Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mayoral Innovation, (Part Three)


John Hickenlooper
Applying Business Know-How
to Early Childhood Education

As we continue our examination of city hall leadership, this week's focus is on a mayor who has adopted a project not normally under his jurisdiction and who has driven it to completion based on his understanding of its importance to his city.

We are speaking of Mayor John Hickenlooper of Denver, who recently launched a Pre-K Stipend Program aimed not only at improving Denver's education system but also at benefiting the city as a whole. In 2003, Hickenlooper campaigned with the rallying cry: "Because all kids deserve an equal start in life." Once elected, he delivered on the promise by applying his leadership talents and political capital to improving childhood education.

"Education is absolutely the key to our future," explains Hickenlooper. "Ensuring that Denver parents have access to quality affordable preschool for their children is a critical part of improving our public schools, increasing economic opportunity, and reducing burdens on our public safety and criminal justice systems."

Despite supporting research on preschool's importance in closing income gaps and its potential to solve other urban challenges, two ballot initiatives introduced by Hickenlooper's mayoral predecessors did not pass. Voters did not view such initiatives as falling under the purview of city responsibilities. Hickenlooper decided to take an alternative approach, which involved the business community in the very first steps of the program's development. An entrepreneur himself with experience creating a successful restaurant chain, Hickenlooper understood that these leaders could create the strongest business case for improving childhood education that would in turn garner Denver citizen approval.

From a list of more than 300 names, Hickenlooper recruited 40 civic and business leaders who would champion improving early childhood education and who represented diverse industries and backgrounds. Many of the team members had strong relationships with the Denver community, including the Chamber of Commerce and the state legislature. The Mayor's Leadership Team first convened in January 2004 at a summit on early childhood education, and continued to meet for monthly breakfast sessions for over two years. From the start, Hickenlooper established clear objectives for his team:

• Groundwork: Develop a strong economic rationale for advancing early childhood education programs in Denver and delineate the range of potential benefits to the city.

• Scope: Unlike the failed programs of the past, whose goals were too broad, create a narrowly defined program with pre-established goals.

• Timing: This was to be a marathon, not a speed race. Members were to provide meticulous evaluation of possible programs and answer to any holes in the plan.