Published Online: May 21, 1997


Urban Education

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Urban schools chiefs and mayors are marking their calendars for a planned fall summit aimed at forging better ties between city schools and city halls.

In an irony not lost on the summit organizers, the site for the confab on collaboration is none other than Detroit, the scene of some very public squabbling lately between Mayor Dennis W. Archer and Superintendent David L. Snead.

"It's clear there are circumstances there that present unique challenges," acknowledged Thomas Fowler-Finn, the superintendent of the Fort Wayne, Ind., schools and an organizer of the event.

Among those challenges are bitter political rivalries involving the Motor City's mayor, the superintendent, and school board President Irma Clark that have been playing out recently over the mayor's role in the schools.

Despite the feuding, Detroit appeals as a venue because it is playing host to the fall convention of the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based group representing 48 of the nation's largest urban districts. The summit has been scheduled for Oct. 15, the convention's opening day.

Besides the council, groups arranging the summit include the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Large City School Superintendents Association, and the American Association of School Administrators.

In an acknowledgment of behind-the-scenes planning going on for months, an education task force of mayors headed by Boston's Thomas M. Menino endorsed the summit plan when the panelists met in his hometown last month.

Other ideas embraced by the task force include exploring the creation of an institute to train mayors on public education issues, a proposal that reflects the growing interest among urban mayors in exerting greater influence over the schools.

Among the areas the task force cited as ripe for school-city collaboration were technology, reading programs, school construction, social services, economic development, and after-school programs.

Mr. Fowler-Finn said it was naive to suppose that mayors and superintendents will not continue to lock horns and compete for resources. Still, he said, the public has made clear it wants better coordination in government, and urban leaders must respond.

"There's talk of vouchers, charters, takeovers, et cetera," he said. "But we think we can get more out of public education if mayors and superintendents recognize what they can do together."


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