Amid the first hot days of summer, and in the recent aftermath of social and economic unrest that roiled Baltimore and the nation, NLC’s annual Mayors’ Education Policy Advisors Network’s (EPAN) meeting took place in Baltimore earlier this month.
Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, delivered opening remarks and reiterated her commitment to improving schools throughout the city and expanding afterschool programming by investing funding in schools that serve predominantly low-income students as well as renovating aging facilities. Her remarks reinforced what many in the room see every day: mayors are a force for positive change in public schools across America.
Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s commitment to improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all young people in her city gave purpose to the theme of this year’s EPAN meeting: equity and educational excellence – creating an agenda for student success. Indeed, in light of national discussions on education reform and the Obama administration’s renewed focus on equity and education, not to mention recent events that have highlighted racial and class tensions in urban America, this was a relevant theme not just for the host city but for everyone in the room.
EPAN is a national network to support mayoral leadership in education and to develop and share best practices for the ways that cities, school districts, and other partners can work together to raise student achievement and improve the quality of public education. It is the only national network specifically for education advisors to large city mayors.
In several sessions, education advisors discussed the role of mayors and the role of partners in providing and improving educational opportunities for all youth. A dynamic community schools panel focused on what’s happening in Baltimore.
Led by Marty Blank, president of the Institute of Educational Leadership and director of the Coalition for Community Schools, the panel featured Jonathon Rondeau, president & CEO of the Baltimore Family League, a local community school principal and a local high school student. A lively discussion took place on how community schools can address inequities and the impact they can have on children and families.
The convening ended with a compelling discussion led by Khalilah Harris, deputy director of the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for African Americans. Harris, alongside Leon Andrews, director of the Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) initiative at NLC and Jeanette Contreras, special advisor to the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, encouraged members to be courageous when addressing issues of equity that may not be popular. Harris also encouraged cities to continually uplift youth voices and provide platforms for youth to participate in local decision-making.
NLC, with the generous support of The Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Ford Foundation and The Wallace Foundation, will continue to grow and nurture EPAN in the work they have been engaged in for the last 12 years to help children and youth in cities across the country succeed.
About the Author: Miles Sandler is the Senior Associate for Education in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Miles can be reached at Sandler@nlc.org.