Printer Friendly

Municipal leadership in supporting high school alternatives.

Mayors and other municipal leaders in cities across the nation are helping expand alternatives for students who struggle in traditional high school settings.

A new report by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute), titled "Setting the Stage for New High Schools: Municipal Leadership in Supporting High School Alternatives," highlights seven cities that are creating a supportive policy climate for the expansion of options and alternatives for high school.

These new alternative secondary school initiatives prepare young people to graduate from high school and achieve college and career success through programs characterized by rigor, relevance and relationships.

Students participating in these programs demonstrate more progress on such indicators as increases in high school graduation rates, decreases in dropout rates, higher rates of college entry and preliminary indications that they will succeed in and complete post-secondary education.

This report examines the leadership of mayors, school superintendents and program innovators who work together to make system-wide educational changes and address policy conditions that facilitate the expansion of alternatives for high school.


Why High Schools?

Mayors are carving new roles for local government to contribute to education at a timely moment in history. There is mounting concern in communities across the country about overall high school graduation rates and their close counterpart, dropout rates.


A November 2006 report by the National Center on Education Statistics indicates that in October 2004, approximately 3.8 million, or 10.3 percent of all 16- through 24-year olds in the U.S. were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high school diploma or alternative credential such as a General Educational Development (GED) certificate.

The problem is most acute in urban areas, and particularly in central cities. According to a report by the Manhattan Institute, less than 60 percent of students graduated in 2003 in each of the nation's ten largest high school districts, which account for more than eight percent of the country's public school students.

In an increasingly competitive global economy, when students drop out of school and are less than gainfully employed, their fates quickly become entangled with those of their communities--the cities, suburbs and small towns that make up the world beyond school hallways and doors.

According to a June 2002 report by the Sar Levitan Center for Social Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins University, America's young people ages 16 to 24, particularly those who do not graduate from high school, suffer higher levels of joblessness, lower incomes, decreased spending power, reduced work experience and on-the-job training, and higher rates of criminal activity, idleness and aimlessness than any other segment of the labor force. The Pew Partnership for Civic Change identifies the dropout crisis as "a nationwide epidemic" that results in costs of $200-$300 billion to communities and the nation as a whole.

As the mayor of one urban East Coast city put it," I am tired of seeing kids hanging out on street corners," and thus he began working with the school superintendent to create positive, supportive opportunities for young people in school and out of school to become civically, academically and recreationally engaged in activities of the city.

Expanding Alternatives

Alternatives to traditional high school settings are critical for ensuring that all students have a range of opportunities for earning a high school diploma and preparing for college and careers. As alternatives for high school expand to respond to a growing need, municipal leaders can enhance the policy environment by removing barriers that hinder their effectiveness and advancing policies that promote their expansion.

Interviews with leaders of selected cities and school districts, as well as organizations in the Alternative High School Initiative (AHSI) network, revealed seven key policy conditions necessary for alternatives for high school to achieve large-scale success:

1. Increased college access;

2. Need-based, adequacy approach to funding;

3. Rigorous, reasonable academic standards and assessments;

4. Strong accountability;

5. Expanded options for parents and students;

6. Open sector/readiness to open alternative high schools; and

7. Coordination with city and other public agencies and community organizations.

The new NLC report defines and explores these seven policy conditions and key roles municipal leaders can play to help advance them (see box on page 7). Each policy condition is explained from the perspective of alternative for high school models in the AHSI network.

The network was launched by The Big Picture Company in 2003 with support form the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a response to the growing national trend of diminishing graduation rates affecting the country's low-income African American and Latino youth. The initiative enables a network of ten youth development organizations to expand their alternative educational programs nationwide and engages municipal leaders through the YEF Institute.

All of the AHSI models serve young people who have struggled in traditional high schools, and in some instances reach those who have dropped out of school. These programs are characterized by several key features that distinguish them from more common alternative school programs, called "distinguishers" (see box on page 7).

The AHSI models whose work informed the report include The Big Picture Company, Black Alliance for Educational Options, Communities in Schools of Georgia and Communities in Schools National, Commonwealth Corporation/Diploma Plus, EdVisions Schools, Gateway to College, Good Shepherd Services, National Association of Street Schools, See Forever Foundation and Maya Angelou Public Charter School, and YouthBuild USA.

Commentary by city and school district leaders interviewed for the NLC report affirms the significance of these seven policy conditions. In each instance, barriers are discussed, and specific examples of solutions are provided by leaders of the AHSI network organizations, cities and school districts.

