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Julián Castro calls upon school leaders to double their advocacy efforts

Decrying a “backward trend” in state capitals, Texas politician and San Antonio native Julián Castro wrapped up NSBA’s 2018 annual conference on Monday’s general session by calling upon school board members to redouble their advocacy efforts and capitalize on the opportunities that every community has to improve opportunities for young people.

Noting that teachers in multiple states have gone on strike over pay, Castro blamed state Legislatures for failing to support public education adequately. “Somehow, we’ve lost our commitment to public education that made us so strong in the first place,” he said to strong applause.

Our educational system depends heavily upon local leadership, said Castro, who served as mayor of San Antonio and as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama. While praising board members for their role, he said he wanted to challenge them to do more, because the stakes are so high.

“If I could wave my magic wand, each of you would spearhead an effort to get your superintendent in a room with the mayor, housing director, transit director, and community college president to figure out what you can do together to make a difference in your community,” Castro said.

As basic as that kind of meeting sounds, it seldom occurs, he said.

Castro comes from a political family. His identical twin brother, Joaquin Castro, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. His mother was a Chicana political activist who helped establish the Chicano political party, La Raza Unida.

He challenged board members to pursue excellence, equity and integrity.

Regarding excellence, he urged attendees to apply the lessons they learned at the conference back home. “Look for best interest of students, innovate and go for things that truly work, whether new or old,” he said.

Regarding equity, he complimented the NSBA board for taking action to focus the organization on that issue. “I understand that this is a challenge we’ve been dealing with for decades,” he said. But there is more to be done to ensure that people of all races, backgrounds, and abilities thrive in public education.

“Finally, my hope is you will always put integrity at the top of the agenda,” Castro said, “Over the years, I’ve read far too many stories about people who are in public office because they want to hire someone they know or get tickets to a ballgame. They are there for the wrong reasons. I hope you will be a voice and leader to ensure we have the strongest codes of ethics at every level (of government).”

He said board members can draw plenty of inspiration from Texas high school student Michael Brown, who was admitted to all 20 colleges he applied to, because he represents the potential of so many students of modest backgrounds.

Equally inspirational are teenagers from Parkland, Florida,  he said. “Hasn’t it been marvelous to see the activism of those Parkland students? They are young but they are wise.” He added: “We have young people like that in each of the schools that you make policy for.”

“Finally, remember to dream big for your communities,” he said. And when students achieve, remember: “Those moments -- they also belong to you.”

 

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