Pittsburgh part of national conversation on education

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Mayor Bill Peduto is among 14 mayors nationwide whose cities were chosen for "community conversations" focusing on early childhood education, after school and postsecondary education.

Announced Monday in Washington, D.C., the effort is part of a partnership with the National League of Cities and the U.S. Department of Education. Mr. Peduto is a member of the league's committee overseeing education and advocacy.

The date of the conversations has not been set but may take place over a couple of days in the summer. The U.S. Department of Education will send expertise but not money.

The Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education is the lead on the community conversations, according to the department.

While the format hasn't been set, mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty said the conversations may involve breakout sessions for intense discussion on specific issues and a town hall forum.

In a news release, Mr. Peduto said, "Guaranteeing the best schools and the best educated students are key investments in driving long-term and sustainable growth in Pittsburgh's population and economy."

Like the other 13 mayors in the partnership, Mr. Peduto does not have legal authority over the school district, said Clifford Johnson, director of the Institute of Youth, Education and Families at the National League of Cities.

But Mr. Johnson said that while few mayors have control of schools, more are getting involved in schools.

"There's been a real sea change over the last 10 to 15 years in terms of the mayor's engagement on education," he said. "The mayors understand that the economic vitality and the social well-being in their community hinge greatly on the quality of education in their schools, so they can't afford to be on the sidelines."

Mr. Peduto has shown a keen interest in the importance of education to the future of the city, including appointing Curtiss Porter as chief education and neighborhood reinvestment officer.

Mr. Peduto, who became mayor in January, also is establishing a 21-member task force on education. The group is to include three students. Forty-one students applied by last week's application deadline. Their applications now are being reviewed.

Mr. Peduto applied Dec. 26 to be considered for the community conversations when he was mayor-elect. Earlier that month when he met with President Barack Obama, he asked the president to consider making Pittsburgh a laboratory for early childhood education initiatives, including universal pre-kindergarten.

Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh has expressed support for the mayor's efforts. Of the new partnership, she noted the areas of focus -- as well as community involvement -- fit in with the district's "Whole Child, Whole Community: Building a Bridge to the Pittsburgh Promise" report.

Behind the new partnership is a memo of understanding between the U.S. Department of Education and the National League of Cities Institute.

It notes that the department and the league's institute "desire to increase visibility, understanding and appreciation of the role that mayors can play in leading educational change in their communities by advancing strong early childhood opportunities, citywide high-quality afterschool programs and strategies to improve postsecondary success rates."

It states that both "recognize the importance of partnerships among schools, families, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, local government, businesses, philanthropy and others in order to advance student engagement and learning and propel improvement of our lowest-performing schools."

Mr. Johnson said mayors are able to pull together "the full range of community stakeholders that need to be part of the solution and to help set the goals and develop plans and strategies that will draw upon all of the available resources in the community."

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955. First Published March 10, 2014 10:57 AM

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