In addition, to maintain the focus on individual young people and how city leadership can have implications for their ability to graduate from high school and succeed in college, stories are interwoven to help illustrate the relevance of each of the seven policy conditions (see box below). The report concludes with a list of informational resources for leaders of cities, school districts and promising programs.

Mayoral Leadership

Far-sighted municipal leaders who get involved in high school reform efforts discover that they are well-positioned to collaborate with school district leaders and innovative educators in expanding alternatives for high school.

They are not idly watching the fate of their cities go the way of struggling public school systems, nor are they rushing to judgment and attempting to reform public education from their executive seats in local government. Instead, these leaders are finding innovative ways to contribute to the well-being of public high schools by moving beyond the extremes of "hands-off" or school "takeover" approaches that historically seemed to characterize interventions by mayors, according to a study by Michael W. Kirst at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

To examine the roles of mayors and other municipal leaders, the NLC report features efforts by mayors and other key city. officials to promote the expansion of alternatives for high school in Atlanta; Boston; Corpus Christi, Texas; Hartford, Conn.; Phoenix: San Jose, Calif.; and Seattle.

In each city, mayors are taking action to promote high-quality education, including alternatives for high school, by working both independently and in collaboration with school superintendents. In these cities, young people who had not fulfilled their academic potential in traditional high school settings are engaged in alternatives for high school that are enabling them to thrive academically and personally.


Mayor Shirley Franklin launched the Mayor's Youth Program to ensure that every high school student enrolled in Atlanta Public Schools would have a post-high school graduation plan that included earning a high school diploma and achieving college success.

Housed in the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency and implemented in partnership with Atlanta Public Schools, the program offers hands-on assistance to every high school student through mentoring, counseling about post-graduation options and informational resources for securing financial aid, applying to college and exploring technical schools, the military or careers.


In 2005, more than 600 Atlanta public school graduates received help with tuition and other assistance through the program.


Mayor Thomas M. Menino works consistently alongside the school superintendent to realize a shared vision for system-wide high school reform that embraces alternatives for high school. Education Week recently named Boston among a growing number of school districts taking a more centrally managed approach to high school curricula, one tactic contributing to a broader, district-wide strategy for high school reform.

Mayor Menino, along with former Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant and the Boston School Committee, successfully created the Boston Public Schools Office of High School Renewal with support from private national foundations. The office supports the creation of small, dynamic learning environments, including charter schools and pilot schools such as the Boston Arts Academy and Health Careers Academy.

The mayor also launched an initiative to expand school- and community-based centers that coordinate high-quality out-of-school time programs.

Corpus Christi

Mayor Henry Garrett and City Manager George "Skip" Noe have continued the efforts initiated by former Mayor Samuel L. Neal Jr., to create a system of "All American City" high schools that help all students achieve high standards and graduate ready to continue their education and enter the world of work.

Mayor Garrett consistently engages parents and others by convening a community forum series called "Even One Dropout is Too Many." Collaboration among the city, school district and other key stakeholders is helping Corpus Christi generate support for its Early College High School Program: Texas Science, Technology. Engineering and Math (T-STEM) Academy; the Moody High School Internship Program; the Alternative High School Center; and a range of community schools.


Mayor Eddie A. Perez is helping construct city magnet schools, including the Noah Webster MicroSociety Magnet School--one of seven Hartford schools built with $286 million of state bond money.

"This is another example of the Hartford school building program ensuring that we have 21st century facilities for our students," said Perez.

The City of Hartford is focused on improving high school achievement through three key initiatives, The Mayor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education offers recommendations for increasing the number of Hartford students who go to college, achieving higher college graduation rates and attracting more of these graduates to live and work in Hartford. Hartford Public Schools' Smaller Learning Communities Initiative is restructuring high schools into smaller, more personalized learning environments. Finally, Hartford's Futures Workforce Investment System seeks to promote high school completion, college attendance and completion, long-term, career-focused job training for youth, and living wage jobs for youth.



Mayor Phil Gordon is using funds from a recently launched City of Phoenix Bond Program to create new, small high schools and to restructure large, existing high schools into smaller learning communities.

Through Mayor Gordon's Small Schools Initiative, Phoenix will make $6.8 million in bond funds available in fiscal year 2008-09 to build small high schools.

