Great City Forum
Getting Youth Ready by 21 with 21 st Century Skills
Prepared Remarks by Mayor R.T. Rybak
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
If you want to feel good about the future of Minneapolis, go up the stairs from the South High lunchroom, turn left and walk down the hall until you find Lamar Scott.
Lamar is a counselor in the South High Career Center where every day he goes about the work of helping students discover the course they will follow when they leave South.
When I visited Lamar last week, I met a ninth grader whose visits to the Career Center helped convince her to become an engineer. I met a senior who wants to open a restaurant and become a stand-up comic. And I met another senior, who had studied Opera in the summers and was already plotting out her fours years of college.
Now if you want to feel even better about the future of Minneapolis, consider this: an hour ago we announced that thanks to the work of Achieve! Minneapolis and Ameriprise Financial, Career Centers like the one at South will be opened in every Minneapolis high school.
This is one in a series of major new efforts that lay out a new path for the kids of our city. Earlier this month we announced that a new program called The Power of YOU will help fund at least two years of post-secondary education for every Minneapolis high school student. We also announced that our STEP-UP summer jobs program, which last year employed 300 students, will expand to find 500 jobs this year, and companies like Geek Squad will help us take this already successful program to the next level.
Taken together these announcements create new hope for the next generation of young people growing up in Minneapolis. Our message is this: starting in 9th grade we will get you the counseling you need to plan your vision for your future; we will help you find a summer job; and we will help you get the funds you need to go to college. The barriers you may have seen to your success are being broken down one by one. Now the responsibility to succeed is up to you.
This is good news to our students and as I talked about this new era of excellence on the stage of North High a few weeks back, I could see clearly a change on the faces of the kids as they began to imagine new possibilities for their lives.
This is good news for the young people of our city. It is essential news for those of us who wonder where Minneapolis will be a few decades from now. It is Essential because we are entering a period in which we must take aggressive action to change the demographic and educational trends that could make this city and region uncompetitive in the New Economy.
Consider the following:
We will have fewer high school graduates
- The number of high school graduates in Minnesota will decrease by 10 percent over the next 10 years, due to demographic shifts
- 78.4 percent of Minneapolis’ public high school students graduated last year (54.5 percent when alternative schools are included)
- Half of students of color graduate from high school on time
Fewer students are going to college
- Our fastest-growing populations have the lowest high school graduation rates and college participation rates
- 3 percent of African American, 3 percent of American Indian and 5 percent of Latino students will complete a bachelor’s degree before the age of 25
- There is an enormous education gap between white students and students of color
At the same time, state and federal cuts have decreased support for quality pre-K, primary, secondary and higher education.
It all adds up to two simple facts:
- We will not be producing enough graduates to replace retirees at a time when we need more educated workers, not less.
- Too many youth are unprepared and unsupported as they enter the world.
As the world becomes "flatter," as China and India educate far more engineers and other skilled workers, our ability to get this next generation ready for new careers becomes even more important. But if we do it right, the students now in Minneapolis’ schools—who speak more than 80 languages and who cross cultural barriers every day—can become Minnesota’s best weapon in competing in a global economy.
We can achieve this success, but only if we learn to cross our own political boundaries. Minneapolis is filled with people and organizations that intend to help our kids, and many with great success, but there is not a single system that coordinates the work for our kids that takes place in our schools, parks, libraries, neighborhood organizations, faith communities, county and state. It’s about all of us working together for our kids’ futures and our own future.
As mayor, I have a unique position to see the connections of the bigger picture and bring people together across boundaries. I have thought long and hard about how to use this role and it has become abundantly clear to me that at this special period of time in Minneapolis—a period of great need, great opportunity, and great transition—I need to use my role as mayor to play a significantly stronger role in bringing all the forces of this city together to help our kids.
Simply put, we need to ensure that youth get access to opportunities that strengthen skills and build connections in order to be well prepared for college, work and life.
The vision for this work is emerging from the Youth Coordinating Board, which I have chaired for the past two years. The vision is that every young person in Minneapolis will be ready by 21 with 21st Century Skills. The work has engaged more than 100 young people from neighborhoods across Minneapolis including some of our top elected officials.
Our Next Generation Agenda has four parts. It says to be ready by 21 our young people need to be:
- Connected to family, adults, peers and organizations in their community
- Physically and psychologically healthy and living in a healthy environment
- Transformed by learning opportunities in school and the community
- Prepared for and engaged in building their future
1: Connected to family, adults, peers and organizations in their community
Why is this important? Think about the kid playing video games hour after hour. Or the kid left home alone, who finally wanders out into the neighborhood to find a gang that gives him a different kind of connection. What chance do they have to succeed?
Now compare that to the kids who are lucky enough to go to the Underground on Lake Street, where they find a safe, fun, stimulating place to be with other young people —or the hundreds of kids who are part of Phat Summer, which fills summer nights with basketball leagues and art classes.
We have successful models of how this can be done at an early age with Way to Grow, the Beacons Program, and the new family center being developed at Fellowship Baptist Church.
But all these programs have one thing in common. Each of them is facing a serious financial challenge, mostly because of radical cuts in the state and federal programs that have supported these programs. Private funders have stepped up: we were able to raise $200,000 for Phat Summer last year to replace federal cuts, but we have to carry the message to decision-makers at the state and federal government that cutting these programs today creates far larger costs tomorrow.
While we seek the necessary funds, we have to be willing to ask each other the tough questions to make sure we are creating the connections for our kids. As a former park coach who saw firsthand that an alarming number of Minneapolis’ most talented young athletes drop out of sports when they reach their teens, here’s one question that needs to be answered: isn’t it time to merge the junior high sports programs in our parks and schools so we can create one stronger system that keeps our sports programs from falling behind the suburbs? In these times of limited resources, we need to collaborate in unique and innovative ways and create a stronger supportive community for our youth.
2: Physically and psychologically healthy and living in a healthy environment
Minneapolis has a strong tradition of supporting programs for our children’s health and one of the best examples we have are the school-based clinics that provide needed health services in a supportive environment. I am so excited about the new effort with our city health department called "Minneapolis Steps" to fund walking projects, with the goal of increasing physical activity among families in Phillips, Near North, and Northeast neighborhoods.
But in a country facing a childhood obesity epidemic, in a city facing gaping health disparities, we have to do more to set better values about our health. When I was eating lunch with the students at Northeast Middle School, I was appalled by how many students were eating only nachos and processed cheese. This is one reason why I am so excited about the plans for a north Minneapolis food co-op.
Growing a generation focused on health will also mean we have to make changes to our physical environment. The bike trails we are funding in North and Northeast Minneapolis mean someday a kid in Logan Park can ride a bike down 18th Street to the Mississippi, or a kid in Jordan can take 26th Street from the river to Bassett Creek. Kids at Anwatin School can already take cross country skis out the door of their gym onto the new trails in Theodore Wirth Park. And someday, I would like to see kids in Midtown bike down 10th Avenue between Powderhorn Park and the Midtown Greenway, stopping at the Global Marketplace for a fajita. We also need to build more greenways so that our youth can have a safe, green passage to school by walking or biking, not just by driving.
3: Transformed by learning opportunities in school and the community
I spend a lot of time in our schools and increasingly I’m struck by the enormous gap between the excellence I see in so many classrooms, and the cartoon I see painted by those who don’t get to see what I see. This is not a failing school district. This is a district with some great teachers, great programs, great students with some great schools—but not all of them are succeeding. Our children can get a great education in Minneapolis but the experience is uneven and until every school and every classroom can say every child is succeeding, we have a lot of work to do.
