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Julián Castro is a Champion for Urban Public Education

  • “I am a huge fan of our nation’s public schools because I am a product of them,” Julián Castro, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, boasted at the Council of the Great City Schools' 64th Annual Fall Conference, held virtually.

    Castro also is the former mayor of San Antonio and a former Democratic candidate for president. A graduate of the San Antonio Independent School District, he credits education, and particularly urban education, for helping him achieve his American dream.

    At the fall conference, he joined San Antonio Schools Superintendent Pedro Martinez in a conversation about the present and future of urban public schools. Julián Castro

    Asked what he believes are the biggest challenges facing urban public schools today, Castro listed the lack of resources, the need to focus on equity, and the need to bridge the digital divide, deficiencies that -- for lower-income students in many black and brown communities -- decrease opportunities to succeed academically.

    “Whether the digital divide or the need to invest fully in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) so students of every ability are fully able to learn, it’s clear we need to focus now and in the years to come on investing in equity,” said Castro. “So no matter who a child is, they are able to learn to their greatest potential.” 

    A parent of two students in the San Antonio school system, he has seen firsthand the tremendous amount of schoolwork educators have done to make this year possible, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “We are deeply appreciative of all of those efforts of teachers, administrators and staff, so that children are able to continue to learn even in the midst of a pandemic we haven’t seen the likes of in a century,” said Castro.

    As school districts around the nation reopen for in-person learning, Castro acknowledged that many students may have experienced learning loss. He strongly believes that everyone, from educators to policymakers, needs to commit to catching those students who have fallen behind academically.

    “My fear is that the longer this goes on, we have this generation with a hole in it -- education-wise -- of six months, nine months or a year,” said Castro. “It’s not good for those students, families, public schools, and, most importantly, it’s not good for our country. We have to address that gap.”

    Immigration and Social Justice

    Martinez noted that Castro has always been passionate about the immigrant population and asked what advice he would give President-elect Joe Biden around immigration.

    Castro said the nation needs to go in a different direction from President Trump, “who put cruelty in front of everything else and used immigrants as a political pinata to drum up support from his base.”

    The former mayor of San Antonio believes that Biden is committed to enacting reforms that will keep dreamers in the country, as well as give their families opportunities to work and create stable lives by creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

    “The United States has a history of laws but also immigrants, and we need to find a way to come together in Congress, with Joe Biden’s leadership, to remake our immigration system for a 21st-century America,” said Castro.  Julián Castro

    “How can urban public schools contribute to the racial healing that is needed so much in our nation?” Martinez asked.

    The former Democratic presidential candidate noted that there is nobody who better knows the wonderful diversity of the country and the contributions of people of different backgrounds than the educators who are in the classrooms everyday with diverse groups of students.

    Castro stressed that it is important to ensure that the values of fairness, equality and respect for everybody are taught, and also to hold those educators accountable who don’t live up to those standards.

    He pointed out that in Texas, Mexican American studies now is taught. Students learn the contributions people of different backgrounds have made to the nation. “That kind of education fosters better understanding, respect, and gears young people more toward embracing equality and helping us to heal,” said Castro.