July 10, 2002 2 min read

Hands-On Learning

With mayors playing an ever more active role in the affairs of their cities’ schools, a new effort is under way to help them share with one another some of what they’ve learned.

Through its new Mayors’ Initiative for Leadership in Education, the U.S. Conference of Mayors is organizing a series of events over the next 12 months that will shine a light on different ways in which top city executives around the country have worked to improve schools.

Already, one meeting to focus on district governance is slated for October in Cleveland—where the mayor gained control of the district in 1998—and a larger summit with a broader agenda is planned for next spring, possibly in New York City.

The aim is not to advocate any one model of mayoral involvement, but rather to present a range of possibilities, said Joan Crigger, an assistant executive director at the mayors’ organization.

“We want to kind of highlight, where we can, some of the best practices,” she said, “of what mayors have done in terms of either controlling their school systems, or, if mayors are not interested in that, some things that mayors still can do—and in reality, things that a mayor should do.”

Although Ms. Crigger’s Washington-based organization has focused on education issues in the past, for the most part it has done so with one-shot activities, she said. It held an “education summit” in 1996, and two years later sponsored a meeting for its members that examined school safety.

A $200,000 grant from the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation will allow the mayor’s conference to hire a full-time director to coordinate the ongoing efforts of its new education initiative. In addition to the meetings planned, Ms. Crigger said, the group hopes to raise more money so that it can provide direct technical help and advice to leaders who request help.

The education initiative was unveiled last month by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. In 1991, the Massachusetts legislature passed a measure that wrested governance authority from the locally elected school board and gave it to the mayor’s office. Mr. Menino was elected in 1993.

Since then, Boston has been joined by Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit—and now New York City, where a state law last month gave the mayor virtual control of the schools.

Mr. Menino described the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ new education initiative as “exactly what we need to continue the progress and education reforms that mayors have made in their cities.”

—Jeff Archer

A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2002 edition of Education Week