SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Mayors continued their quest to learn what works well in schools across the country as they visited Oak Park neighborhood schools.
Three mayors made a pit stop on their Mayors for Educational Excellence Tour at Sacramento Charter High School in St. Hope Public Schools on Thursday, Dec. 12: Local mayor Kevin Johnson, Michael Hancock from Denver and Julian Castro from San Antonio. Angel Taveras from Providence, R.I., was not able to make this trip.
In St. Hope Public Schools, which Johnson started in 1989, students have grown tremendously in reading and math compared to 10 years ago, said Superintendent Jim Scheible. Less than 20 percent of students were reading on grade level then, and now more than half of them have reached that goal.
Every student should have access to high-quality education, regardless of their neighborhood or skin tone, Johnson said. He returned to his stomping grounds in Oak Park after his NBA career so he could give back to his community.
"As a mayor, there is nothing more important than we as mayors educating our children," Johnson said.
While education decisions rest primarily with local school districts, mayors are getting more involved in their city's school systems. In Hancock's words, they're becoming some of the greatest and loudest voices for children.
"We are simply saying, 'No longer can we leave it to just school systems to address the issue of our children,'" Hancock said. "As mayors, everything we touch is predicated on strong, performing schools."
Both he and Johnson understand that good public schools are the foundation that allows cities to be economically sustainable, Hancock said. And as Oak Park schools are trending up in student achievement, economic investment has followed.
Three mayors talk about what they're learning from each other's schools. Left to right: Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Michael Hancock of Denver and Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio.
If education achievement can grow in cities like Sacramento and others, that bodes well for the future of the United States, Castro said. And he had a message for the students who listened to the mayors speak.
"As young people in this year 2013, you sit on the shoulders of generations of people who made bets and made sacrifices, folks who fought in wars and fought discrimination, people who sat in and stood up so that you can have the oportunities that you have today."
Castro encouraged them to continue to make the most of the potential and opportunities that they now have because of the work of previous generations.
Each of the mayors stressed the importance of early childhood education as a catalyst to transform their school systems from the inside out.
While the foundation of cities is education, technology is the foundation for good public schools, Hancock said.
"Some of the highest performing schools in our district — whether charter or traditional — have a very strong foundation with technology as a driving force," Hancock said. "So STEM is really the heart of what we're trying to do is introduce more of our kids — particularly kids of color — to the STEM subjects."
With summer camps, academies and parternships with the Mayor's Office, Denver is helping its students become more engaged in their learning. And this city's example, along with other cities, could provide some ideas for mayors to take back to their communities.