Sacramento Mayor Johnson highlights his role in public education

10/04/2012 12:00 AM

10/04/2012 7:26 AM

Mayor Kevin Johnson's job description doesn't call for a lot of involvement in city schools.

But in another sign that Johnson considers the state of public education in Sacramento a key concern, the mayor presided Wednesday over a launch ceremony for City Year. The national education nonprofit has placed 50 young tutors and mentors in city schools to focus on improving attendance records and course work for students who are falling behind.

Johnson spearheaded a movement to raise $4 million from corporations that will fund City Year here for the next three school years.

"This right here is one of the best days I've had as mayor," Johnson said during a ceremony on the west steps of the Capitol introducing the City Year members.

The young mentors are assigned to Fern Bacon Middle School, Father Keith B. Kenny Elementary School, Rosa Parks Middle School, Oak Ridge Elementary School and Leataata Floyd Elementary School, formerly Jedediah Smith Elementary.

City schools Superintendent Jonathan Raymond, whose district is providing $500,000 for City Year, said Johnson has "opened the door" for programs to make their way to Sacramento.

Johnson said he has focused on bringing City Year to Sacramento since he was first took office in 2008. Before being elected, Johnson founded the nonprofit organization St. HOPE, which operates charter schools in Oak Park.

With his push for a new sports arena stalled, education has become a primary talking point for the mayor both in Sacramento and in his travels in recent months.

Last month, Johnson co-hosted a panel in Atlanta of faith leaders who discussed education policy. Michelle Rhee, the mayor's wife, also co-hosted the event through her StudentsFirst organization.

Johnson attended events during the Republican and Democratic national conventions that focused on education. Many of those were through his position as an education chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Back home, the mayor's Sacramento Reads third-grade reading program has placed more than 100 tutors in city schools who have volunteered nearly 2,900 hours reading to young students. And next week, Johnson will launch an "edible schoolyard" program at a city school with famed Berkeley restaurateur Alice Waters.

Johnson's results have been mixed. Three candidates he promoted for the Sacramento City Unified school board in 2010 all lost, and he has not taken a vocal role in this year's school board elections.

He and others have also pushed hard for a Sacramento expansion of Teach for America, another national organization that places recent college graduates in teaching positions at underperforming schools. The organization is often opposed by teachers unions, and is operating only in Inderkum High School in the Natomas district and in some charter schools in the Sacramento City Unified district.

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