From “State of the City: Mayor Jim Schmitt calls for education focus” — Turning a spotlight on education, Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt on Tuesday called for improving student reading scores, graduating more people from college and luring a Medical College of Wisconsin campus expansion here.

In his annual State of the City address, Schmitt said the community must focus on education as a key to both a strong economy and a high quality of life.

“It’s our duty to make sure our youth are college-, career- and community-ready,” he told an audience of about 400 people in the Meyer Theatre in downtown Green Bay.

The crowd applauded loudly as Schmitt announced his commitment to making Green Bay a better-educated place.

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College President Jeff Rafn, who was in attendance, said he was pleased to hear the mayor reinforce what residents normally hear only from educators — that a college education is critical to success in the job market.

Rafn said he hoped the message would reach people with greater impact coming from a political leader who is outside the education field.

“I’m really pleased that he’s willing to step up to the plate and put some energy behind this,” Rafn said.

Schmitt vowed to meet regularly with higher education leaders in the region to explore ways of boosting college enrollment.

He also said the city is working hard with local hospitals and others to entice the Medical College of Wisconsin to build a new satellite campus in Green Bay. The Milwaukee-based school is considering several potential sites across the state for expansion.

Schmitt cited the medical school development as another way to make higher education available to all young people in Green Bay.

“We need to create a culture of college here,” he said. “When you see a student, don’t ask if they are going to college, but where they are going to college.”

Also sitting in the audience for the mayor’s address was Kathryn Kuhn, a vice president of the Medical College of Wisconsin and a member of the school’s administrative team that will choose the site for the satellite campus.

Kuhn, a Green Bay native, said she was happy to hear Schmitt emphasize the importance of education. Green Bay is competing aggressively for the planned medical school expansion, she added, citing the mayor’s leadership.

“Green Bay has opened the doors,” she said. “The mayor has just done an outstanding job.”

Schmitt told the crowd at the Meyer Theatre that he expects the medical school to announce its intentions in the coming months.

It would come on the heels of other major real estate development plans highlighted in the State of the City address, including new downtown corporate headquarters for Schreiber Foods and Associated Bank, the new Children’s Museum of Green Bay, the Watermark building and a federal veterans health care clinic.

Schmitt calculated that development under way in the city totals $130 million in new investment, which he said is approaching a record high with eight months left in the year.

“Economic development in 2012 will be our best year yet,” he said.

Citing a need for education improvements at other levels, Schmitt said the city would boost on-the-job training of city workers and would increase opportunities for college students to obtain summer internships in every department at City Hall. He urged private businesses to step up their use of college interns, too.

For elementary schools, Schmitt called on the community to set a goal of 100 percent proficiency in reading test scores for all fourth-graders in the Green Bay School District. The district’s proficiency rate among fourth-graders currently is about 73 percent.

Green Bay schools Superintendent Michelle Langenfeld was unable to attend, but she issued a statement voicing support for the mayor’s effort. She said it was consistent with the school district’s own objectives for boosting student test scores in reading.

“With a shared community vision focused on ensuring success for every student,” Langenfeld said, “we can create policy as well as community and family partnerships needed to achieve this ambitious but attainable goal.”

Schmitt said fourth-grade test scores are pivotal in planning a community’s future needs for college classrooms, dropout rates and even the number of prison beds.

Urging greater support for early childhood-development programs and continued promotion of such resources as public libraries, the mayor said a comprehensive citywide push could succeed in raising Green Bay student reading scores.

“This will take a collaborative effort,” he said. “Government, parents, nonprofits, the private sector — a whole community should be involved.”

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