MAKING EDUCATION EVERYBODY’S BUSINESS
By Julián Castro
I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have attended and graduated from a great college and law school. But the most enduring memory of my scholastic career dates back to when I was 11 or 12 years old.
My brother and I were sitting with our mother at what was supposed to be our orientation into Rhodes Middle School on San Antonio’s West Side. A school administrator asked all of us to take a long look at our classmates in the incoming sixth-grade class because, in her estimation, as many as half of us would not be around when it came time to complete the eighth grade.
My mother promptly yanked us out of Rhodes and enrolled us at another junior high. In her mind, no school that was willing to write off half of its student body was good enough for her kids.
While I didn’t fully understand it then, that standard – the refusal to accept failure from our schools – has stayed with me the rest of my life.
A lot of ink has been spilled recently about my decision as Mayor of San Antonio to get involved in school district issues, whether it be holding the first-ever citywide school board candidate forums or my endorsement of specific candidates for school board positions. Skeptics say school governance is not the purview of a Mayor who has no direct control of the city’s 15 school districts.
I say the schools are everybody’s business whether you have school-age children or not. In the Spring of 2009, the San Antonio Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas issued a report comparing San Antonio to Phoenix, San Diego, San Jose, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and several other cities.
Overall, it was a positive assessment of the city’s potential for future economic growth in the 21st century global economy. San Antonio is already home to four Fortune 500 companies and the city’s leading economic sector is now in the biosciences.
But the report’s authors struck an ominous chord over education, noting that San Antonio trailed all of its peer metros in terms of the percentage of people over the age of 25 with at least a bachelor’s degree. “Not only is higher education crucial to increasing San Antonio’s growth,” the report concluded, “but improved school districts can also help attract residents.”
With the right resources, attention and mentoring, I’m convinced many more San Antonians can share the experience I did of obtaining a college degree and finding the career of my dreams right here in San Antonio. I refuse to believe I was more gifted or any smarter than my public school classmates in the San Antonio Independent School District.
That’s why, in my first term as Mayor, I pushed for the creation of Café College, a one-stop college counseling and test preparation center that offers free services to area students regardless of where they grew up or what schools they attended. With an average student to counselor ratio of 420 to 1 in Texas public schools, I don’t want another student in our city to miss out on the opportunity to go to college simply because she didn’t know how to apply for financial aid or where to begin the application process.
I’ve also realized that elected officials are granted access to the bully pulpit for a reason. After listening to the city’s political, business and neighborhood leadership complain for years about the uneven stewardship on our myriad school boards, how could I in good conscience not speak out on an issue as fundamental to a city’s success as education?
I think about my two-year-old daughter, Carina, who will likely be educated in the San Antonio Independent School District. Every day, SAISD touches the lives of more than 55,000 students and their parents. Yet it is rated academically unacceptable. That cannot and will not stand in the globally competitive San Antonio we’re trying to build. Yes, we are the seventh-largest city in the nation with a diverse economy and a culturally vibrant population to match. But we also must fully appreciate and embrace the fact that brainpower is today’s currency of success.
As we attract broader pools of candidates to seek school board positions, we will create the conditions where committed teachers can succeed and bright-eyed students can excel. As we demonstrate that strong neighborhood schools are the difference between older neighborhoods that deteriorate and ones that attract reinvestment, we will draw more people back to our urban core.
At the end of the day, the question before me as Mayor was not whether I should get involved in the education of our city’s youth. With the stakes for San Antonio’s future prosperity so high, the question was how dare I not get involved.
Julián Castro is the Mayor of San Antonio. Mayor Castro graduated from Stanford University and the Harvard Law School.
May 16, 2015 Comments Off on The Texas Migration Miracle
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