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School & District Management

Handbook Offers Advice to Mayors

By Catherine Gewertz — January 24, 2006 1 min read

Mayors who try to improve the schools in their cities can find themselves enmeshed in thorny issues and politics. But a new guidebook offers help as they try to figure out how best to play a role in education.

The guide, which was scheduled to be unveiled this week at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting in Washington, arrives as mayors increasingly—and often controversially—press for school improvement.

“Mayoral Leadership and Involvement in Education” is scheduled to be released this week by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is the most recent example of a city leader who wants more power over schools. Mayors in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and New York already have it.

Even without the legal authority to appoint school board members or the superintendent, mayors can bring about change by using their high profiles to call attention to school issues, convene key community players to discuss problems, and coordinate city services to better serve schoolchildren, says the 35-page booklet, “Mayoral Leadership and Involvement in Education: An Action Guide for Success.”

In preparing the guide, the Conference of Mayors drew on advice from experts who study mayors’ roles in education, and from city leaders’ own experiences. The result is part how-to and part how-not-to.

“Be an education advocate,” the guide says, but “don’t overstep your boundaries. ... Don’t get involved in issues you don’t understand.”

In handling the challenges of improving curriculum, for instance, it counsels mayors to discuss with business and education leaders the importance of rigorous standards. But it cautions, in italic type for emphasis: Do not get involved in the specifics of curriculum and instruction.

The guide walks mayors through an assessment of themselves, their communities, and their powers of office to help them determine if and how they should get involved in schools.

Beverly O’Neill, the mayor of Long Beach, Calif., and the president of the Conference of Mayors, said she hopes the guide helps mayors realize that a constructive relationship with school superintendents benefits everyone. “We all want the same goals,” she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 25, 2006 edition of Education Week

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