The following was originally published in the November 2015 edition of Agenda Magazine, a publication of the Georgia School Boards Association.
When city elected officials speak to me about their communities, they almost without fail mention their local schools. The success, or failure, of the local school system translates into the success, or failure, of Georgia’s cities. From creating a high quality-of-life to economic development to the long-term prosperity of a city, the quality of our public education system is paramount. City officials increasingly know and understand this, and have a strong desire to support and advocate for their local school system.
I hope you will take city officials up on their desire to support our local schools. And if they haven’t reached out to you, I encourage you to take the first step and reach out to them. Let them know what is going on in your schools. Educate them on your graduation rates, the number of kids that have truancy problems, and the percentage of students living in poverty. Invite them to spend a day in a school, learning about the challenges facing public education in your community. Just as importantly, let them know of the positive things that are happening too; there are plenty of good things happening in our public schools that they need to know.
Whether you reach out to city officials or if they make the initial contact, don’t be surprised, however, if you begin to hear about how the schools can help cities.
It is the firm belief of many city officials that when we moved schools from our downtown areas, cities took a significant hit, with some now on life-support. When schools were located in our downtowns, both the city and the schools thrived. By moving schools out of town, our cities, especially in our rural areas, lost an important community focal point, and with that came a decrease in population which in turn created a corresponding loss in property values and economic development opportunities. When a school closes, the one thing that can tie a community together is destroyed.
For us to understand each other, we need to begin talking with each other on a regular basis. While that is easy to say, we’re simply not used to doing it. It is only through spending time together that we’ll learn the things we do not know and the opportunities that we’re missing.
What I’m talking about, however, is really more than just city and school officials talking to each other, as important a first step as that is. It’s deeper than that. It’s really about local elected officials taking the mantle of leadership and forging a collaborative spirit that lifts high our communities and recognizes that to succeed, our cities need good schools and our schools need healthy and viable cities. And it’s also about recognizing that true “school reform” doesn’t just take place in the classroom, but rather that it is an intentional local
effort that tackles community-wide issues ranging from poverty to housing to health care.
If you talk to employers, one of the soft skills they are looking for in the workforce is the ability to collaborate. It’s a skill that’s needed in local government too. In fact, one could make the case that collaboration is actually the primary skill local elected leaders need in order to adequately represent the needs and concerns of their communities. We’re in this together … let’s make it great.