San Jose

Former Mayor Ron Gonzalez mounted "San Jose High Schools Achieve!" which aims to have no high school dropouts in the city by 2010 and to increase graduation rates by 10 percent by 2010.

The initiative focuses on creating alternative high school spaces, tracking students in and out of school, providing information on alternatives, parent engagement and truancy programming.

While in office, Mayor Gonzalez assisted Franklin McKinley High School in building a new school on land leased for one dollar from the City of San Jose for the next 100 years. In an effort to address teacher retention throughout the district, the mayor launched a Teacher Homebuyer Program that assists public school teachers in purchasing first homes in the city. Newly elected Mayor Chuck Reed has carried on this strong commitment to improving education in San Jose.


Mayor Greg Nickels is upholding the legacy of former Mayor Norm Rice, who first instituted Seattle's Families and Education Levy in 1990. The levy funds early childhood development, school-based health and family services, out-of-school activities and programs for at-risk youth.

Mayor Nickels has expanded the tax levy, thereby generating additional revenue, and has established an Accountability and Evaluation Framework that links expenditures for programs funded under the tax levy to provisions for measuring academic results among students.

In addition, there is a formal partnership agreement between the city and Seattle Public School District to reduce the achievement gap among students.

Key Roles for Municipal Leaders

Municipal efforts to support high school reform increasingly fall along a continuum of approaches that engage the entire community to improve high schools. Mayors and other municipal leaders have implemented an array of strategies that vary depending upon unique characteristics of the local policy environment.

Effective local policies take into account such factors as the formal and informal roles of the mayor, school board and school superintendent, and the relationship between the state education agency and the school district, among others.

The NLC report identifies eight key roles that municipal leaders are playing in order to help create a policy climate conducive to expanding alternatives for high school:

* Municipal officials can use the "bully pulpit" to raise awareness of the issue and to help shift perceptions of alternative education by including high school graduation and college success as mayoral priorities and featuring local alternatives for high school when citing success stories about students and programs.

* By convening and partnering with key community leaders, municipal officials can host an education summit with parents, teachers and community leaders that highlights the importance of alternatives for high school and highlights successful school models.

* Mayors can permit access to neighborhood facilities and community buildings as well as pursue funding for the construction of alternatives for high school.

* Creating incentives for programmatic reform by establishing an Office of Education in the city or launching new programs can encourage partnerships between the city and school district.

* Municipal leaders can promote the use of data, research and evaluation to focus on increasing graduation rates and reducing dropout rates.

* The city can work in partnership with the school district and local advocates to employ financial incentives, such as tax levies or bond measures that will support alternatives for high school and broad education reforms.

* By participating in school district planning and decision-making processes, municipal leaders collaborate with school districts to ensure that student needs are met by providing a range of alternatives for high school.

* Mayors and councilmembers can implement policies and programs within the city that support positive reforms at the state and local levels.

Setting the Stage

Promising efforts are underway, but alternatives for high school need to become an integral part of and a full complement to the current K-12 education system to achieve large-scale, nationwide success.

As high-quality alternatives for high school accumulate expertise leaders of cites and school districts are increasingly well-positioned to advance policies that enable these alternatives to operate effectively.

By collaborating with school district officials and program innovators, municipal leaders can set the stage for new high schools, confront high school dropout rates and increase the number of young people who engage or reengage in high-quality learning.

Details: To download the full report, visit or contact Lucinda Dugger at (202) 626-3052 or to order a hard copy. The report was made possible with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For additional information about NLC's programs on high school reform, contact Audrey Hutchinson at (202) 626-3053 or For more information about the Alternative High School Initiative, visit To learn more about the T.L. Hill Group, visit

Talmira L. Hill is senior consultant to the YEF Institute and founder of the T.L. Hill Group, an independent firm that designs innovative, partnership-driven initiatives to improve education, work force development and youth development outcomes in low-income and underrepresented communities.

'Distinguishers' of AHSI Schools

The Alternative High School Initiative (AHSI) "distinguishers," or elements that distinguish the AHSI network's alternative high school models from other alternative school programs, are:

* Authentic learning, teaching and performance assessment;

* Personalized school culture;

* Shared leadership and responsibility;

* Supportive partnerships; and

* A focus on the future for students.

Seven Policy Conditions for Large-Scale Success of Alternatives for High School

1. Increased College Access--AHSI program models enable students to complete high school by earning a regular diploma or an equivalent credential, and they prepare young people to pursue postsecondary education.

