Imagine a small city of 200,000 people whose mayor has earned the trust, partnership, and respect of its educators (both public and private), business leaders, youth, and parents. A mayor whose calendar reflects a real commitment to an honest conversation about ways the entire city can become a school – in the best use of the word.
Imagine a mayor who calls together all department heads to sit in a circle with leading educators, youth, and parents every other week to sort out how to increase each young citizens sense of belonging, their rootedness to the city, and how the city can bring its resources to bear in service of the best learning available.
Sound crazy? Impossible? In March, IDEA had the opportunity to spend time meeting with the Mayors of Tiberius and Bat Yam and education pioneer Yaacov Hecht. We learned and saw first hand what an “Education City” looks like. And, as I recently heard Parker Palmer say, “once you’ve seen something with your own eyes, you can no longer deny that it exists.”
Here, it seems mayors are portrayed (and surely some ought to be) as power grabbing, cold-blooded leaders out to decimate education and make it less democratic.
Yet, I cannot help but think that genuine mayoral and civic interest in learning and education is something to celebrate, if rightly held.
The real issues about mayoral involvement are about community trust, shared participation, leadership, good process, and communication.
There are mayors strong enough, humble enough, audacious enough, and genuine enough to take a long term, legitimate interest in transforming schools alongside teachers, students, parents, and community leaders. I know, because I just met one in the city of Caguas, Puerto Rico.
Mayor William Miranda Torres and his staff want to take a hard look at how to bring the full resources of their city to bear in the learning and engagement of its young citizens. They don’t want to control anything, they want to help convene the conversation, listen, and create ways to improve the quality of life for everyone in the city.
Over the next several months and years, IDEA will work in full partnership with the people of Caguas to see what is possible when a city’s leadership and citizens make a commitment to listen and learn together.
A Quick Snapshot of the Education City
The Education City is a model that helps revamp the city by using education as a lever for change.
It focuses on adjusting the education system to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. It provides each and every child with the opportunity to excel in what they are good at by enlisting the strengths and opportunities of the community.
By involving the city´s resources and not only the schools’, an Education City makes learning the business of the entire community. In an Education City, the mayor leads an effort to create citywide partnerships that expand learning opportunities for all. Youth have many more opportunities from which to choose and thus better opportunities to excel in something. The enlisting of the city, with all its resources and opportunities, can create a new education system that is more relevant to better prepare the youth for our rapidly changing world, and eventually help to further develop the city towards a thriving, sustainable, and competitive economy.