Say Yes to Education yesterday hosted a luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center that provided education experts, policymakers and Congressional staffers with an opportunity to learn the story of Say Yes’ growth from a program working with small groups of students to a catalyst for city-wide educational and economic change. Over the course of the event, speakers shared how Say Yes impacts urban school and economic improvement. Through every presentation, there was a common theme of substantive collaboration—we must work together to fully realize the potential of economically disadvantaged youth and their families.
We believe this collaboration must occur at all levels of government, community, and school. Say Yes President Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey said cooperation and focus on a common set of goals among all these different entities is essential to sustaining reform in Syracuse, where there have been two mayors, two superintendents, three governors, and multiple changes on the city council and county all within the past few years.
Say Yes’ nonacademic services were also highlighted during the event. Ann Rooney, deputy county executive for human resources in Onondaga County, NY, believes the expansive support services offered by Say Yes and its partners give folks a reason to stay in the city and for others to move there. As part of the effort, the county is working to provide a mental health clinic at every school in the Syracuse City School District by 2013. A holistic approach to collaborative governance ensures that all needs—academic, health, financial, or social/emotional—of every student are addressed.
Our keynote speaker, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY,) reflected on her experiences meeting with members of the Say Yes Syracuse partnership. Her time on the ground led her to believe that the “Say Yes model works” and that working together is vital in achieving sustainable reform.
“I can tell you there wasn’t one part of that community that isn’t 100 percent invested,” she said. Sen. Gillibrand also said she believes programs like Say Yes will help the United States outcompete other countries, and become more competitive in a global economy.
The success of Say Yes is dependent on community engagement, and this engagement should allow all stakeholders a place at the table, said Barbara Nevergold, a member at large of the Buffalo Public Schools Board of Education. In Buffalo, “Letters to the Superintendent” a community book published by Say Yes that allowed citizens to write about their hopes and dreams for the city’s schools new superintendent Pam Brown, gave people a voice who normally haven’t had one in the city’s education reform.
The participation of all stakeholders in the community leads to increased transparency, and “the fact that Say Yes has been implementing programs and services in the school that people can see has developed a level of trust in the city,” Nevergold shared.
Without a doubt, collaboration has the potential to change the attitudes and aspirations of an entire community. It will require patience to realize lasting change in these communities, but we know something good is already happening.
As Brian Nolan, Syracuse City School District’s executive director of high schools and career and technical education shared:
“[Say Yes] is changing the conversation from ‘I’m not sure I am going to college.’ to ‘Which college am I going to?’”