Say Yes to Education: Baltimore's Candidacy

January 11, 2016

Say Yes to Education is a national non-profit organization that utilizes a public/private partnership in a coherent collaborative process. The goal of this partnership is to help students and families achieve high school graduation, and then ensure that students succeed in affording, attaining and completing an educational experience beyond high school.

This goal reflects the belief that every child, regardless of economic circumstance or social standing, can achieve a post-secondary education and go on to be an actively contributing member of his or her community—if given the proper opportunities and support.

The opportunity for Baltimore is to become the fourth Say Yes community-wide chapter. We would do so by successfully meeting the standards of sustainable citywide commitment developed by Say Yes, based on more than 28 years of experience in overcoming the barriers specific to urban education. Current citywide chapters are in the upstate New York cities of Syracuse and Buffalo, and Guilford County (Greensboro-High Point), North Carolina.

A successful candidacy depends on Baltimore’s ability to demonstrate to Say Yes a citywide commitment to sustainable change and the demonstrated willingness of all partners to collaborate in the development of a coherent strategy to achieve and sustain a unified vision for the students and families of Baltimore.

Baltimore stands at the beginning of a long road on behalf of our children and families. After more than a year of discussions and meetings with the Say Yes National organization, Baltimore received a request for proposal (RFP) to be the fourth community in the Say Yes program, and in late fall, Baltimore submitted its completed proposal.

The RFP asks that cities demonstrate a broad-based commitment to, and readiness for, successfully implementing a citywide turnaround strategy, which has multiple steps including a citywide review of academic and non-academic services. The extensive process required for a successful Say Yes candidacy is reflective of the complexity, strategic planning, and commitment of every segment of the community necessary to effect a sustainable citywide turnaround.

Offering the promise of access to scholarships for all public high school graduates, the Say Yes model provides financial assistance for college and other post-secondary programs, as well as the academic, health, social, and legal supports students need to graduate from high school and succeed in further learning. The strategy also coordinates the efforts of a broad range of government agencies, the school system, and community organizations to provide comprehensive services and revamp academic programs to better serve students, families, and taxpayers. It’s a comprehensive solution that helps improve educational attainment, reduce social services costs, and build a stronger tax base by giving people reason to stay in cities – and incentive for others to move into them.

Over the past 28 years, Say Yes has learned significant lessons about local policies and practices that work to make citywide change possible.

  • Sustainable improvements cannot be imposed. They must build on and strengthen local capacity.
  • Addressing social, emotional, and health needs of children through in-school delivery – in cooperation with public agencies and service providers – is critical.
  • Extended-day/year and summer programs for all students provide important opportunities to remove academic, social, emotional, and health barriers.
  • Scholarships help students and their families believe they can go to college, but the quality of instruction and the learning program is the crucial factor in determining whether they will be successful.
  • Collaboration, transparency, and communication among all major partners must be continuous, inclusive, and central to decision-making.
  • Sustainability of the program requires a commitment to fiscal transparency, committed leadership, and accountability to strong community-wide governance.
  • Change takes time. The problems affecting schools and low-income neighborhoods won’t immediately disappear after early interventions are introduced.
  • Citywide change requires sophisticated use of data, assessment, and planning. Curriculum, instruction, and supports for students must be part of an integrated data-driven strategy. The campaign to bring Say Yes to Baltimore is led by the City of Baltimore, Baltimore City Public Schools, and the Baltimore Community Foundation, along with many other stakeholders. 
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