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Leadership makes things happen in Seattle.

Among its assets, Seattle, the largest city in the Pacific Northwest, counts a mild - though damp - climate; cultural, scenic and recreational attractions; an international port which is one day closer to the Far East than its California rivals; and The Boeing Company, which currently employs over 100,000 people and is indirectly responsible for one of every six jobs in the region.

These advantages help support an economy which has been spared the worst of the current recession. Yet, it has not provided jobs for everyone, nor has the relative economic health of the area prevented the problems of inner-city poverty, low educational attainment, welfare dependency, ill health and crime that are endemic in American cities.

The city's population of 516,259 contributes to a metropolitan area of 1,972,961 and includes about 10 percent African-Americans, 12 percent Asian Americans, one percent Native Americans, and three percent of Hispanic origin. In the central and southeast sections, however, ethnic and racial minority groups make up nearly half the population. Here too, we find the highest rates of infant mortality and low birthweight babies; the greatest concentration of low-income, public-assistance and single-parent households; and large numbers of immigrants and refugees. In 1989, Seattle voters elected Norm Rice, an African-American, as mayor. Building on his 12 years as a respected member of the City Council, Rice enjoys a good working relationship with that body and with the business, industry and labor community.

Mayor Rice is a consensus builder whose top campaign priority was improving public education. He made good on his promise by calling an Education Summit, a series of open town meetings culminating in a massive all-day celebration at the Seattle Center. From the Summit came a call for City financial support to the schools, which would be a first for Seattle. Rice responded by steering passage of a seven-year, $8.5 million-per-year Families and Education Levy. Funds from the levy are helping children to be "safe, healthy and ready to learn" by funding health and family support services the schools cannot afford to provide.

Mayor Rice's emphasis on schools is particularly noteworthy because historically the City has had little or no connection with public education. In explaining this emphasis, Rice says, "Education is the future for our children and families. A good public education system is crucial to keeping a city healthy and vibrant." He adds, "Excellent schools are key to attracting and retaining business and industry. By giving people what they need to earn a living wage, education helps reduce the dollars we spend on social services."

In addition to strong support from the City Council, a significant factor in the success of the Summit and the levy is the fact that business, industry and labor leaders also recognize the importance of good schools and are participating active in these efforts. One of these leaders is Don Covey, working member of the Summit Implementation Group and chairman of the board of Unico Properties, which manages major downtown office and retail space. He explains, "The business community trusts Rice," and this has enabled the Mayor to garner business support for his education campaign as well as quick response to his recent appeal for more jobs for youth and support for central area business development.

The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce has been central to these efforts, spawning an alliance of business people who have spearheaded the schools' own levy campaign. Of the City's role in all this, Rice says, "Collaboration is essential to developing a high quality education system. The City can be both a partner and a catalyst, bringing people together around their common concern."

While K-12 has been the focus, the rest of the educational system is also part of the picture. Germaine Covington, deputy chief of staff for the Mayor, says, "It is essential to give children good preparation to enter school and then to provide resources at critical intervals throughout the continuum to help them continue their learning."

To support the post-secondary component of the continuum, both the City and the Chamber of Commerce participate in the Seattle Coalition for Educational Equity. The purpose of the Coalition, a member of the Ford Foundation's National Center for Urban Partnerships, is to increase the number of students of color who complete baccalaureate degrees. The Coalition was initiated by the Seattle Community College District and also includes Seattle Public Schools, University of Washington, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University and Cities in Schools.

According to Community College District Chancellor Dr. Charles A. Kane, "We can make a difference for students by creating complete support systems, working with college and university teachers and counselors." Coalition members intend to create such systems and link them with projects supported by the city levy and the business and labor community.

William Hodge, director of the Mayor's Office for Education, is point person for the city with the Coalition. He is fully aware that "the real challenge is in long-haul efforts," and he suggests that if the Coalition is to make systemic change, it must find the common denominator that can unite groups with various interests.

First, he says, "Institutions must challenge assumptions about who can be educated and what must be done to educate them. Then we must get beyond turf battles to redirect community resources so that support systems for students become truly integrated."

Hodge believes Seattle can do it. He sees a wealth of avenues for citizen involvement and a common attitude of contructive criticism in those who become involved. One such effort is Cities in Schools, whose director, Linda Thompson-Black, formerly staffed the Mayor's office on education issues. With funding from the city levy and area firms - the Boeing company is a major donor - this group has targeted 25 elementary, middle and high schools and is providing resource coordinators and case managers to support children in these schools by addressing the needs of the whole family.

Thompson-Black sees the city as increasingly sensitive to the community's interest in lifelong learning and the need to support learning from the pre-natal stage to higher education. She envisions the Coalition assisting her group's young clients in crossing the barriers between high school and postsecondary education. And she sees the city and the Mayor as "not only providing leadership but also promoting implementation strategies and risk-taking, to meet the need of Seattle's children and families."

It is clear that Seattle's leadership is prepared to make a long- term commitment to improving education for all students. Efforts such as the Education Summit, the Coalition for Educational Equity, and Cities in Schools are coming together to share strategies and resources with the understanding that a strong public education is everybody's business.

Julie Hungar is the vice chancellor for Education and Planning for the Seattle Community Colleges District and founding chair of the Seattle Coalition for Education Equity
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Title Annotation:Special Report; Washington
Author:Hungar, Julie
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Sep 7, 1992
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