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Mayor's Education Summit draws community interest - and skepticism

Joe Wolf
Garfield High School will be the site of Mayor Ed Murray's Education Summit.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is holding an Education Summit at Garfield High School on Saturday to look at ways the city can help improve the academic success of low-income students and children of color.

"Perhaps the greatest challenge we face in addressing the opportunity gap is the persistent disparities in our public schools," said Murray, in an statement promoting the event. "This is not just the responsibility of the Seattle school district. All of us have a responsibility to support the success of these students. These children are our children and we must not fail them."

The city’s first Education Summit happened in 1990 under Mayor Norm Rice and spurred the creation of the Families and Education Levy, which today funnels about $34 million annually into Seattle Public Schools, early learning and family health services.

Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle President and CEO Pamela Banks says she did community outreach for the 1990 summit – and that there’s still a lot of work to do. "We’re in a world-class city, and we are supposed to be one of the best-read, most-degreed cities, but we have one of the worst public school systems," Banks said.

Leading up to tomorrow’s summit, the mayor’s office held 16 community meetings seeking public input about how the city might improve the K-12 opportunity gap. Those ideas will be discussed at the summit.

Banks is on the mayor’s advisory group that will hold a series of meetings after the summit, and draw up a list of recommendations for the mayor. That plan has drawn criticism because the advisory group meetings won’t be open to the public.

Local education activist and blogger Melissa Westbrook says that transparency is important. So is the makeup of the advisory group - which she considers too heavy on business leaders and outside organizations. "In all things education, I believe you should have more educators, administrators and parents in the discussion," Westbrook said.

Westbrook is more optimistic than Banks about the state of Seattle Public Schools, which she says appears to be "turning around." Westbrook wants the mayor to focus the city’s efforts on services like housing that support children and families outside of schools – rather than influence what happens inside schools. "For example, the safety inside the school is the district’s responsibility. The safety outside the school is the city’s responsibility," said Westbrook.

Banks says she’d like the city to fund programs like the International Baccalaureate at Rainier Beach High School, and reading support for early learners.

And she says the closed-door meetings shouldn’t make people suspicious. 

"It’s really hard to do strategic work if you open it to the public," Banks said. "I hope people will trust us, because I think at the end of the day, all of us, including Mayor Murray, we want the best for all kids in the Seatttle-King County area."

The Mayor’s Education Summit is open to the public. The daylong meeting begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday in the Garfield High School Commons.

Year started with KUOW: 2008