I was that kid the system almost gave up on.
I didn’t believe in myself. I was angry. I got into fights. My grades were horrible. I even dropped out of school for a while. If not for my mother, I would have slipped through the cracks. I will never forget her words the night I came home, bloody and bruised: “You don’t believe in you, but I believe in you…”
She and a teacher named Herman Katz inspired me to get my life back on track. I knew education was my path to a better future.
When I was mayor of Los Angeles, improving schools was my top priority. Despite our best efforts, too many children slip through the cracks. Their schools do not prepare them for the demands of our global society. We give up on them. They stop believing in themselves. We’re losing too many children, in big cities and small towns across America, because they have come to see their schooling as a dead end, not as a path to a better life.
As I told my fellow mayors several months ago, we need to change the status quo in public education, and mayors need to help lead that change. That is why I am joining with Education Post to change our conversation around improving schools. We need to stop the name-calling and polarized debates, and start collaboration and civil discussion. I want to play an important part in sparking a new conversation.
Mayors are the voice of a community. They play a key role in mobilizing their city around a common agenda. As mayor, I spoke up for fixing educational bureaucracies that did not serve students’ needs. I want to continue being that voice for all children — and especially for students of color, those from low-income families, children still learning English and those with disabilities.
A city’s future is tied to the quality of its public education system. Education isn’t just a job for teachers, principals, school boards and unions. If the system is not doing its job, we owe it to our cities’ children to speak up.
I was an organizer with the United Teachers Los Angeles and a president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees. I believe in collective bargaining, fair wages and treating teachers as professionals. And I believe that unions must be partners in producing results in education. We can debate how to measure student achievement — and how to hold ourselves accountable — but we cannot abdicate our responsibility to all children. We have a responsibility to see that they are learning. We must ensure that our schools provide choices beyond second-class lives and low-wage jobs or worse.
That’s why Education Post is here. We believe we can change the tenor of the reform discourse, shifting away from political divisions and towards results for students and families. This is an issue of equality of opportunity. And ultimately, this is a challenge that will require all of our voices in support of children.