2. Need-Based, Adequacy Approach to Funding--Adequate funding at levels above per pupil funding allotments for traditional high school programs is essential if alternatives for high school are to reach a sustainable, nationwide scale.

3. Rigorous, Reasonable Academic Standards and Assessments-Alternatives for high school are committed to ensuring that students achieve academic standards and competencies for high school completion and prepare them for entry into postsecondary education. To do this, AHSI models measure student mastery of content with various instruments along a continuum that includes state-required tests, as well as authentic assessments of performance through tasks, projects and portfolios.

4. Strong Accountability-Alternatives for high school are dedicated to being held accountable for students' academic achievement. Students who have not fulfilled their academic potential in traditional K-12 settings often require additional supports An alternative model's accountability must be aligned with access to the necessary resources and flexibility for innovation in programming.

5. Expanded Options for Parents and Students--Parents and students would benefit from a wider range of alternatives for high school, preferably with the ability to choose a learning environment likely to be effective at enabling a young person to achieve success.

6. Open Sector/Readiness to Open Alternative High Schools--Launching and expanding alternatives for high school requires a healthy "open sector" in education that is receptive to education programs that expand, enhance and recalibrate the premises and structure of the existing public school system.

7. Coordination with City and Other Public Agencies and Community Organizations--Alternatives for high school recognize the need to offer supports and services to students that are beyond the purview of the school system to provide. To do this, many alternatives for high school coordinate with other public agencies and with community organizations to help students tap into a range of appropriate resources.

Heeding the Call

Below is an excerpt from the NLC report, which highlights some of the ways in which municipal leaders are helping expand alternatives for high school:

When her cell phone rang, the mayor of Atlanta reached gingerly but urgently into her shoulder bag to answer it.

Walking back to her office from a meeting at City Hall, the mayor knew this call might bring any manner of news. As with other mayors and county executives, calls on this phone arrive from staff members, attorneys, fellow public officials, a few trusted journalists, family members and in the case of Mayor Shirley Franklin--high school seniors.

"Hello?" answered the mayor who was prepared for anything. A halting, barely audible young woman's voice replied, "Mayor Franklin?" Wondering what to say, Tasha Greene hesitantly told the mayor that she was not sure what she would be doing after graduating from high school in two months, but she knew she was supposed to talk with Mayor Franklin about it--and talk Tasha did.

In those few minutes, Mayor Franklin and Tasha talked about it all--how Tasha, always a straight-A student, almost dropped out of school in the ninth grade when she became pregnant with her son Davon, and how an alternative high school initiative, Communities in Schools of Georgia (CISGA), had enabled her to complete her high school education on time.

Mayor Franklin listened as Tasha talked about how her family, including little Davon, would cheer her on as she walked across the stage to receive her diploma. Mayor Franklin then mentioned a few post-graduation options Tasha might want to consider based on her interests, several of which CISGA had helped Tasha identify as part of assisting her to plan beyond high school.

By the end of the conversation, Tasha said she felt as excited about the day after graduation as the day itself Mayor Franklin congratulated the high school senior and asked if she would give her another call once she figured out whether or not she would apply to one of several associate degree programs offered by Atlanta Technical College or Atlanta Metropolitan College; attending either would enable Tasha to work full-time.

As Mayor Franklin ended the call, she sighed with pride that Tasha was pressing onward and hoped the rest of her own day would leave her feeling as fulfilled as she did in this moment.

By launching the Mayor's Youth Program with the class of 2005 in conjunction with the Atlanta Public School system, Mayor Franklin is taking a personal interest in ensuring that every high school senior has a plan for what happens after graduation. Through her initiative, the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency is offering hands-on assistance to every high school students. The program demonstrates how mayors can play an integral role in supporting alternatives for high school that increase college access.
COPYRIGHT 2007 National League of Cities
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT: Setting The Stage for New High Schools
Author:Hill, Talmira L.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 22, 2007
Previous Article:Cities across the country host First Day of School celebrations.
Next Article:Web seminar to feature use of poverty simulations to Bolster City anti-poverty efforts.

Related Articles
Alliance issues a Call to Action on improving high schools.
Phoenix officials wins approval for small high school building bond.
Forging partnerships is key to improving education.
NLC to help Nashville, Newark expand high school options.
Education leaders examine role of high school alternatives in preparing youth for college and work force.
Nashville leaders form high-level group to support alternative high school students.
An education stimulus for the Nation's Cities.
Online database features policies to support and expand alternative high schools.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters