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Randi Weingarten Keynote Speaker at the Netter Center for Community Partnership 20th Anniversary Credit: Clara Wu , Clara Wu

Instead of giving lectures Monday night, some teachers and professors from around the country sat in Houston Hall for their own lessons on education.

In celebration of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships’ 20th Anniversary, Penn is hosting an international two–day conference examining perspectives on higher education, community development and community health partnerships.

Titled “The Role of Higher Education-Community-School Partnerships in Creating Democratic Communities Locally, Nationally and Globally,” the event capped off its first night with keynote speaker Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and former president of the United Federation of Teachers.

Within the first five minutes of her speech Weingarten revealed her sense of humor, jokingly reminiscing about her decision to attend Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations over the Wharton School.

Although she expressed guilt in coming on campus knowing she turned down the prestigious business school, the American educator and well-known labor leader knew she made the right decision in her career choice, evident in her many present and past titles.

Despite the recent economic crisis, Weingarten said, the Netter Center stands out among institutions that combine education, civic responsibility and community service. To this day, it continues the plant seeds to better the future of our country.

She admired the Netter Center’s mentality “that things should be done with community and not to community.”

Founded in 1992, the center serves as a home to the University’s community development, traditional service and unique academically–based programs.

“The center has helped to produce positive changes in West Philadelphia … by galvanizing the resources of the University of Pennsylvania,” said Associate Vice President and Founding Director of the Netter Center Ira Harkavy.

Jettie Newkirk, chair of the Netter Center’s Community Advisory Board, who has contributed to the center since its start, referred to the Netter Center as “probably one of the best kept secrets” of the University.

In her speech, Weingarten emphasized that in order to make sure people exercise democracy accurately, we need to make sure it is practiced in and outside the classrooms. “Preparing the next generation for civic engagement is one of the most important functions of our public schools,” she said.

She said that too often schools teach on what can solely be measured. Although there is a need for math and science curriculum in schools, there is an even greater need to teach the traditionally immeasurable, such as civic service, drama and the arts. We need to “end the fixation with testing,” she admonished.

Weingarten introduced to the audience the American Federation of Teachers’ “Learning is More than a Test Score” initiative, to be unveiled next week. “Instead of public schools being testing factories or isolated islands disconnected with communities, we are pressing for public schools to be the center of communities and in the center of civic play,” Weingarten said.

More than ever, the benefits of strong partnerships with universities have become more evident. “We need all hands on deck” to trump poverty, foster learning environments and to fight unjust cuts against education, Weingarten said.

Tomorrow, the Netter Center will continue its conference panel with discussions ranging from arts and culture in education to predicting the changes in education reform 20 years from now.

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