This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.

Feb. 11

Every week, Pleasant Hill City Manager June Catalano provides the Mayor and City Council with a "weekly update," which is posted on the city's website.

On Feb. 7, the first item in the update was related to Mayor Michael Harris' new Education Initiative.

Here's what Catalano wrote:

"Pleasant Hill Education Initiative — The Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce hosted the 'Mayor's Breakfast' event on Thursday, Feb. 7th during which Mayor Michael Harris launched a new program: The Pleasant Hill Education Initiative. The intention of The Initiative is to establish a communitywide volunteer effort to enhance the quality of education for students in Pleasant Hill. The Initiative would include programs such as mentoring and tutoring students, volunteering in schools, career counseling, job shadowing, community teaching labs and after-school enrichment programs. Mayor Harris is seeking to form a steering committee to plan and oversee the Initiative.


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This committee would be comprised of representatives from various organizations including City Commissions, the Pleasant Hill (PH) Recreation Park District, Mt. Diablo Unified School District, PH Library, Foundation for PH Education, PH Chamber of Commerce, construction trades, and the PH Community Foundation.

Those interested in being on the steering committee or wishing to be a volunteer in the program can sign up online at www.pleasant-hill.net/phei. For more information on the Initiative, contact Martin Nelis at mnelis@ci.pleasant-hill.ca.us."

A news story by Pleasant Hill reporter Lisa P. White about the breakfast and education initiative says that the district superintendent and principals of Pleasant Hill schools support it. However, to my knowledge, this hasn't been publicly discussed at a school board meeting.

How do you think Harris' initiative could affect K-12 district schools?

Reader response (excerpted):

Wendy Lack says: "To the degree this initiative results in increased degrees of freedom for each school site -- and less top-down micromanagement by the district -- it could be positive. And to the extent this initiative increases public involvement/awareness/scrutiny of PH schools, it could be a good thing (e.g., may jump start community conversations exploring conversion of College Park to a charter school).

Ultimately MDUSD schools require sweeping reform to optimize staff and financial resources. We can do better.

Jim says: "Mayors all over the country are starting to demand more accountability from their traditional local public school district, which typically exercises monopoly control over education for their citizens. Mayors know that few things are more important to middle class families than the quality of the public schools, and those are the families that almost every city struggles to retain. How much of the middle class flight from our cities, how much of the "urban sprawl" and traffic that so many people oppose, can be traced back to deficient urban schools? How many people would live closer to jobs in Oakland, SF, and San Jose if they felt that they could trust the public schools there?"

Vindex says: "Jim, The mayor doesn't have any power of schools in a weak-mayor system. The mayor is an honorary title. Some cities have strong mayor systems and they do have some pull. The Pleasant Hill mayor is in the weak mayor system. Now, to the point at hand. How many of the people have actually worked in schools? I have spent hundreds of hours in a several different types of schools. I have even spent some time in schools in the MDUSD system. What I have found is there is no easy solution. It's not the parents, teachers, admin., students' entire problem. To a certain extent it is all the above. Also, each group brings some good to the equation. If I could narrow it down to one problem that would help (to fix) ... it would be the disintegration of the family. The amount of problems caused by a dysfunctional family to a child is unbelievable. I have worked with thousands of students at every level and I have seen it all (at least I hope I have). It is horrible. How is an admin. or teacher supposed to teach a student in these situations?"