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Mayors' education advisors focus on high school reform, support for learning.

High school reform, out-of-school time programs and efforts to expand college access are just some of the strategies that mayors and their senior education advisors are implementing to improve local schools and increase graduation rates in their cities. These and other topics were the focus of a recent semi-annual meeting in San Diego of the Mayor's Education Policy Advisors Network (EPAN).

Sponsored by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, EPAN is a national network of mayoral education aides from the nation's 75 largest cities working on school improvement.

During the meeting, 20 EPAN members had the opportunity to visit a dynamic, new-design San Diego high school, dive into policy topics such as connecting in-school and out-of-school time and supporting the high school-to-college transition, and launch their own discussions on high school dropouts, college completion and the achievement gap among groups of students.

Embracing High School Alternatives

EPAN members have embraced municipal leadership for alternative high schools as an essential part of any city strategy to increase graduation rates.

During the meeting, speakers from The Big Picture Company and the National Association of Street Schools (NASS) infused ideas about how cities can work with alternative high school program providers to build public will for expanded high school options. NLC and The Big Picture Company are co-conveners of the Alternative High School Initiative (AHSI)--a network of youth development organizations committed to creating educational opportunities for youth who have struggled in traditional high school settings; NASS is one of 12 members of AHSI.

A visit to High Tech High, a school model now being replicated nationwide, showcased one unique option for high school in San Diego. With student and staff guides, visitors witnessed how the school's design principles of personalization, adult world connection and common intellectual mission show up in the small school population, project-based learning and a school culture conducive to learning. Larry Rosenstock, founder of High Tech High, reminded the group that when it comes to expanding options in the current global economy, "it's not about competition, it's about cooperation."

The meeting also provided EPAN members with an opportunity to learn from University of California-Los Angeles Professor Jeannie Oakes and Stanford University Professor Milbrey McLaughlin.

McLaughlin reviewed results of recent analysis confirming that students in California alternative schools are largely invisible in discussions of school accountability and student outcomes. She stated that research supports a key role for the mayor's office in education, whether that involves making direct investments in health and recreation for students, taking the lead in forging partnerships with the business community or establishing an effective youth commission.

Oakes underscored the importance of providing students with "multiple pathways"--or many choices as to how to complete secondary education that lead to similar options and outcomes--and noted the importance of strong alternative high school models as one pathway.

Elliot Washor, co-founder of The Big Picture Company, an organization supporting more than 50 schools, pointed to additional roles for cities in identifying and training mentors, and for partnerships between mayors and superintendents with a focus on struggling students. Andre Bradley, a graduate of the YouthBuild Philadelphia program and co-founder of Organized Youth for Educational Alternatives, which is affiliated with AHSI, added a welcome youth voice.

Supports for Learning

EPAN advisors also learned about how dries can provide support for learning by supporting high school-to-college transitions and connecting in-school and out-of-school time. They were among the first to view clips from a forthcoming documentary, "First Person," which recounts the difficult 11th to 12th grade journey of six North Philadelphia young people with college aspirations. In addition, Loft Matway, school program administrator for St. Petersburg, Fla., described the promising results and growth of Mayor Rick Baker's Doorways Scholarships program.

The meeting concluded with a panel discussion by experts from San Diego, Providence, R.I., and Louisville, Ky., of the data, resources and school and community connections needed to ensure strong links between what happens in afterschool programs and what happens in school.

Details: To learn more about the YEF Institute's programs to help cities improve education and expand alternatives for high school, contact Andrew Moore at (215) 848-6910 or To download a copy of the institute's report, "Setting the Stage for New High Schools: Municipal Leadership in Supporting High School Alternatives," visit
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Author:Moore, Andrew O.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 18, 2008
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