City Officials Ponder Their Role in Education

February 13, 2013

Cities leaders from across the state spent the afternoon of January 25, the Friday before the GMA's Mayors’ Day Conference, brainstorming ideas about how they can play a greater role in improving the state’s education system.


State School Superintendent John Barge and Audrey Hutchinson with the National League of Cities addressed the Mayors' Day Conference workshop on education.
 
The preconference workshop, The Role of City Officials in Education, started off with a presentation by Dr. John Barge, State School Superintendent. He urged city leaders to use their respective platforms to talk about the good things schools are doing in their communities.
 
“One of our greatest challenges is the constant derision of our schools,” he said. “There are a lot of good achievements in public education and no one is talking about them. This is a way you can help--talk about good news.”
 
Audrey Hutchinson, program director for the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families, also spoke to the group and agreed that mayors and councilmembers should take advantage of their bully pulpits to talk about schools.
 
“Whether the news is good or bad—it’s an opportunity for mayors and school leaders to announce the news together and galvanize the community,” she said. She added that city leaders can also form partnerships with school leaders to develop a shared vision for the community and to leverage resources.
 
City leaders also had the opportunity to engage each other in break-out sessions to talk about specific actions and heard from a panel of local experts.
 

City officials worked in break-out sessions during the education workshop.
 
The panel included Dean Alford, member of the Board of Regents Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, Clara Axam, CEO and president of Clarifications & Mediation, Inc., and Don Cannon, former Walnut Grove mayor and past president of the Georgia School Boards Association. One thing the panelists agreed on was that city leaders should know exactly where their community’s schools stand.
 
“Research and get the facts,” said Alford. “If you know the school football team’s win-loss record but not the school’s graduation rate, do you really care about education?”
 
Axam urged city leaders to build trust and communication channels with their school counterparts.
 

Members of the education workshop panel.  From left, Dean Alford, Clara Axam and Don Cannon.
 
“Break bread and work on something together,” she said. “Change doesn’t happen overnight, it’s going to take years to turn things around.” Axam added that city leaders can also develop quality afterschool programs.
 
“Hold yourself accountable for what you are doing,” she advised. “Track your [afterschool] program and create your own data.”
 
Cannon said city leaders should also get parental and school support for any education-based effort the city embarks upon. “You have to be united,” he said.
 
Alford encouraged city leaders to not get caught up in demographic information.
 
“Just because a school is poor and minority doesn’t mean it has to fail,” he said.
 
Cannon said mayors and councilmembers should look at everything their city does and examine how it impacts children and the community. “Police protection, zoning…there are things in the community you can really address,” he said.