Working Together for Education Is Best Tactic; Phoenix Program Focuses on Kids' Preparedness

Article excerpt

In the 80's the City of Phoenix focused much of its economic development efforts on sharpening the City's competitive edge over other western and sunbelt cities. To help define the role of municipal government in the economic development arena, the Mayor and City Council commissioned a study by an outside group. The report that resulted from this study reflected the concern of business and industry about the perceived lack of preparedness of students entering the work force.

The report noted that a key element to any economic development agenda is a dynamic and excellent K-Higher education system. It was the report that strongly recommended that the City of Phoenix become involved in K-12 education even though the City had no statutory responsibility for education. In Phoenix, as in Arizona, there is a strong tradition and history for local control for school districts. The City was, therefore, cautious about the role it might take with the 28 separate school districts that serve children within the 435 square miles of Phoenix.

The Mayor and City Council appointed an ad hoc citizen's commission to study and make recommendations on what role the City of Phoenix should play in education. The Ad Hoc Commission immediately recognized that economic health and viability of the community is inextricably entwined with the quality of public education. It developed a vision for education in the City of Phoenix that encompassed supporting the efforts of the schools, promoting excellence in education, celebrating diversity, and where appropriate, developing city programs and policies that would enhance the quality of education for Phoenix youth. The 28 specific recommendations (including hiring an education coordinator and establishing a permanent Phoenix Excellence in Education Commission) were accepted unanimously by the Mayor and City Counsil in December of 1988.

An outcome of the processes that have been followed by both the ad hoc and permanent education commissions has been the education of a broad cross-section of community representatives about the condition of children and families served by schools in Phoenix. There is now a recognition that dysfunctional families, poverty, variations in language skills, and neighborhood stability are variables that affect the educational services for children.

The City of Phoenix and its education commission recognize that schools must be viewed in the context of the neighborhoods they serve and that children must be viewed in the context of the families from which they come. Sensitivity to the different conditions of children does not mean lowering standards but developing solutions appropriate to the problems and issues confronting the educational process.

Mayor Paul Johnson has taken a personal interest in reading and literacy. He asked the Commission to establish a standing committee on reading and literacy that has developed reading programs in partnership with the City Parks, Recreation, and Library Department, the Phoenix Suns, Dimension Cable, The Arizona Republic, and KTVK News Channel 3. The Mayor personally makes two visits a month to schools to read to children and has encouraged the community to become involved in promoting family and work place literacy. In the three years since the City of Phoenix established an education function and appointed the Phoenix Excellence in Education Commission, it has developed a number of formal and informal collaborations with schools, colleges, and consortia such as the Think Tank Coalition.

The City of Phoenix is a part of the Think Tank Coalition. In addition to the City, this coalition is a mixture of seven elementary school districts, one high-school district, the Maricopa County Community College District, Arizona State University and several supporting businesses and community organizations. The mission of the Think Tank is to use the collective thinking and resources of these groups to insure that the inner city students enter, re-enter and remain in school until their maximum learning potential and goals are realized. …