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Mayor Coleman Proposes "Significant Changes" To City Schools

As anticipated, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman made education the highpoint of his 14th state of the city address at South High School. WOSU reports the mayor calls for “significantâ€? change. As with every state of the city address, Mayor Coleman touts Columbus’ most recent success stories: “We are rebuilding the Southern Gateway neighborhood...our unemployment rate dropped...curbside recycling to every single-family household.â€? And then the mayor highlights an area that needs work: “Unfortunately, we don’t have enough good schools in Columbus.â€? Many Columbus City Schools have struggled academically, and the district’s enrollment continues to decline, as students choose private or charter schools. Late last year, Coleman created the Columbus Education Commission to assess these issues and recommend solutions. Coleman, Thursday night, likened the city’s educational struggles to a civil rights movement. “Education should not depend upon the color of your skin, the size of your parents’ bank accounts, or the neighborhood in which you live," he said. The venue of the speech, South High School, was no coincidence. Last year’s address featured the South Side community. During the past year, huge strides have been made to improve the neighborhood. South High School’s low graduation rate, less than 56 percent, underscores the serious straits the city’s public school system faces and the role education plays in communities, especially ones undergoing renewals. “This neighborhood, that we’re in today, is fighting hard to come back from daunting challenges, is home to this high school whose challenges are equally formidable.â€? The mayor called for “significant changesâ€? to the way Columbus City School children are educated. Coleman said the district needs to have more efficient business practices. He wants pre-kindergarten offered to all children. Coleman also noted classrooms need more technology, such as computers, tablets and internet. And although the mayor applauded the work of current teachers and principals, Coleman said Columbus needs the nation’s best ones. And he wants to enlist the help of the private sector to recruit them. “No one is better equipped to recruit great talent than the leaders of our business community," Coleman said. The mayor said the only way to achieve those goals is through a new public-private partnership. “Change means doing things differently, and that brings both fear and hope.â€? And that public-private partnership has already begun in the form of the Columbus Education Commission. And some worry about the weight the panel or future partnerships may carry on school district’s decisions. That commission recently asked the school board to postpone its search for a superintendent until the panel makes its recommendations, a request school board members were not happy about. But school board president Carol Perkins said she did not disagree with the mayor’s proposals in last night’s speech. Perkins said she welcomes business leaders’ input. “Help is what we need. The school board cannot work in a vacuum," Perkins said. "We cannot work on an island, and we need the cooperation. The mayor stated stacking hands. We agree with that. I agree with that.â€? And Columbus resident Charlotte Peoples also wants more community involvement in the school district. Peoples proposed an idea not heard last night. “Not so much as the city running [the school district], but seeing more community input," Peoples said. "Parents sit on the board instead of having those and higher ups dictate.â€? When asked about how he envisions the role of a public-private partnership, Coleman said, “I don’t know how that private-public partnership is shaped or what form it is. I don’t know that. I think the [Education] commission can work on that," Coleman said. "I hope they’ll work on that. And the community, we’ll try to figure this out. But I think we can figure something out that lifts up all boats at once.â€? The Columbus Education Commission’s next meeting is set for March 6.