Here are Mayor Michael Coleman's comments on the future of the Columbus City School district in the wake of the retirement of long-time superintendent Gene Harris:
I want to begin today with a few words about a good friend of mine who for more than a decade has been the foremost champion of children and education in our community.
Gene Harris was educated in Columbus City Schools, and rose through the ranks as a teacher, a principal, an administrator, and finally one of the best superintendents in the history of this district.
When Gene Harris took over as superintendent of Columbus City Schools in 2001, she inherited a district in academic emergency. In the years since, test scores and graduation rates have improved. Just this year, Dr. Harris was named the Ohio Superintendent of the year by the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.
Gene announced yesterday that next summer she will finally get a well-deserved retirement, and I congratulate her, and I look forward to working with her during this next year and even after her retirement.
The role of a superintendent in an urban district is one of the most difficult jobs in America.
But Gene Harris will leave Columbus City Schools far better than she found it-and she will leave enormous shoes for us to fill.
Since I've been mayor, the well-being of our young people have been a primary focus of my administration. Education does not end when the schoolbell rings. That's why:
- Our Capital City Kids afterschool program has made thousands of kids better, stronger and out of harm's way.
- Over the past two summers, our APPS program has brought young people off the streets and into our recreation centers, it has interrupted gang and criminal activity, and has deterred young people from getting involved in drugs, crime and violence.
- Our new Youth First program has already distributed grants to youth sports leagues around Columbus.
- Hundreds of youngsters have participated in our City Readers program.
- And our summer youth employment initiatives have found paid internships for thousands of youth and young adults, including almost 2,000 just this past summer.
- We have invested millions in new sidewalks, safety signals, crosswalks and other infrastructure to help kids get safely to school and back.
While all these efforts are important, much more needs my attention, and much more needs to be done to put our kids first in Columbus.
Dr. Harris has reached out to me and I to her over the years since she first assumed the role of superintendent to assist, advise and act on many issues related to our kids.
As an extension of our past endeavors, Dr. Harris has now asked me to do more to put our kids first, to make sure they're educated and prepared and ready to carry on the next generation of leadership in this community.
Today I answer that call. And today I put a stake in the ground to begin to address the issues facing the education of kids in Columbus.
Every child in this city deserves the opportunity for a quality education and a chance to succeed. If our children fail to receive this opportunity, we cannot expect to see Columbus continue to compete and succeed the way we have over the last several years.
The children of today are the educators, entrepreneurs, civic leaders and public officials of tomorrow.
In this our bicentennial year, Columbus is on the verge of a renaissance.
We are now recognized around the country as a brain magnet city rather than a brain drain city.
We're now known as a city where people come to learn, and where they stay to start a career and raise a family.
We're now known as a city where people enjoy a high quality of life, with a strong downtown, great restaurants and entertainment, wonderful parks and city attractions, and the best neighborhoods in the country.
We are fiscally sound, recognized as the best managed city of our size in the nation.
We are known as a green city, taking a multifaceted approach to protecting our environment and leaving a sustainable city for our children.
And we have emerged from the deep recession much stronger than we went in, as the best city for jobs in Ohio, in the Midwest, and one of the best cities for jobs in the nation.
But even as we celebrate these and other successes, we know our public schools, while improved, are not where they need to be.
When our kids graduate from high school, they should be prepared to pursue one of these things:
1. go to college
2. take a job or
3. join the military.
Too many are ill-prepared to do any of the above.
To be the city that we all envision, we must make educating our kids the number one priority of our community.
I will lead this effort to improve our Columbus City Schools.
But in leading this effort, I have no intention of assuming control of the district. More than anything, I believe we must aspire to be the best we can be.
Our goal should be that the Columbus City Schools become among the best urban school districts in the country... not overnight, but over time.
We must aspire. But aspiration must be met with preparation, participation and transformation.
Preparation through understanding where our district stands today and reaching out across the country to determine whether what works best elsewhere will work here as well.
Participation: The task of guiding our schools toward this goal cannot be mine alone. While it is my obligation to lead this effort, it is everyone's responsibility to put our own kids first. Our entire community must play a role.
We must strive for communitywide participation because educating our kids is everybody's responsibility.
It should be our collective community priority, and we should all participate in its improvement.
I've had initial conversations with those in the private sector and business community, asking them to give us their talent and their resources toward this effort. This is essential. They must step up, and many have already agreed.
I'm asking churches, civic groups, nonprofits and neighborhood groups to step up.
I will be asking parents to get involved in their kids' schools and their kids' lives in an unprecedented way.
I will be working with the school board, the superintendent, City Council, residents and also national experts.
None of us can do alone better than what all of us can do together. That's participation.
And finally, transformation.
In order to achieve, we must be willing to change, to get better and do whatever is necessary to do so-not fear it-embrace it and develop a community will to get better.
Our aspirations must be met with the reality of our challenges.
The challenges of urban education run deeper than any of the other issues we address as a city.
Too many kids are hungry, too many kids lack a nurturing family environment, too many kids have learning disabilities.
Due, in part, to these issues, some parents have taken their kids out of Columbus City Schools, leading to a 19 percent decrease since 2004. But while the number of kids has fallen, the percentage of kids with academic challenges has risen.
During the past decade, Columbus City Schools has seen an increase in
- kids with special needs
- kids living with one parent,
- and kids for whom English is their second language
- and kids living in poverty.
In fact, 82 percent of Columbus City Schools children are economically disadvantaged.
These are all factors far beyond the control of the school district. And yet they have profound impacts on the standards by which we judge the school district.
This is the reality we face. But we must these challenges head on.
Our goal as a community should be nothing less than, in time, building among the best urban school districts in the nation, and every step we take must be toward that goal.
As I stand here today, I do not have all the answers. Frankly, I do not have all the questions.
In the coming weeks I will reach out to education experts both locally and nationally to guide us.
With community input, we will determine what can be done and what should be done to give every child the opportunity to succeed.
And we will achieve our goal through reform, investment, and innovation.
Our path may seem difficult, but we must be determined, and our pace must be deliberate.
Educating kids is everybody's responsibility. So let's get to work.