West Valley View: "City leaders must take the lead"


June 2, 2015

By Lorenzo Sierra, Avondale city councilman

When the most recent Arizona legislative session ended, one thing was apparent — education wasn’t a priority for the state’s leadership. Based on the governor’s polling numbers, parents from across the state, regardless of party affiliation, agree.

Thankfully, others understand how important education is to the future of our state. Organizations such as the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and the Helios Foundation are stepping up to remind our state leaders that the strength of our economy hinges on a quality education system. This is not only about making the economy strong for the next generation, but also about bringing high-quality jobs to Arizona today.

However, as long as the state is unwilling to invest in quality education for our children, it may be time for city leaders to step in and fill the void.

There is a broad misconception that cities have no real power to positively impact education. While cities can’t step in and completely fill the void created by the state’s lack of support for public schools, cities can still play a significant role in three distinct spaces.

The first space for action is in afterschool programs. These programs provide safe places for children when the school day ends, but sadly, they often lack any real educational component. Cities have a golden opportunity to work with some of the most at-risk children already participating in afterschool care to improve competency in key areas of literacy and math. By adding an academic focus to these programs, we can change the trajectory for our kids and better support the hard work of their teachers.

Second, all of us who serve in a city leadership role can improve the dialogue with our schools. When we engage in regular, intentional conversation focused on finding areas of collaboration, we can address gaps in technology, facility use, and partnerships in enriching learning opportunities. This could be the starting point our cities and schools need to strengthen productive relationships.

Finally, cities have been leading the way for years in creating partnerships to address municipal needs. Let’s apply those same skills to build partnerships between schools and nonprofit organizations, businesses and community leaders. By building broader community engagement with our schools, we can foster more collaboration and innovation in finding solutions to many of our educational challenges, be it new funding mechanisms, access to technology or improved student performance. City leaders have the existing relationships with key stakeholders in our neighborhoods and we need to serve as the bridge in connecting them with our schools.

This short list is just the beginning of how city and school leaders can better work together to support neighborhood schools. It’s time to move past the old way of thinking and toward a new vision for the role we as city leaders can play in improving our city’s schools. It is time to change the dynamic of education in Arizona, one city at a time.

Lorenzo Sierra is an Avondale city councilman, a member of the Democrats for Education Reform Advisory Board, a champion for public schools and an active member of the community.

Read the full story at the West Valley View: