A recent article in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette touched on a variety of issues in the context of “Visionary Leadership.” One of those issues was education. The Superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools, Dr. Wendy Robinson, is right about the important link between education and a thriving, successful city. Dr. Robinson highlights the example of the Fort Wayne Police Department providing School Resource Officers. She also mentions the critical relationship between education and strong community-based workforce development. Robinson believes FWCS is a cornerstone of the foundation that sustains community success. I may not agree with Dr. Robinson on every aspect of public education, but I don’t have to. As Mayor, my job is to make sure the Smith Administration is advancing the critical causes of the Summit City. My job is to work closely with Fort Wayne Community, East Allen County, Southwest Allen County, Northwest Allen County, and our private schools to make sure no stone is unturned in our mutual effort to make Fort Wayne the safest, smartest, and strongest city in the Midwest.
I commend the Fort Wayne Police Department for collaborating with FWCS to keep our schools safe. No school child can hope for success if the environment in which they learn is threatened by someone who intends to harm them, their classmates, or school faculty. The Smith Administration will reinforce this initiative with public schools and offer School Resource Officers to every school in the city, public and private, that desires FWPD support. Our children are our most precious – and most vulnerable – resource. Keeping them safe is job one.
Beyond an increase in the number of officers and SROs inside schools, as mayor, I will work closely with Dr. Robinson’s team (and with all local districts’ leadership teams) and with their respective skilled security professionals to analyze the areas adjacent to schools. Abandoned adjacent properties and unkempt sites with trash, debris, and unsafe material cause a perimeter threat to children who attend the school. Dangerous, unkempt places can hide threats. School by school, these conditions will be identified, property owners will be contacted, and the full weight of city government will be applied to correct and improve these perimeter conditions. Investing in the infrastructure around our neighborhood schools is also crucial. Sidewalks need repaired and paths to and from school need to be adequately lighted for our children’s safety. Our schools may do an excellent job lighting their properties, but if our children pass beside a shadowy, abandoned building across the street, we will find a way to make their arrival to school safer.
I also believe we can do more to intensify the relationship between education and work force development. As Mayor, I will establish a team of professionals to bridge the gap between students with specific interests and skills and employers looking to provide apprenticeships and job opportunities. I call this the Fort Wayne Apprenticeship Program. Students do not always have all the resources they need to understand their unique strengths or where to get hands-on experience. Whether it is as an assistant in a lab at Fort Wayne Metals or helping with track repairs of a front-end loader, an apprenticeship can help develop a deeper understanding of ability and interest; it can also help rule-out some types of work. Employers are trying to find talented young people eager and willing to learn in the workplace. They know that not every intern will succeed and/or that some students may discover they prefer different work. But every Fort Wayne Apprenticeship Program employer will be fostering a stronger, more productive employment base. Students who discover early what they enjoy and what they are skilled at doing become a powerful force in the marketplace. Assembling the team to achieve this initiative requires very little money. It requires determination and focus. It requires the humility to do it a different way if the new way makes more sense. A partnering website will be created to ensure that students and parents (as well as graduates and other adults) have the full opportunity to see all available career and apprenticeship paths here in Fort Wayne. The Mayor’s office must lead. At the very least, this means being a strong, cooperative partner.
Finally, education in the United States today is as interesting as it is both broad and controversial. Although statistics can often be used to create misinformation or to hide the truth, one statistic is never disputed: a stable home life gives any student an incredible advantage in the classroom. We can – and we should – develop programs to address this disadvantage where it cannot be avoided. The most essential cornerstone of a successful career as a student is and always will be the family. In 2015, Indiana adopted a “Family Friendly School” designation that recognizes the value of intertwining school life with family and community life. While a couple New Haven schools are the only area schools on the latest list of Family Friendly Schools, I believe many more should be. The objectives of the program make sense; the efforts to create a supportive learning continuum for students cannot help but bear fruit.
Bottom line: with solid leadership from the Mayor’s office, the Fort Wayne business community can work together with our schools to (a) find ways to deepen our commitment to keep our students safe, (b) better integrate the learning process with employment prospects, and (c) develop a critical overlap between home, school, and community. I am always open to good ideas from others who are equally passionate about improving education in Fort Wayne so that it more completely embodies the “bedrock” character attributed to it by Dr. Robinson. Working together, we can do better. As always, we must expect more.