A new District government-driven initiative aimed at preparing students for careers after they graduate from high school and college could be the city's calling card for education reform and job placement that leads to a lifetime of success.
But some like Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund in Northwest, say they were caught off guard with Mayor Vincent C. Gray's May 2 announcement of "Cradle to Career," which falls under the umbrella of his Raise DC project.
"It's a concern that they come up with these initiatives without having a lot of community input. You would think that people in the community – especially in Wards 6, 7 and 8 – would have heard more about the plan," said Filardo, 58. "We were just over in the Benning Road area in Northeast, and none of the residents [we spoke with] appeared to know anything about it. There seems to be something missing."
Raise DC focuses on preparing students to join the workforce where they will become productive citizens, who in turn, will help create thriving communities. The Cradle to Career initiative – a first of its kind for the District – will provide the necessary resources and support systems to ensure the overall success of Raise DC.
De'Shawn Wright, deputy mayor for education, has joined Beatriz "BB" Otero, deputy mayor for Health and Human Services to oversee "Cradle." Other District agencies that also serve children and their families will be aligned with the efforts of Wright and Otero. However, Wright said citizen involvement would play a key role in the initiative's success.
"This is not government sitting in a bubble trying to decide what their goals and priorities will be, then announcing it to the world and trying to bring it along," Wright insisted. "We spent several months [that culminated with a two-day design institute] working with 100 individuals from across the District of Columbia to [determine] our goals."
The Cradle initiative, which focuses on both short-and long-term objectives, endeavors to reconnect 3,000 youths ages 16-24, who have dropped out of school or are unemployed, to academic or job training opportunities by 2014. In addition, the plan places emphasis on increasing the percentage of students who earn licenses and certifications through the Community College of the District of Columbia, from 36 percent to 60 percent by 2017.
Gray, 69, said that in "connecting the dots" with Raise DC, "Cradle" will ensure that not only will the city's youth succeed in the classroom, but they will be ready to compete in the workforce.
"We will provide a wide array of support systems . . . which means that many agencies have to work effectively together," rather than operating in silos, Gray said. "[We] now have a framework for moving forward."
Meanwhile, Wright said the initiative has not been an effort to create anything new. He said the District worked with Strive – an organization based in Cincinnati – which has helped other cities develop an infrastructure in support of their education initiatives. Wright said that in developing the District's infrastructure, officials realized they had to look beyond what happens from kindergarten to grade 12.
"We want to maximize what's already working for a small set of children and families," Wright said. "[This will] force us to be accountable and to gain results in a data-driven way."
Wright couldn't readily state total costs and resources surrounding "Cradle" but he said approximately $350,000 – some from District coffers – has been spent to date and that a good portion has come from nonprofit partners.
Thomas Penny, the general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott Convention Center in Northwest served on the executive committee of Raise DC. He said his company stands firmly behind the project.
Penny, who started out as a dishwasher at a hotel, said Raise DC is a continuation of a partnership his company has with the District of Columbia Public School system. Penny also said the majority of Marriott associates are now in their 50s and will soon retire.
"We will need a backlog of employees to fill their slots . . . We want D.C. youths to graduate from college and assume leadership positions in the [hotel] industry," Penny said.
But Ward 5 D C. Council candidate Kathy Henderson, 58, said Gray's latest initiative will only work if efforts are sincere.
"The mayor's plan will work if we really want to educate our children [and] it's not that complicated," Henderson said. "[The District] is not lacking in funding. We're not lacking in resources. If the mayor says that we're really 'One City,' and that he has a plan for educating our children from the cradle to career, then implement it and stop playing games."