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Activist: better communities = better schools

Stacy Hanna
The Battle Creek Enquirer

(Originally published by the Battle Creek Enquirer on May 25, 2005, and used with permission. The opinions expressed by the Battle Creek Enquirer, visiting Expert in Resident, or the host organization do not necessarily represent those of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.)

Public education activist Wendy Puriefoy said Battle Creek-area residents need look no further than W.K. Kellogg for direction as they try to improve their public schools.

“I am humbled by his magnificent and generous spirit and that, thank God, he had the foresight to focus on children,” she said.

Puriefoy, a nationally recognized expert on school reform, threw down a challenge to the 300 people who listened to her speak Tuesday night at the McCamly Plaza Hotel.

She told the audience it was their job to raise the bar, increasing standards in public schools.

“Improving education is a public activity and a public responsibility,” Puriefoy said. “Better communities lead to better public education – it’s a proven fact.”

Puriefoy is the president of Public Education Network, based in Washington, D.C. Since it was founded in 1991, her organization has grown into national network of local education funds reaching 11.5 million children in 34 states, 1,600 school districts and 16,000 schools nationwide.

She spoke as the guest of Battle Creek Unlimited, the economic development agency of the city of Battle Creek. Her two days of talks with leaders in the business and education community is part of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s 75th anniversary Expert in Residence speaker series.

Puriefoy said the deterioration of public education is the “most serious crisis our country has ever faced,” and every aspect of the current system must be scrutinized and improved.

“We can start to repair the problem here at home, by knowing the statistics of our local school children,” she said. “No one seems to know how our children are doing in school, but we all seem to know what it costs.”

She suggested that bringing public education issues to the polls was a key to increasing public awareness.

“Eighty percent of the population in most communities don’t have children in public schools,” Puriefoy said. “We need to make the voters care about their public schools and aware of the issues that threaten their survival.”

Al Miller, board member at Harper Creek Public Schools, met with Puriefoy and several other representatives of local public education Tuesday afternoon.

The group discussed the problems currently facing public education, he said.

“Her ideas were good,” Miller said. “I think if everybody looks forward, her concepts could work here. I think it would take some work by the entire community, but her suggestions could be helpful.”

Puriefoy also met with representatives from several local foundations, possibly regarding the formation of a public education fund, according to Battle Creek Unlimited spokeswoman Cheryl Beard.

For more information about the Public Education Network and forming a public education fund, go to www.publiceducation.org

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