The key issues I see facing the district are:
- Insufficient funding
- Achievement gaps and uneven quality
- School closings and overcrowding
- Instability and leadership challenge
The actions I will take to address these are:
First we need to advocate for more funding. Schools in Minneapolis, and schools all across this state, are being dramatically under-funded. I will work actively with parents and other voters throughout this state to make sure increased education funding is the #1 issue in the upcoming races for Governor. If Minnesota wants to continue to say it’s a "Brainpower State" we have to put our money where our mouth is.
I will work hard to get more money into this district, but that means we also have to be willing to ask the very tough questions about how money is spent once it gets here. The City of Minneapolis has had great success in the past few years developing a long-range financial plan and I want to partner with the school district as they develop their own strategic plan. The city government can be a partner in helping the district forecast the population trends that effect school enrollment. We are also ready to play a more active role in planning the best way to use facilities within the district. Facing deep financial challenges and underused classrooms, we have to move more aggressively to consider how to repurpose buildings and whether to incorporate nonprofits such as Head Start directly into school buildings.
The Minneapolis School District has been through a bruising time. Emotions are high right now. We need to ask some tough questions but at this very critical moment it is essential for every resident of Minneapolis to be asking one question above all others: How do we come together to help our kids? As I said earlier this week, we can’t hold an entire generation hostage because the grownups don’t get along. Right now Minneapolis, all of it, needs to rally behind acting Superintendent Bill Green. Minneapolis, all of it, also needs to rally around this school board.
It would be unrealistic to suggest we can simply paper over all the issues that have been raised in recent years and simply move on. Instead I suggest we take all the energy around these issues and focus it, between now and November, on what should be the most important Minneapolis school board election in decades. Every political leader, every business leader, every neighborhood leader, every civic leader and every citizen should be recruiting the best possible candidates to run and committing themselves to know the issues. Our goal should be to come out of this race more unified, more focused on an agenda for the future, led by a school board that has the broad public support they need to choose a great Superintendent.
Before moving beyond learning, I want to mention our libraries. If you want to see an example of how our libraries are preparing the next generation, go into Franklin Library some weekday at about 5 p.m. It’s jammed with school-age kids from all the cultures of Minneapolis, working with staff from Homework Helper. You can literally see the next generation of Minneapolis moving ahead.
Now if you want to see our challenge, know that Franklin Library is only open four days a week.
This city that has been named the Most Literate City in America—where we rightfully celebrate the new Central Library and the renovations of Sumner, Franklin and Hosmer—needs to come to grips with the financial challenges facing our libraries. We now have exceptional leadership in Director Kit Hadley and the board, and I want them to know I will help them develop the long-term plan that will help us restore the services to the libraries that Minneapolis deserves.
4: Prepared for and engaged in building their future
Finally we turn to tomorrow, to our goal of having every young person prepared for and engaged in building their future. As I said at the beginning of this speech, this has been a month filled with good news about the future of our kids. The career centers, the STEP-UP expansion, and The Power of YOU. The $10 million grant from the McGuire Foundation. The success of programs like Admission Possible and Project Success. They are all part of an emerging picture of a city pulling together to make sure the next generation succeeds. And the work being done to open a new Planetarium that will open young minds to a new world of science and technology, and the new McPhail Center for the Arts that will open young minds to the arts, is about saying we are not only going to help this generation succeed, we are going to help them excel.
The comments I have just made about my role as mayor in laying the groundwork for the next generation represent the first of three policy addresses I will be giving over the next two months.
The other two Great City Forums will focus on the other themes I raised in my Inaugural address: reweaving the urban fabric and closing the gap between the haves and have nots.
While each of the three themes of the Great City Agenda is important in themselves, it is essential that we focus on how we can work on these issues together. Our history is clear: when Minneapolis comes together to do great things we can accomplish almost anything.
So let’s imagine a city where prosperity spreads to every part of town. Imagine every neighborhood woven together into a single community. Imagine a city where every kid grows up knowing they can succeed.
One city. One people. Woven together. Working today for tomorrow.
Last updated Sep. 27, 2011