Mayor Juilán Castro hosted the San Antonio meeting of the Mayors for Educational Excellence Tour (MEET)

Mayor Juilán Castro recently hosted the San Antonio stop of the Mayors for Educational Excellence Tour (MEET), a partnership among the mayors of four major U.S. cities to highlight educational innovations. The Mayors’ Tour is a sign of good things to come for the education climate in San Antonio, and heralds a new generation of savvy leaders who understand urban challenges.

Mayors Castro, Hancock, Taveras, and Johnson at the Mayors for Educational Excellence Tour | San Antonio Charter Moms

My kids and I attended the education town hall meeting at St. Philip’s College on Friday, March 7, 2014. All four mayors gathered to talk about education innovation: Mayor Michael Hancock from Denver, Colorado; Mayor Kevin Johnson from Sacramento, California; Mayor Angel Taveras from Providence, Rhode Island; and of course Mayor Castro.

Mayors for Educational Excellence Tour town hall meeting at St. Philip's College | San Antonio Charter Moms

As a preview of the tour, Castro talked about his goals in an op-ed, “S.A. education initiatives can spread”, Juilán Castro, San Antonio Express-News, March 5, 2014. His brainpower strategy has three stages: Pre-K 4 SA for early childhood, Café College for college readiness, and a combination of programs for K-12. See also “To the Lone Star State! A Preview of MEET’s 3rd Tour Stop in San Antonio”, Mayors for Educational Excellence Tour news release, February 21, 2014.

On Thursday afternoon, the mayors gathered at Café College and talked about college readiness and financial aid preparation with local education experts, including Eyra Perez, Executive Director of the San Antonio Education Partnership“Mayors make stop in San Antonio to learn about local education initiatives”, Maria Luisa Cesar, San Antonio Express-News, March 6, 2014; “Mayors Meet in SA to Discuss Education Initiatives”, Jim Forsyth, WOAI-1200, March 6, 2014. Here is my earlier post about another gathering at Café College.

The next day, the mayors toured Pre-K 4 SA South to learn from San Antonio’s experience with providing high-quality, full-day early childhood education. “Mayors Convene In San Antonio To Talk Pre-K, Education”, Ryan Loyd, Texas Public Radio, March 7, 2014; see also “Thanks to an online application, Pre-K 4 SA sees an uptick in enrollment”, Maria Luisa Cesar, San Antonio Express-News, March 11, 2014. The mayors also heard from these panelists: Kathy Bruck, CEO of Pre-K 4 SA; John Folks, former Superintendent of Northside ISD and a Pre-K 4 SA board member; Joe Robles, CEO of USAA and a Pre-K 4 SA board member; and City Manager Sheryl Sculley.

As mentioned in his op-ed, Castro’s approach to closing the achievement gap in K-12 education relies on a combination of programs:

The educational goals we’ve set for our city include targeted efforts to boost third-grade reading levels and proficiency, a robust mentoring program called InspireU that pairs San Antonio’s business community with at-risk middle school students, and improving high school graduation rates.

I have not seen the details regarding third-grade reading or high school graduation, but I am familiar with the InspireU workplace mentorship program, a core program of Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas. Here is my earlier post about InspireU.

As mentioned above, my kids and I attended the education town hall meeting at St. Philip’s College. The modest audience included a high proportion of insiders, including City Council members Ron Nirenberg (District 8) and Ivy Taylor (District 2); Taylor is a member of the council’s Education Excellence Committee. Marisa B. Perez represents District 3 on the State Board of Education and also works for San Antonio ISD, as mentioned in this earlier post. Mateen Diop is Director of Instructional Technology Services at San Antonio ISD. Shelley Potter is President of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, as mentioned in this earlier post. Some attendees had swag bags promoting EastPoint, an area of the East Side that part of both the Choice Neighborhood and Promise Zone federal grants, and a business development effort of San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE). “$2 million fund to help East Side business owners”, Valentino Lucio, San Antonio Express-News, March 4, 2014; “The $2 Million Promise to ‘EastPoint’ Business Owners”, Rene Jaime Gonzalez, Rivard Report, March 5, 2014.

Potter addressed the mayors with this leading question:

What are you doing to stop the invasion of corporate charters, in particular the corporate charters who are trying to bring back “separate but equal”?

Castro, acting as emcee, did not answer the question directly, but passed the microphone to his peers, who all expressed support for high-performing charter schools. Hancock said, “Charter schools are leading the way.” Taveras agreed, but stressed the need for policies that make sure charter schools serve all students, including English-language learners. Johnson was more vocal: “Some of the highest performing schools [we have] are charter schools.” Johnson added, “If you live in certain neighborhoods, you are trapped in failing schools. That is not acceptable.”

Andrew Moore, writing for the Rivard Report, captured more of Castro’s comments on charter schools:

“In Sacramento it seems they have been able to effectively integrate both public school excellence and charter school excellence into neighborhood revitalization. I’d like to make sure that as we look at the east side neighborhood and other urban core neighborhoods that the public schools and the charter schools work well together, and are not in (conflict),” Mayor Castro said. “The second thing that was interesting was that Mayor Johnson has basically adopted a Harlem children’s zone model of improving the neighborhood, bringing in new business, and improving the quality of the schools. That’s something that we are at the very beginning of with the Eastside Promise Neighborhood.”

“Mayors Educational Excellence Tour Stops in San Antonio”, Andrew Moore, Rivard Report, March 10, 2014.

Castro and his fellow mayors on the MEET tour continue to support high performing charter schools, despite criticism from Potter and others, e.g.“Even at charters, school choice limited”, Julian Vasquez Heilig, San Antonio Express-News, March 10, 2014. Meanwhile, advocates like Matthew Randazzo, CEO of Choose to Succeed, are reaching a wider audience: “Push to bring quality charter schools to San Antonio”WOAI-4, March 12, 2014 (featuring Randazzo’s live interview with anchor Randy Beamer).

At the town hall meeting, Johnson said: “Kids who look like us [gesturing to himself and his fellow mayors] CAN succeed if given the right opportunities.” That’s what this is all about.

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