Monday, February 12, 2007

Public Schools and "Turning" Neighborhoods

I mentioned last week that I got to hear Richard Baron, Chairman and CEO with McCormack Baron Salazar, speak to the annual Real Estate Council breakfast.

Baron has been re-developing housing and community in some of America’s toughest urban centers, including Boston, Pittsburgh and Atlanta. He and his firm seem to go where no one else much wants to play. Good for him!

The first line of his very informative and inspiring presentation was stunning: public schools are the key to renewing inner city neighborhoods and communities.

In short, according to Baron, if you can’t capture, reform and make effective the local public schools, forget your plans to revitalize failing urban communities.

He went on to describe the work he and his firm have been doing, not only in housing and retail development, but in working directly with public school districts at a very high level to insure needed change.

Baron is the first to admit the importance of after school programming and other human development services. But, he also insists that such programs will never be enough.

What is needed is strategic alignment of inner city developers and public school leaders and planners. Until both groups learn to trust each other and sit down and plan together, nothing very significant will change in our urban centers. He went on to talk about how some districts where he has worked built new, highly effective schools in conjunction with the housing development he was leading.

He also noted that public schools must be re-engineered to operate much more effectively and efficiently than is currently the case in urban districts like Dallas, Texas.

As he spoke, I thought of the groundbreaking work being done here by Don Williams and the Foundation for Community Empowerment via the Dallas Achieves initiative.

What’s needed now is a similar commitment to revamp our public schools, and thus, our neighborhoods, from home builders and economic development folks, including the City of Dallas.

Our problems are much too large to work in isolation from one another for even one more day.

Why don’t we all get together and talk?


Anonymous said...

Larry I totally agree that change in urban centers needs to start with public schools. The basic principle is that what type of education a person recieves directly influences the rest of their lives. It does not matter how many jobs you bring into urban centers if the urban population does not have the required skills to do those jobs. Job skills are learned mostly through schools. If urban populations are not given the right to adequate education then it is almost impossible for them to improve themselves and their communities. Larry you bring in a great point that it is a bad idea to leave the improvement up to public schools themselves. It is a team effort to try and rejuvinate the urban centers in America. Housing and jobs play a crucial role in this process, and they can help public schools improve. It is important to bring life back to the urban centers because these places are where the majority of the poverty stricken live. If you bring all the priviledges of our society that, the other classes take for granted, back to the urban centers then the lives of many people would be improved.

Jasmine said...

Larry, I couldn't agree more. I have noticed in my short time with non-profits that most programs are every man for himself programs. There seems to be a disconnect in communication between the failures and successes of one program with those of a new, similar program. Thus, you end up with a lot of programs making the same mistakes, unneccesarily. Also, a lot of programs are so involved in the mission and success of their own program (partially for funding reasons) that they are blinded from the big picture, and thus tend not to brainstorm the sort of strategic alignment Baron spoke about. Unfortunately, as Baron says, these well-intentioned programs will never be enough, isolated as most of them are.

It is about time that the City government work with non-profits, not just to temporarily assist the problems of the urban poor, but to eradicate the systemic and institutional barriers keeping our poor, poor (like education). Non-profit programs should function more like implementers of a greater city-wide plan. They cannot succeed in being the plan--that's too great a challenge for most non-profits to handle financially and logistically. The average after-school program is two-three hours long. There is no way an after school program can reverse the effects of eight hours in a bad, public school.

Perhaps a "think-tank" of strategists can be created in the City of Dallas--development people, the arts people, church people, educators, community members, etc. to contemplate strategies like Baron's to create a plan to effectively attack poverty in Dallas?

Anonymous said...

Schools are our foundation. They are our future. So what if we try to fix a community based problem, it might even make a difference for a few years. But if we don't teach the values, ethics, and general education in the schools, problems that we faced our next generation will also. If you don't know your history it WILL repeat itself. I agree that we need to do something with our schools.

lisa said...

The bottom line is this: the property values increase substantially when the public schools produce high exam scores. It is no surprise that a developer has finally seen the priority of public schools. Why live in an already pricey city and then pay for a private education? If developers want to reap the benefits of their investment it makes sense to bolster test scores. State test performance averages are a number many people consider when choosing which home to buy.

Larry James said...

Lisa, thanks for the post. . .it is clear that you "get it!"