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Partner Spotlight: National League of Cities

February Partner Spotlight 

Today we talk to an essential and long-time community school partner, National League of Cities about their strong commitment to racial, social, and economic equity in education, a shared principle with the Coalition for Community Schools. NLC will also talk about their newly established department, Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL).

1.  Can you explain the overall mission of the National League of Cities (NLC)?

The National League of Cities (NLC) is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. Working in partnership with the 49 state municipal leagues, NLC serves as a resource to and an advocate for the more than 19,000 cities, villages and towns it represents.

The Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) supports city leaders dedicated to ensuring the education, safety and health of the families and children in their community are a top priority. The Education and Expanded Learning team provides resources, technical assistance, and networks to address the needs of cities on afterschool, summer learning, city-school partnerships, integrated community supports within schools, cross-sector collaborations, and postsecondary and workforce success.

2. What milestones has NLC/IYEF already reached or is it currently moving towards?

One of our main goals at NLC is city engagement and building municipal official champions for youth success. The Education and Expanded Learning team has four thriving networks, specifically addressing education issues and created to support the efforts of local elected officials and senior municipal staff to address the needs of children and youth in their cities. Through our Mayor’s Education Task Force, Mayors’ Education Policy Advisors’ Network (EPAN), Postsecondary Success City Action Network (PSCAN), and Afterschool Policy Advisors’ Network (APAN), we have consistent engagement with over 300 cities and their leaders, representing small, medium, and large communities. We focus on providing them with the latest research, best practices, city examples, and updates on federal

legislative issues with city implications, funding opportunities, and critical peer learning and sharing opportunities.  Collectively these efforts support our main goal: building local champions and uplifting the voices of local elected officials who will galvanize their community’s human and financial resources to improve educational outcomes and opportunities for all students.

In addition to our milestones on city engagement and champion building, we are excited that almost two decades of work with municipal leaders have helped the YEF Institute become a leading expert on the role of municipal leadership in education. Over the past 17 years, NLC has built a comprehensive and thorough resource library and expertise on citywide afterschool system building, providing guidance to city leaders on improving quality and access, developing data systems, and addressing equity and educational opportunity within afterschool and expanded learning programs.

NLC is currently moving toward weaving together our expertise on afterschool and expanded learning with our expertise on municipal leadership for postsecondary and workforce success, supporting city leaders to innovate and develop learning opportunities that help youth build college and career skills that can prepare them for the world of work in our global economy.

3.  How do NLC/YEF principles tie into the Community School’s principles and philosophy? How do you see your work fitting into ours?

NLC has a strong commitment to racial and social-economic equity in education, a shared principal with the Coalition for Community Schools. A couple years ago, NLC has established a new department, Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL), to support city leaders who are addressing challenges of inequities within their city on health, education, and social-economic outcomes. REAL works closely with the YEF Institute, especially addressing the educational inequities that many children of color face.

The YEF Institute and its staff strongly believe in the power of community schools. Clifford Johnson, YEF Institute’s Executive Director, was a founding Steering Committee member of the Coalition, and Bela Shah Spooner, Program Manager for Expanded Learning, who started her DC education policy career at the Coalition is now the Steering Committee member representing NLC. Audrey M. Hutchison, YEF’s Director of Education and Expanded Learning, also holds a strong belief that the community school model provides the needed supports and services for children and youth to thrive and is an approach that can uniquely leverage and maximize city resources. 

Over the years, our team has facilitated several conversations with city leaders about the community school approach and brought leaders from the Coalition for Community Schools to our convening’s to speak to our members. We are delighted to see a new groundswell of city officials who are turning to a community school strategy as an effective service delivery mechanism to address educational inequalities and build deeper community engagement and ownership of their neighborhood public school. The community school strategy provides a clear role for the city and other sector partners to support and partner alongside the school district. NLC can provide support to city and education leaders on the important and specialized role City Hall and city departments can play to support community schools. For example, mayors can use their bully pulpit to engage business, higher education, and non-profit and community partners that can provide services and supports to community schools. City hall can assist in joint fundraising and seek tax based or discretionary funding for community school efforts. City departments can provide co-located family and student resources within K-12 school campuses. Cities can create joint use agreements collocating municipal recreation centers with schools. With innovative and bold leadership, the options to support youth are endless.

4.  What are some exciting things coming up for NLC (i.e., events, publications)?

NLC utilizes a unique mayoral engagement modality called the Mayors’ Institute, an intimate peer sharing model in which a small group of mayors spend a dedicated 1-2 days with their peers and experts, sharing case statements and developing key next steps and strategies to address an issue of concern to the mayor. In May 2017, NLC’s YEF Institute we will be hosting a Mayors’ Institute in partnership with the Coalition for Community Schools, focused specifically on integrating key tenants of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health within a city-wide community schools strategy. This special event will provide valuable tools and resources to the invited mayors and their teams. It will serve as NLC’s first deep foray in community schools to support the burgeoning city-led community school movement. NLC plans to utilize the lessons learned from this endeavor to develop a resource for the broader field on municipal leadership for community schools. 

In addition, over the next 18 months, NLC will develop new briefs and infographics with targeted messages to help municipal leaders understand the important connections between expanded learning and economic development, public safety, and college and career readiness. These resources will provide data and strategies that address the intersectionality of top city priorities like economic and workforce development and education. These resources will provide specific examples, such as the community school strategy as a best practice method for cities to integrate expanded learning opportunities within the school setting.

5. How does NLC enter equity in their agenda?

NLC is explicit in its dedication to diversity, inclusion, and racial equity. NLC expresses that dedication internally, through our highly diverse staff and continuous focus on creating internal conversations that provide a safe space for sensitive conversations. Externally, NLC provides support to city leaders through its Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) team, Economic Inclusion and Mobility Task Force, and our Mayors’ Education Task Force plus many more committees that provide peer-sharing of resources and strategies that address and successfully improve inequitable outcomes for communities.

Within the Education and Expanded Learning Team, our prime motivator for everything we do is to ensure that all children and youth regardless of family income, racial/ethnic background, or zip code have the supports they did to be successful. We work with our cities to utilize data, conduct need assessments and use GIS mapping techniques to identify areas of their community with gaps in investment and services so that they can direct increased the community resources and attention to improve the lives of children and youth across their entire city and target those most in need. These tools and expertise help support our cities in identifying and addressing equity issues within their community. 

6. Finally, what is the most exciting thing about working at the NLC?

Our members and city leaders make NLC the most exciting place to work. Local leaders everywhere are addressing challenging, but fascinating and complex issues. Providing them the encouragement, support, and guidance they deserve is extremely fulfilling. At NLC, we feel the excitement when a city leader achieves a successful outcome, establishes a long sought partnership or sustains the work through dedicated funding. Ultimately, we know that our city leaders are working hard to improve the lives of children and youth and we share in the excitement of helping them achieve their goals.

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