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The education mayor

A Times Editorial
Published November 6, 2005

Florida puts its public schools in the hands of 67 different county school boards, but St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker has refused to sit on the sidelines. His passion has translated into mentors and corporate sponsors and teacher loans and student scholarships, and the community is the better for it.

"You can stop any five people on the street and ask them what's important to them," Baker says. "You would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't mention schools."

Baker's latest initiative is to put seven businesses together with seven at-risk city schools and match $575,000 of corporate donations with the same amount from a private state program called Partnership to Advance School Success (PASS). The money will be combined with manpower as other businesses offer mentors and tutors. A similar program has been credited with helping Mount Vernon Elementary improve its standardized test scores.

The PASS program is but one of Baker's projects. He has recruited 70 corporate sponsors for partnerships at 47 different schools, offered down-payment home loans for teachers, arranged 500 scholarships for underprivileged students who perform well in school, and built five top-flight school playgrounds that also serve their neighborhoods. He also has managed to find a way to be a school champion without being a meddler. Says county school superintendent Clayton Wilcox: "Everything he has done has been very much appreciated, but beyond all the good things he does, I'm grateful that he respects the fact that I am the superintendent."

Cities aren't defined merely by the bulk of their office towers or the glamor of their entertainment arenas. Their reputations and their quality of life are also linked to the caliber of their schools, and Baker is doing his part to make them shine.

[Last modified November 5, 2005, 01:16:03]

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