Gene I. Maeroff's Reforming a School System, Reviving a City

The Promise of Say Yes to Education in Syracuse

For Anyone Interested in Education and Public Affairs

Reforming a School System, Reviving a City: The Promise of Say Yes to Education in Syracuse

Reforming a School System, Reviving a City

Gene I. Maeroff followed the work of Say Yes from 2009 to 2013 in order to write Reforming a School System, Reviving a City: The Promise of Say Yes to Education in Syracuse. The Say Yes to Education Foundation worked closely with the school district, city officials, and a host of others to try to improve outcomes for young people in the city’s public schools.

The most visible part of the effort were the college tuition scholarships that Say Yes made available to high school graduates. But the scholarships would be of limited value without proper preparation for college. Thus, Say Yes assisted the school district in a multitude of ways to lift itself out of mediocrity. Read More ...

An Interview with Gene I. Maeroff

Chapter Excerpts

This bold attempt to resuscitate a troubled city by reforming its entire school system of almost 20,000 students is a test that holds promise for small- to medium-size cities throughout the country. - Chapter 1

The story of what amounts to a demonstration model in gritty Syracuse may serve as a blueprint for school renewal in old factory towns throughout the United States. Though the tale is still unfolding and the results have yet to be determined, the lessons learned so far may instruct those who want to pursue similar goals. Say Yes in Syracuse provides a test of whether school improvement on a large scale can be wed to economic development. - Chapter 2

Lawmakers could more readily justify extra funds for a pursuit in economic development than for education, which already consumed large portions of the city and state budgets. - Chapter 3


“Amid urban school reform failures by both government agencies and big-ticket donors since the 1990s, comes Gene Maeroff's report on the Say Yes foundation's work in Syracuse where it guarantees free college tuition to every high school graduate. In cooperation with city officials, business leaders, and college presidents, the Say Yes foundation seeks no less than improving schools and student lives but goes further in wanting to revitalize the economic, social, and cultural life of this mid-size city. While it is a work-in-progress after five years and much remains to be done in Syracuse, Say Yes work does offer a model of school and city cooperation that promises an educational and urban makeover. Maeroff documents in clear, crisp language the errors in earlier reform models, bumps in Syracuse's road, and lessons anchored in Say Yes's ambitious efforts. Reformers need to heed the errors, bumps, and lessons in this ambitious, far reaching venture.”

Larry Cuban
Professor Emeritus of Education
Stanford University

“Say Yes to Education is one of the most innovative and comprehensive school reform efforts in America today. In this important book Gene Maeroff offers a clear and compelling analysis of this project and situates his study in the larger context of the national debate over the direction of school reform. Readers will not only learn why this work is important to the future of Syracuse, they will also see that the lessons to be learned from this project have profound implications for education throughout the United States. Maeroff brings great insight and clarity to this project. Educators, policymakers and anyone concerned about the future of American education will find much to learn in this book.

Pedro Noguera
New York University

“I wanted to come to Syracuse because you’re doing something fantastic here, with programs like Say Yes.”

President Barack Obama, Aug. 22, 2013 in a speech in Syracuse.