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Working together for education is best tactic; Phoenix program focuses on kids' preparedness.

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. In the past four years, 10 programs have been developed that address the at-risk student population.

The results have been small, but dramatic. In one program, for example, the graduation rate from high school jumped 73 percent to 98 percent, with a grade point average of 3.2 (A = 4.0). In another program, sophomore students set career goals in Saturday sessions at a community college. Youth who have dropped out of school are re-recruited into a program that will give them a G.E.D. and allow them to receive the certificate during the high-school graduation.

While the Think Tank will continue to direct programs to meet individual needs of youth, the Steering Committee has set new goals for the future. As one of the sites selected to participate in the Ford Foundation funded National Center for Urban Partnerships, the Think Tank will expand its thinking to address school change issues. The new vision is to not only provide "safety net" programs to at-risk youth, but also to provide a "support system" that allows schools the opportunity to assess their needs. This new focus should greatly reduce the number of at-risk students and help to retain and motivate youth in a more responsive learning environment.

Because of compatible agendas and overlapping memberships in the Think Tank Steering Committee and the Education Commission, relationships between the Commission and the Think Tank were quickly established. As a result, the Think Tank programs helped forward several priorities of the Commission. The benefits of the connection between the City of Phoenix and the Think Tank are best demonstrated by two programs - the CARE Center at South Mountain High School and the Urban Teacher Corps Partnership.

The CARE Center (Clearinghouse for Advisement, Referral, and Education) was establish by bringing together staff from several agencies, schools, colleges, and city departments to examine the overwhelming need for social services of the South Mountain High School student population. After much discussion, a program was designed to bring social and health services to students and their families on site at the high school campus. This project was a good example of the way the organizations and institutions were willing to participate and focus on solutions rather than traditional obstacles and barriers to collaboration. The Department of Economic Security participated in the in-service training of staff and faculty at the high school to increase their awareness of resources and programs available in the community. The City Human Services Department outstationed a full-time social worker on the school campus to broker services not provided by traditional high school counseling staff. An important factor in the success of the process was the willingness of the City of Phoenix Human Service Department to see the compatibility of its mission and purpose with that of the school. This allowed for a deployment of City staff within the confines of a school setting.

Another example of a collaborative project between the City and the Think Tank was the creation of the Urban Teacher Corps Partnership. The City's role was to act as a catalyst and convener along with Think Tank staff for a project to address needs expressed by the member superintendents for more minority and bilingual teachers. Recruiting more minority teachers in schools in Phoenix was also a recommendation of the ad hoc commission.

The Urban Teacher Corps Partnership identifies non-certified and non-degreed employees in the school districts and involves them in an educational program that will lead to a baccalaureate degree and certification so they can teach in inner-city schools. In addition to members of the Think Tank, the collaborators in the particular project included the ASU Downtown Center and the ASU College of Education. Since its inception, the project was been supported through a corporate foundation grant from American can Express Company and is now housed at Rio Salado College.

Over time the City's role in education has been better defined but it continues to be a dynamic process. The City shares a philosophy of collaboration with other institutions and sees it as a powerful method for community problem-solving. From its associations, the City has learned to maintain its unique mission but has acted on a willingness to explore the common ground where institutions can come together, commit resources, and accept responsibility to improve services and programs for a shared constituency. The continuing commitment to work with educational institutions is a tribute to the leadership within the City of Phoenix - the focus on education has transcended two mayors and two city managers. City departments continue to demonstrate new and creative ways to collaborate with schools for the benefit of the community.

Deborah Dillon is the education program director for the City Managers Office in Phoenix, which staffs the Excellence in Education Commission and a member of the Phoenix Think Tank.

Nancy Jordan is the dean of the School of Community Affairs at Phoenix College of the Maricopa Community Colleges District and founding director of the Phoenix Think Tank.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on educational partnerships and related information about the report; Phoenix, Arizona; Special Report
Author:Dillon, Deborah; Jordan, Nancy; Donovan, Richard A.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Sep 7, 1992
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