Saying Yes to Opportunity

In the years that have passed since the announcement was made, “students who are enrolled in the Syracuse City School District may be eligible for free college tuition,” there was a sigh and then questions raised by those who felt this was another program to stem white flight to the suburbs. Other naysayers claimed Say Yes to Education is an attempt to lure families back into the city by offering an incentive crucial to a family’s dream of a better future for their children and the opportunity to attend and graduate from college.

The most frightening claim is that children can’t achieve higher standards. The purpose of Say Yes to Education is to address many conditions that affect the educational achievement of all stundents, not just the higher achievers.

According to Say Yes to Education Syracuse Operations Director Pat Driscoll, “We’ve certainly heard those concerns that Say Yes isn’t for my kid, it’s for some other kid. We’ve also heard, ‘How can you give Say Yes supports to kids who don’t deserve it?’ What does that mean? If you look at the form of supports that say yes provides whether it’s in the form of social and emotional supports, academic supports, support at actually getting to college, it impacts any student and their family from grades K through 12. It’s a full spectrum of students that are impacted.”

Some Syracuse families who’ve invested in the parochial school system are beginning to see opportunity, the prospect of college tuition covered simply by graduating from the Syracuse City School District. These parents (they don’t want to be identified by name) have made a choice by believing in the program and its potential to radically improve our overall school district. Many are returning their children to the Syracuse City School District after years attending parochial schools.

Driscoll points out that Say Yes is about providing wrap around services. He explains, “The term wrap around services actually opens a lot of doors for families, all families in the city of Syracuse progress is being made. ” The following is a Progress Report issued by Say Yes for Education Syracuse:

The Operations Director is especially passionate in discussing collaborative efforts of several entities. “When you’re talking about social and emotional supports with the help of Onondaga County and the state of N.Y,. we’ve rolled out close to 25 mental health clinics in the school buildings, so if there’s a young person that is experiencing some challenges in the classroom they can talk with a clinician in the building to find out what’s really going on.”

Along with the availability of mental health services there are referrals through Huntington Family Center which has put Family Support Specialists throughout the district. Driscoll continues, “Huntington provides services not only in the building, but when they leave the school building into their home as well. Because of our partnership with Onondaga County and Huntington Family Center, Family Support served 342 families and 1,038 children. Since inception only three children have been placed in foster care or out of home placement. That’s astounding because of this partnership with Onondaga County and Huntington they made that happen. It speaks to the collaborative model of Say Yes being able to align resources so that students and families get the services that they need.”

To learn more about Say Yes Syracuse and find out how you can be part of the solution, go to

SCSD District-wide Improvement through Say Yes Programs & Services

Currently 5,100 SCSD students are enrolled in Say Yes extended day programs and approximately 2,200 students will attend Say Yes extended year programs this summer.

The number of students leaving after 9th grade decreased by 44 percent from 2009 to 2010.

31 percent more 9th grade students are passing the algebra Regents exam than in 2009.

Reduced the ratio of students to social workers from 500:1 to 200:1 in all elementary and K-8 schools.

Family support served 342 families and 1,038 children. Since inception, only three children have been placed in foster care or out-of-home placement.

As part of the Promise Zone commitment, SCSD, Say Yes, the Onondaga County Department of Mental Health, and community-based organizations are working toward their collective goal of having one mental health clinic in every school in the district by 2013.

Seven Say Yes legal clinics are now open in all quadrants of SCSD and are staffed by five local law firms to provide free legal advice, free service, and referrals to families.

Of the 315 students who did not have health insurance in 2009, 91 percent have now completed an application through Say Yes in partnership with the Salvation Army.

Comprehensive overhaul of curriculum, instruction, and professional development underway with core support from Say Yes Provided support for the 100 day Rapid Results project and funded audits of various SCSD departments in order to produce a more effective operation.