Schools as Centers of Neighborhood Vitality
Richard W. Riley
Former U.S. Secretary of Education
NSBN Getty Symposium -
May 29, 2003
Good morning. Thank you Barry for your generous introduction.
I have known Barry for a good many years now and every time
he introduces me he gets a little better at it. I have had the
good fortune to come here to the Getty on several occasions
-- and like all of you -- I appreciate Barry's leadership
of this great institution.
I want to thank David Abel for his leadership of New Schools-
Better Neighborhoods and his belief that when we build new schools
it makes a whole lot of sense to create the community partnerships
that can restore vitality to our neighborhoods.
I want to acknowledge a few other people who have come all the
way across the country to see what creative ideas we can steal
from all of you smart people here on the West Coast.
Chad Wick is the CEO and President of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation,
the largest foundation in Ohio dedicated to improving education.
Like California, Ohio is in the midst of a decade long effort
to design and build new schools to the tune of $23 billion
With the help of the Gates and Ford Foundations, Chad, Barbara
Diamond and others are making a major effort to promote authentic
community engagement and to transform Ohio's urban high
schools by making them smaller and more personalized.
This is something that I know my good friend Roy Romer is thinking
hard about when it comes to the next generation of schools here
in LA. We Americans love bigness -- we are a big country
and we think in big terms and that's not bad. But big is
not always better when it comes to the education of our children.
Building smaller schools also has important implications for
how residents of neighborhoods see themselves. As true neighbors
and part of a community or as isolated strangers each going their
own way. This is why I am a strong supporter of the collaborative
Just as educators need to measure student achievement so we
can help students improve, those of you who are thinking hard
about facility use know that the planning process is where the
hard work gets done -- where you break down the silo thinking,
share resources and put all the pieces together.
We are long past the time when we can live on old assumptions
about the design and building of new school facilities.
Dr. Terry Peterson is a long time old colleague from South Carolina
and the U.S. Department of Education. Terry is now in the forefront
of the national effort to create more after-school opportunities
and to expand arts education; two ideas that go hand in hand.
Mary Filardo is the Executive Director of the 21st Century School
Fund in Washington, D.C. Mary is one of those moms who got riled
up about her local neighborhood school and became a national
expert in the process. Mary was the leader in the design and
funding the Oyster Bilingual Elementary School, the first new
public school built in D.C. in several decades.
Kevin Sullivan is also another long time colleague. Kevin organized
the National Symposium on School Design in 1998 with Steven Bingler,
who many of you know.
Even though he has 3 little girls, Kevin has been thinking
hard about the intergenerational aspects of public education -- about
how to make our public schools more inviting to senior citizens.
This is not our first meeting together with David Abel. Last
January with the support of Chad Wick and Anne Bryant of the
National School Boards Association, we brought together 40 different
national organizations to begin a dialogue on how we can put
all the pieces together and scale up this growing effort to see
our schools as centers of community.
At the meeting, I was struck by the diversity of groups involved
and how many people were coming at this issue from many different
angles -- whether it was the health of children -- the
design of full service schools -- the need for authentic
community engagement -- community school advocates -- smart
growth experts -- green school proponents and many, many
We came to several initial conclusions. Let me share a few of
them with you.
First, that policymakers may be much more open to the idea that
sharing resources is a smart way to improve education and build
communities at a time when state budgets are running in red ink.
As someone aptly put it -- the poverty imposed upon you
by all the budget cuts forces you to be creative and resourceful.
There was also a clear recognition at the January meeting that
community partnerships can be and should play an important role
in responding to the "No Child Left Behind" legislation.
The community needs to be seen as a valuable resource by principals
and teachers in our national effort to raise standards.
Now getting educators to think in those terms may take some
doing and the doing needs to happen now.
Let's remember that the issue isn't just building
the building -- the issue is what do our young people need
to learn inside that building to be ready for the coming times.
There is no point in spending millions of dollars to build a
brand new gleaming high school if it winds up housing an outdated
academic program that prepares young people for jobs and opportunities
that no longer exist.
This is why I am a strong advocate for putting more AP courses
into our urban high schools, and for successful initiatives like
the AVID program -- that have a proven track record of getting
students from high poverty schools on the path to college success.
I encourage you to read the cover story in this week's "Newsweek" magazine
by Jay Mathews.
We also recognized that for all our complaints about regulatory
barriers and silo thinking at the state and federal level, there
are a lot of disconnections among the many groups that are advocating
around the idea of school as centers of community. Facility experts
aren't talking to program people and vice versa. So one
of our goals is to help make those connections in the coming
As we talked through the day, we realized that there was a growing
need to scale up our efforts to reach beyond the education community
to national organizations that might be receptive to our message -- from
the National Conference of Mayors to the AARP.
I also believe that those of us in education have to reach out
to the community in new ways. Put simply, we need to design new
public schools as community learning centers -- to be open
later, longer and for more members of the community -- schools
that really become the hub and center of the community.
A school district, for example, that reaches out to its senior
citizens and invites them "in" may have a much easier
time passing the next bond issue. This is why I believe that
we need to do much more to develop the inter-generational aspects
of public education; to promote life long learning at every opportunity.
Schools in the future surely ought to be designed so there is
room for pre-k activities, room for all day kindergarten and
creative after-school opportunities. And we need to recognize
that the school building of the future is probably going to be
open year around to fulfill some community need.
It is also important to recognize that the community can be
the school as well. Schools can be attached to museums and art
galleries; they can be situated in shopping malls and even next
to a factory.
My friends, schools don't have to be large and they don't
even have to be small, they just have to be excellent. And on
every occasion that I have had the opportunity to visit an excellent
school -- I can assure you -- the community is deeply involved
in every aspect of its success.
Making our schools healthy and environmental safe and energy
efficient also has important implications, and I am pleased that
these important topics are part of our discussion today.
Here I want to make the important point that I have asked David
Abel to circulate a letter to all of you in the near future in
support of the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities.
School construction, unfortunately, is not high on the agenda
back in Washington, and we need your help to keep the Clearinghouse
going. I am sure that many of you have used its services.
I also invite you to join the Coalition for Community Schools
led by Marty Blank, a broad based and growing national effort
that has united many different organizations to spread the message
that school can and should be centers of community.
In conclusion, I urge to do some creative thinking today.
Instead of building schools for 1950, we need to be building
schools for 2050. Schools that are healthy, safe, energy efficient,
environmentally sensitive, that use up to date technology --
that complement and enhance academic excellence; schools designed
by the community, with the students and for the community in
Schools that act as anchors for community renewal and encourage
a new community based vitality in every neighborhood here in
LA and all across California.
Thank you very much.