Winter 2006 Newsletter

L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa Lauds NSBN's Efforts

Antonio VillarigosaAlthough the mayor of Los Angeles has no official direct jurisdiction over education in the city, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has made it known that he wants to see improvement in L.A.’s schools – even if it means wresting formal control away from the school board.  As he continues that campaign, he remains outspoken about the kinds of innovations that the region’s schools should be pursuing.  In this exclusive piece for NSBN, the mayor discusses the need for building small, community-centered schools and the essential role that organizations such as NSBN can play in  establishing and planning these neighborhood schools.

I want to commend New Schools Better Neighborhoods for their dedication and hard work on behalf of children and communities throughout this city.  NSBN’s commitment to tackling the tough issues surrounding California’s urban school districts is real and has been relentless. By contributing to the  development of new school facilities that are small, joint-use, community centered and function as anchors to neighborhoods, NSBN is helping us invest in the future of our children as well as this great city.

NSBN’s focus is on the building of joint use education facilities that by design meet the needs of our city’s families and children. It promotes, among other priorities, the siting, planning and building of small, neighborhood-centered schools and pre-K programs that function, where possible, as community centers open at night and on weekends. NSBN-planned community schools are designed as joint use facilities that offer social services such as day care, health clinics, libraries, and recreation space.

Importantly, NSBN’s work must inform LAUSD’s mission: building 160 new schools in the next eight years ought to not only relieve overcrowded classrooms to serve a growing student population, but to position “schools as centers of our neighborhoods.”

Again, NSBN 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.

There has been tremendous progress made at NSBN’s project in Boyle Heights. It is a model of collaboration from different sectors of the community leading to positive opportunities for the children.  There has been a commitment from United Methodist Ministries to reinvest money from the land taken by LAUSD for a new high school back into the neighborhood.  In addition, the Plaza Community Childcare Center has found a new home, while a brand new two and half block multipurpose community center gets designed and built.  Councilman Huizar’s office submitted a Proposition 0 grant application and community support has been widespread, especially from the Boyle Heights Learning Collaborative.  This is the type of collaborative, strategic thinking and planning that will help create the environment that we need for schools and communities to succeed.

I believe in NSBN’s fundamental vision of the need for strategic alliances in partnership with our schools.  Identifying collaborative partnerships and securing resources, which can be focused on supporting leadership development and empowerment of teachers and principals is vital to our future success. Also, engaging parents in the classroom and in the school will involve them not only in their children’s educational affairs but also within the community. I can’t stress enough that it is absolutely crucial that the community take an active role in the education of our youth.  For that reason I support NSBN’s joint use projects that connect schools, libraries, parks and other institutions.

Even with all of the talent and creativity in this city, we still face a daunting task ahead.  Our public schools are in a state of crisis. According to a Harvard Study, approximately one-half of our 9th-grade students are not finishing high school.  This number is even higher for Latino and African American students.  Drop out rates are astronomical throughout Los Angeles and college is not even in the mind’s eye for too many kids and their families.  There are some fundamental questions that we need to look at as we work to improve our schools:

  • 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 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?
    The city of Los Angeles currently 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.

I intend to fight for and lead a fundamental reform of the Los Angeles Unified School District. I am talking about structural reforms demanding dramatic improvements in accountability and results. I recognize that these goals are big and will not be simple to execute. But with the help of many of our community members, such as NSBN, goals such as the security and well-being of our children in order to improve the education of Los Angeles will be realized.

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. 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 will turn from a dream into a reality.