Education Day

by Patrick O’Toole, LGS Class of 2015 design team member


Our City Our Schools

The 2015 LGS EducationDay began with the presentation of “The Statistics Lottery” – a video depicting the impact of children being born into poverty.

Statistic to remember:

  • Impoverished Children are 2x more likely to experience developmental delays and 80% more likely to drop out of school.Throughout the day, we asked each speaker to identify the greatest thing that one person can do to make a difference in the educational system.  You will see their answers below.


“Mentoring students is incredibly important.  Having a long term relationship with students can make a big difference.” Paula Shannon, Chief Academic Officer for the Syracuse City Schools

Paula Shannon started our day off with an introduction to the Syracuse City School District and its goals to put students on a path to success.

The ability for students to learn to read by the 3rd grade is one of the greatest long-term indicators we have for a students’ success.”

HOW CAN YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE:  Business and industry support to make Career and Technical Education (CTE) a success.  Students are encouraged to take part in internships, which YOU help facilitate.

“Become a teacher or advocate for those around you to become a teacher.”Jeremy Grant-Skinner, Executive Director of Talent Management for SCSD.

Jeremy Grant-Skinner continued the conversation by focusing on the importance of good teachers.  He also handled many questions about the Common Core testing and the movement to opt-out.

“Education is a means to eradicate poverty.”

Teacher’s Conference: The Life of a Syracuse City School District Teacher

“Learn about the schools, understand what our issues are and help us advocate to make them better. Parents are the voices that Albany is going to hear, not the unions.” –Kevin Ahern, Former Teacher and President of the Syracuse Teacher’s Association.

Kevin Ahern kicked off the second half of the morning by bringing the focus back to the students.

“The best thing about teaching is the relationship with kids,” said Ahern.

He discussed Peer Assistance and Review (PAR), explaining how it gives teachers some control over their own profession.  Ahern says in the first five years, the attrition rate for new teachers is 50% in city schools.  One reason is because of the unique challenges urban districts present, and new teachers aren’t always ready to meet those demands.

“Our schools are critical to the viability of our city moving forward.  It’s critical that our schools are vibrant and healthy, and that’s becoming a real challenge to do that.”

HOW CAN YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE: Ahern’s call to action was for us to demand that NYS helps the schools, rather than try to “punish” them all the time.  He says parents and community members need to write to their local legislative leaders and local Board of Regent representative – Tony Bottar.  Email him at [email protected]

Head of the Class – Superintendent of the Syracuse City School District

Superintendent of the Syracuse City School Sharon Contreras wasted no time opening up the forum to the class. She fielded questions right out of the gate, addressing a wide variety of topics.

“We have to change the conversation.  Poverty does matter, but it’s not the determining factor.  What we do, what we say to children matters,” Contreras said.

Other excerpts from the discussion:

  • On the SCSD’s Biggest Challenges: “Parenting, employment of parents, board policies that allow for segregation, and the effectiveness of education.”
  • On Poverty:  “It’s not acceptable to blame poor performance on the kids being poor.”

Contreras said, “I think we are undermining ourselves by believing that we cannot achieve with students because they are so poor. It’s a belief that if students are poor, then we cannot teach them.”

  • On Charter Schools Contreras said: “I see charter schools as a way for poor parents to exercise choice, I do not support the funding model for Charter Schools because it takes away from public school classrooms.”
  • On Mental Health: “You have to contact the state legislature because they have moved beds out of schools.”
  • On Teachers: “Teachers have lost their belief that they are powerful. They need to help students overcome their outside issues, not sympathize with them.”
  • On the Attitude CNY has Toward the SCSD:  “We have to change the conversation.  Poverty does matter, but it’s not the determining factor.  What we do, what we say to children matters.”
  • On Leadership: “I believe you have to work with people to resolve issues, but the larger the group, the more issues you have to manage. I believe in autonomy, but because of issues with execution (in the SCSD), I’m involved more than anyone at my level should be.I think leadership should be collaborative, team player, but not everyone understands how to execute.”

Finally when asked how LGSers could make a difference, Contreras said, “Whatever your passion is, I guarantee you we can use that in the school district.”

Field Trip: Syracuse Latin Elementary School (Grades K-1)

Our groups split up into two groups, visiting Syracuse Latin and Van Duyn Elementary School.  Syracuse Latin is a K-1 school, which will expand each year as it phases out Hughes Elementary School.  Students have to “test in” to be admitted, and receive bussing from anywhere in the city unless they live within a mile and a half of the school.

Van Duyn Elementary is led by Principal Eva Williams.  It is one of 7 elementary schools that are part of the iZone, or Innovation system implemented by the SCSD in response to the state designation ofit being a “priority schools.” (For having scored in the bottom 5% on state testing.) Implementation includes a reading literacy program, Envision Math Program, and one hour of additional instructional time per day.

Extra Credit: Above and Beyond – Meghan Fletcher-Root

After lunch, National Board Certified and English teacher at Corcoran High School Meghan Fletcher-Root took the podium, bringing her energy and enthusiasm from the classroom into our learning environment.  She calls it “a real scary time to be a teacher.”  But says good teachers stay because “good teachers don’t give up when they’re faced with an obstacle.”

Meghan referenced a couple of obstacles her own students faced, explaining that as a teacher you have to find solutions for thousands of students, each with their own sets of problems.

FINDING SOLUTIONS:  Meghan calls each school its own community. “Each school has its own culture that comes with its unique issues, requiring different solutions.”

She says,”You wouldn’t buy size 10 shoes for every kid in your family, so why would you buy into one solution for the entire school system.”

“The single most important thing anyone person can do is just participate.  You have to be involved to affect change.  If you don’t participate in the process you don’t get to complain,” she said.

Assembly: Time to Make a Difference

We ended our day with a panel moderated by Dan Lowengard, Former SCSD Superintendent; with panelists Pat Leone, Executive Director for Contact Community Services; Daris Williams, 100 Black Men Board Member; Shaquilla Johnson, Say Yes to Education Scholar; Pat Driscoll, Say Yes to Education Director.

  • Contact Community Services works with 6,000-7,000 students in grades K-12 offering a wide array of services before and after school.
  • 100 Black Men works in Fowler, Nottingham and SAS where they mentor students and provide other services throughout the year.
  • Say Yes to Education is a national organization that was just launched in Syracuse in 2007.  Syracuse was the first city-wide program with the goal to get students to college.  It includes 120-130 colleges and universities, providing the “last dollar” for qualifying students in the SCSD.

Here is what panelists said when asked how LGSers can make a difference:

Pat Leone:  “Advocate. Let others know about all the things you learned today about the Syracuse City School District. Give up your time.”

Daris Williams:  “Change your perspective of the city school district.  With the minority population, comes a certain perspective about the schools, and many times that is not the truth.”

Shaquilla Johnson: “Offer your services – Volunteer your time because it’s really needed.”

Pat Driscoll: “If you have expertise in a certain area, lend it.  We need help for families who may not understand the entire financial process.”

Dan Lowengard: “View your community bigger than the block you live on or the school that you go to.”

In Conclusion

The education team wrapped up our day by sharing with the group a valuable lesson that we learned first-hand about the role of politics in education.  We also shared the conclusion of “The Statistics Lottery.”  The video, created by calls on us to commit to FOUR things:

  • Make sure kids are healthy and ready for school
  • Ensure they grow up in a word-enriched environment
  • Enrich their summers with educational activities
  • Make sure they attend school every single day