students sitting in America’s classrooms,” said Kathy Breakall, president of the Escambia Education Association. “If that birthright is to become a reality, it is imperative that we as educators collaborate to assure that our teachers are effective and our programs are proven. When unions and districts work together, everybody wins: students, employees and communities.”

"Education is experiencing a period of incredible change. It is imperative that all stakeholders embrace an attitude focused on innovation,” said Malcolm Thomas, superintendent of the Escambia School District. “This is the best strategy to accelerate the rate of change in public schools."

It is one of just six new teams invited to participate in the Institute’s two-year program, becoming part of a network of 14 collaborative teams tackling some of the most pressing issues in public education, such as Common Core Standards, the creation of a strategic compensation plan, and engaging and motivating teachers to be the drivers of their individual and collective professional growth through the design of comprehensive development systems— including career ladders. Other second cohort members hail from: Hacienda La Puente, CA; San Juan, CA; Jefferson County, CO; Fayette County, KY; Oregon City, OR.

“We welcome these teams and feel confident in their capacity and joint commitment to lead the profession through the design of strong reform programs,” said NEA Foundation President & CEO Harriet Sanford. “The Institute will provide opportunities for them to engage in a partnership to change teaching and learning in their communities, and ultimately, improve the opportunities of their students.”

Teams were competitively selected based on applications co-authored by teacher union presidents and superintendents demonstrating their ability to address difficult issues of systems change and collaborative reform, with a sense of urgency and focus. Sanford said the Foundation also sought to develop a cohort whose actions plans would reflect a diverse set of issues, increasing what it will learn from these sites’ experiences in order to share with the field.

Founded on the belief that good instructional practices will have the greatest impact on student learning, the Institute was formally launched in 2010.

Each of the Institute’s inaugural cohort of eight teams identified issues most critical to their students and communities. The Institute supports the local work in several ways. Staff and coaches provide technical assistance and data-based feedback to the teams, in support of their joint reform work. Learning resources, including curricula addressing the context of educational reform, new forms of labor-management relations, and educational equity for all students are also provided to help build knowledge and capacity.

“We truly believe that it will be through this kind of deep collaborative work that we will see the changes required to prepare every child for college and career,” Sanford said.

The NEA Foundation is an independent, public charity supported by contributions from educators, corporate sponsors, and others.  We partner with education unions, districts, and communities to create powerful, sustainable improvements in teaching and learning.  Visit for more information. Find us on Facebook and Twitter, and visit our blog

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