Last night, the Denver Scholarship Foundation raised over $2 million at its annual dinner, headlined by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and attended by 1,600 Denver movers and shakers. It’s an astounding amount for a young organization putting on only its second big event.
The cavernous ballroom at the Hyatt convention center hotel was jammed with dignitaries; mayors, governors, senators, candidates of all stripes, superintendents, oil and gas moguls. Definitely the place to be last night.
But the proudest people in the room were a couple of my table-mates. To my right were Norma and Florentino Robles. Their son, Edgar, graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in southwest Denver in 2009. He is now a sophomore at the Colorado School of Mines, majoring in civil engineering. He is there thanks primarily to his own hard work but with a big boost from the scholarship foundation. He is the first person in his immediate family to attend college.
Edgar and another student, Tyler Cobb, who attends the University of Northern Colorado, were featured in a video shown during the dinner. This wasn’t your usual non-profit’s promotional video. It was beautifully made and moving, directed by Academy Award nominee Davis Coombe.
As the video played, the pride radiating from Norma and Florentino was as evident as the tears running down their cheeks. Watching them react to the video sent a message far more powerful than anything Bloomberg or Hickenlooper or Ritter or anyone else said.
Nevertheless, here are a few highlights from Bloomberg’s remarks:
“The economic challenges facing the middle class are directly related to the educational challenges facing our schools. Stagnating wages, growing income gaps, high skills jobs that we cannot fill which leads to higher unemployment; those are all directly related to the failure of our education system to keep pace with our economy.”
“We can’t keep blaming poverty when great schools in poor communities are getting great results. The time for making excuses is over and the time for action and accountability is here. There are some who say we can’t fix our education system until we eliminate poverty. Let me tell you: We will never eliminate poverty until we fix our schools.”
“The problem with our schools is not the lack of great teachers. far from it. In New York City for example we have an extraordinarily talented group of teachers….smart, tough, passionate men and women who give their all with all their heart…it is a noble profession and teachers deserve our support and our respect. They deserve to be well paid, they deserve high-quality professional development, and they deserve to be rewarded for their success.
“But the truth is that not every single one of them deserves a lifetime job. There is no business in America, not one, that would be prevented from taking results into account when making personnel decisions. But that is exactly what has been happening in American education for decades. Colorado’s reform law is based on a very simple idea: Every teacher and every principal should be evaluated every year and those evaluation should be based partially on how well they help students learn. This is not rocket science. This is basic management.”
“Making change is always hard. There will always be special interests benefiting from the status quo and who will fight to preserve it. But if you are going to do what is best for kids, you will have some powerful allies in your corner: The public, and most importantly, the parents.”
It sounds like a campaign speech, doesn’t it? That was one of the interesting aspects of last night. Why was Bloomberg here? Why was he moving on from here to California? Some political savants I talked to after the speech speculated, as have others, that Bloomberg is seriously pondering a third-party run for president in 2012. If partisan paralysis persists in Washington after the mid-term elections – and why wouldn’t it? – Bloomberg, a 68-year-old billionaire, might decide to launch a self-funded campaign.
It could prove to be a formidable movement. We shall see.
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