The College hosted a community conversation on Hispanic education issues with Juan Sepúlveda, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, on September 1.
Sepúlveda, who was appointed to the post in May by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, is gathering input from Hispanic business and community leaders, faith-based organizations, parents, students, faculty and others on how his office can improve federal efforts to promote quality education for Hispanic Americans.
About 130 representatives from Hispanic communities throughout the region participated in the lively discussion with Sepúlveda and his team. U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, an ardent supporter of education, also spoke to the audience at the start of the morning session.
The information gleaned from the community conversations will serve as the foundation for a new presidential executive order that will govern the White House Initiative that originally was created in 1990 and renewed by the executive order of each new president. The first of the conversations was held in early July. By the time the last meeting wraps up in early October, Sepúlveda will have visited 35 cities in 18 states and Puerto Rico.
Sepúlveda said the Obama administration wants to improve the White House initiative and take advantage of best-practices already in place in Hispanic communities around the country. “Our initiative is going to be different than previous administrations in the sense that we are not setting the agenda,” Sepúlveda said. “We want to connect first with the people who are working on these issues. We know that every single issue has been solved by someone in some way. We want to make sure that those ideas are shared with others.”
President Curtis said the College was pleased to partner with the White House Initiative in hosting the only session to be held in Pennsylvania. Hispanics make up 5 percent of the state’s total population and 11 percent of Philadelphia’s nearly 1.5 million residents.
“While the Hispanic population in Pennsylvania is not as large as that of California, Florida or New York, it is growing, and therefore there is a need to address how best to educate Hispanic Americans in the city, region and state,” President Curtis said.
President Curtis cited an August 2009 analysis in the almanac issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education that shows that nearly 22 percent of all Hispanic Americans have no more than an eighth grade education. “In today’s worldwide economy, where business is often done across continents at the click of a computer mouse, studies show a college education has become a prerequisite to gainful employment,” President Curtis said. “Clearly, if education is the key to success, many in the Hispanic community are being locked out.”
Sepúlveda kicked off the discussion by outlining President Obama’s four priorities for education—a uniform set of U.S. education standards, attracting and retaining quality teachers, turning around the 5,000 worst U.S. schools and using data to track academic progress. He then turned the microphone over to six volunteers from the audience and asked them to identify major education concerns in the Hispanic community. The concerns that were identified were later discussed in small, roundtable conversations among audience members.
Sepúlveda grew up in a working class Mexican-American neighborhood in Topeka, Kansas, and has been involved in community organizing and politics since the age of 16, when he was the first high school student hired to work for the Kansas Secretary of State.
Prior to assuming his current position, Sepúlveda was president of The Common Enterprise (TCE), which he founded in 1995 as an outgrowth of a national Rockefeller Foundation initiative. The organization helps build stronger communities across America by making nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, governments, businesses and communities more effective as they tackle critical social issues nationwide.