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Originally published Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Seattle superintendent's lofty goals deserve community support

AT the Alliance for Education community breakfast this morning, an expected audience of 800 will hear Seattle school district Superintendent...

Special to The Times

AT the Alliance for Education community breakfast this morning, an expected audience of 800 will hear Seattle school district Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson outline her strategic plan. The first step to educational excellence is acknowledging the district's problems. Goodloe- Johnson's plan is an unblinking assessment of our academic performance today and where we must be in five years.

Goodloe-Johnson promises good schools in every neighborhood so students, no matter where they live, have access to a quality education.

There is much work to be done to translate Goodloe-Johnson's objectives into ground-level actions and outcomes, but it is essential that she adopt this straightforward, goal-driven approach to improvement. Throughout, Goodloe-Johnson is committed to transparency and community involvement.

With intensive effort, her ambitious goals should be implemented throughout the district, resulting in rising achievement among all Seattle public school students.

As Seattle mayor and as chairman of the board of the Alliance for Education, a nonprofit organization that helps every child in Seattle Public Schools achieve academic success, we endorse Goodloe-Johnson's focus on high academic achievement. We support her realistic assessment of the starting point, we applaud the goals she has set, and we acknowledge they will make all of us stretch, change and form true partnerships.

Academic success is difficult to execute and cannot be achieved without everyone putting a shoulder to the wheel. Parents, students and educators — as well as the Seattle Education Association, the city, the business community, nonprofit organizations and foundations — must focus on helping all children achieve.

No city is truly great without an excellent school system, and to continue our prosperity, we must nurture and develop the minds of our children. In Seattle, with all our talent, genius and resources, there are no excuses for schools not performing at the top. We must launch all our students with as much attention, energy and passion as we do new corporations, new products and new ideas.

As a city world-known for its businesses and universities, we must ask: Why have our schools languished, and why is the performance gap between groups of students so intransigent? There are many reasons, but surely one of the most significant is our lack of will. For too long, progress has been tripped up by a lack of tangible goals, financial woes and distractions not central to academic achievement.

Seattle must offer a bold new promise to our young people. And we look to Goodloe-Johnson, her team and the Seattle School Board to keep this covenant. The district's task is as difficult as it is vital, and it must begin even before kids enter the classroom. The real test is implementation.

We must build toward a high-quality, universal prekindergarten system to ensure all of our children enter school ready to learn. Students who enter kindergarten with basic skills are better prepared for academic success. Students who don't enter with those skills have a much harder time throughout their academic and professional careers.

Finally, all our young people must have access to higher education. Among many pathways to college, two ambitious programs — the Washington College Bound Scholarship and the College Success Foundation — offer a good start.

The Alliance for Education is re-energized and reorganized to support the district's efforts to achieve this ambitious plan — with clear outcomes in mind from the outset — and with uncompromising focus on academic achievement, especially for traditionally low-performing students.

We believe we have an educator at the helm of the Seattle Public Schools who, with our help, can deliver the progress we all want. Goodloe-Johnson is a focused leader who can make Seattle's schools a model for the nation by focusing on quality, establishing visionary goals and reporting on results. She can be successful if we all rally to support a thoughtful and detailed execution of these high-level aspirations.

While some may quibble over specific goals, no one should doubt the importance or sheer magnitude of this effort. As you study this plan and give your feedback to the district, ask what you can do to help our public schools succeed.

Greg Nickels, left, is mayor of Seattle. Jon Bridge is board chairman of the nonprofit Alliance for Education.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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