Mayor Villaraigosa Endorses Building Neighborhood Centered Schools

July 01, 2005

Los Angeles's new Mayor outlines first steps toward better education in remarks at New Schools Better Neighborhoods symposium.

Reprinted with persmission from The Planning Report.

New Schools Better Neighborhoods (NSBN) is a civic advocacy organization formed to promote a 21st Century vision for California’s urban school districts: new schools should be centers of neighborhoods and likewise, neighborhoods and communities should serve as centers of learning. On July 18, 2005, New Schools Better Neighborhoods held a symposium to explore further the possibilities for creating community centered schools in metropolitan Los Angeles. MIR is pleased to provide the following keynote remarks delivered by newly elected LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who campaigned on a platform of school improvement.
I want to welcome you here today for the New Schools Better Neighborhoods Symposium focusing on “Schools as Centers of our Neighborhoods.”

I would first like to thank Irene Hirano of the Japanese American National Museum for opening up this space to us and always being a gracious host. She has worked long and hard to develop this educational space now known as The National Center for the Preservation of Democracy-- opening to the public at the end of October.

This is in fact a celebratory moment as this is the first official event to be held at The National Center for the Preservation of Democracy. What better inaugural event than a conference on education, the bedrock of our democracy.

I would like to acknowledge Irene and the Japanese American National Museum and give them a round of applause.

I also want to commend New Schools Better Neighborhoods for their dedication and hard work on behalf children and communities throughout this City. Your commitment to tackling the tough issues surrounding California’s urban school districts is real and has been relentless. By helping to develop new school facilities that are small, community centered and serve as anchors to neighborhoods, we are investing in the future of our children as well as this great city.

This organization is to be commended for advocating joint-use between schools and other services, increasingly whether they are libraries or recreational facilities. This strategy is crucial in the development of new schools, particularly in high-density urban areas. We need creativity and innovation to site and develop new schools— growing vertical in our plans, designing smaller schools that serve the community needs at night and on weekends.

Having worked hand in hand with NSBN as the Councilmember of the 14th District to preserve a community childcare center in Boyle Heights, I know firsthand what a difference a strong city partnership can make. Even with all of the talent and creativity in this room, we still face a daunting task ahead. Our public schools are in a state of crisis. Fully one-third of our 9 th-grade students are not finishing high school. This number is even higher for Latino and African American students. Drop out rates are astronomical in some parts of the city. College is not even in the mind’s eye of too many kids and their families.

We are not preparing our children for an increasingly competitive world - only a good education can prepare our kids to make good on their dreams, to secure their futures and to become productive citizens who can compete in a world that is amazingly complex. Responsibility for our children’s education starts with each one of us. The future of our city lies with its children- and the strength of a city lies in the education it provides to those children.

We have to begin with the question: What can the City of Los Angeles do to support the education of its public school children? How do we create the conditions that will allow every child to arrive at school each day able, ready and prepared to learn? How do we create the conditions that will support teachers so that they can focus on classroom management and delivery of instruction aimed at closing the achievement gap between minority and non minority students? How do we create the conditions that will reduce the number of students who drop out or are pushed out during the middle school years? How do we take the myriad individual successful programs and create an infrastructure that will make them systemic, sustainable and scaleable so that every child can succeed in school?

I have been overwhelmed with the response to my announcement of plans to form an Education Advisors Council. Teachers, parents, administrators and ordinary citizens from across the City and beyond have responded. Each has indicated a willingness to be involved in helping to craft a plan to find a solution; however, we know there is no one solution.

I’ve already learned that the City of Los Angeles operates 95 programs that serve children of all ages. These 95 programs span 25 city departments and total $290 million dollars in annual funding. This is a good start, the City is clearly committed to children, but I know we can and will do more. We must be more strategic and focused.

The Education Advisors Council will explore and define the conditions required to support the success of our students. It will seek to answer the question: What can the City of Los Angeles do to bring these conditions about? The Council will seek to identify how and where city government should focus its efforts in support of the school district and its mission to educate our children. Made up of educators, parents, administrators, community leaders, business and union heads, as well as foundation heads, the Education Advisors Council will represent the breadth and scope of the challenge.

The Council’s first work will focus in five overarching and critical areas which are pre-conditions for learning:

•Safe Havens - Keeping children safe and secure within their schools so that learning can occur and success is the norm. I envision schools as open and welcoming centers of the community where parents, children, friends and their neighbors congregate.

•Healthy Kids – Ensuring all families have access to and knowledge of affordable health insurance and other resources, beginning with pre-natal. We must make sure that children are born healthy and stay healthy. We need to promote good nutrition and personal fitness. We must shape early childhood experiences in a clean and safe environment.

•Before and After School support - Expanding and improving before and after-school programs and activities like those of LA’s Best which protect and enrich our children’s lives. We need to expand the cadre of mentors, tutors and role models, dedicated adults who volunteer to work with our youth. We must provide these opportunities during the hours when many parents are away and children can get sucked into other, less productive activities.

•Strategic Alliances - Identifying collaborative partnerships with LAUSD and securing resources which can be focused on supporting leadership development and empowerment of teachers and principals; engaging parents in the classroom and in the school; respecting parents as the first teachers of their children; supporting creative joint use projects that connect schools, libraries, parks and other institutions, and supporting the building of small schools.

I know this is an ambitious agenda, but with committed people serving on the Council, I have full confidence that we can make real progress. Together with the members, we will look to resources throughout the city to help guide the Council’s mission and provide valuable information and research on best practices, unique programs and proven success.

We have already sought the participation of UCLA, USC, California State University at Los Angeles and Dominguez Hills, and Loyola Marymount University. These first class educational institutions will serve as expert resources to the Council. And we have two representatives sitting right here in this room: Howard Adelman, a professor of Psychology and co-Director of the School of Mental Health Project at UCLA, has agreed to be a resource to the Council. And Karen Symms Gallagher, Dean of the Rossier School of Education at USC, has also agreed to provide her extensive knowledge and network of resources to this effort.

We will have our first meeting next week on July 29 th to set the stage for our work and start to hear from the members of the Council. I will expect to hear some of their recommendations before school starts in the fall.

There is no time to waste when it comes to our children’s future. I have no illusions that there is a quick fix or a single path. But the stakes are too great and the needs are too urgent not to start now. With the help of New Schools Better Neighborhoods, the promise of schools as centers of neighborhoods has a better chance of becoming real.

Thank you for the work that you will be doing here today and I look forward to sharing with you the progress of the Education Council in the Fall.