Jul 09, 2009 Herm Card Uncategorized
Saying “Yes” to Education Series
Part II of an interview with Syracuse School Superintendent Dan Lowengard:
“Perception is reality.” This is a concept that may work well for baseball umpires, but it is generally ineffective in dealing with decision making in most other areas.
Syracuse City Schools Superintendent Dan Lowengard is well aware the misconceptions involving the comparisons between urban and suburban education. The New York State Department of Education, in assessing the quality of education in New York, has essentially created a one-size-fits-all standard of comparison that actually does not fit all. Instead it fits some.
“There is no essential difference between the quality of education in Syracuse and the education in surrounding areas. They mirror each other throughout the school year, but over the summer things change. In the suburbs, things continue to flow, but in the city, for the most part, they don’t,” Lowengard said. “The Say Yes summer program will make a difference in that.”
According to this Superintendent, educational momentum is critical. Once the process begins, it needs to continue to move forward, to build on itself. Educational momentum provides the energy to continue learning outside the classroom as well as in, and urban demographics are not always encouraging to that flow.
“There are a lot of distractions, particularly when there is more free time than can be reasonably occupied with educational pursuits. Say Yes is enabling us to remove some of the stumbling blocks that interfere with the flow of education. The summer program will allow the flow to continue for the kids that participate.
“Some 800 SCSD students, age 7-10, will have the opportunity to maintain that educational momentum through the Say Yes Summer Camp program — (More on this next week). Our intent is to make school an 11-month process for kids but fun at the same time.
“We’ve worked out a financial model that works. This is the kind of thing that rates top money. This is money well spent. I’ve studied urban education and there is no urban district that has fixed this thing about kids who grow up in poverty. We are looking at the kind of structural things that will make a difference in a whole city,” he said.
The SCSD is approaching the issue as if everyone is a middle class parent, attempting to remove the barriers that inhibit the education process.
“The tutoring, the social work, the after school programs, the legal assistance, the medical assistance are all part of the program,” Lowengard said.
It’s not a giveaway
So — given the apparent solution to the problems of urban education, the question, naturally, is “What’s the catch?”
“The answer to that question is that ‘your kid has to do the work.’ The incentives are there, but kids have to qualify for them. This is no silver bullet, but I think we’ve come as close as anybody can to putting all the pieces in place.
“(Say Yes’s) Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey and (SU’s) Nancy Cantor have brought us resources that nobody else has. Our resources have to be devoted to this and our school board has been supportive from the beginning. It’s captured people’s imagination — it takes out all of the arguments against education. It’s an incentive to live in the city, and the county understands it’s good for Onondaga County. Joanie Mahoney has been great about it.
“It’s a drain on everybody’s resources if we don’t make kids successful on a large scale. What would a county without significant numbers in poverty look like? We’re trying to find out.
“The hard sell is that some people don’t believe it, but we are getting local folks to jump in. You’ll see over the next few months that we are beginning to build this in concrete so that it’ll withstand any change in the leaders, that it’s beyond who’s leading it — that it’s simply the way we should do it.”
Next week: Summer Camp, Say Yes style.