Say Yes Buffalo received a formal community kick-off Wednesday, with speakers offering hopes of a brighter future for the city’s public school children through scholarships for all eligible public and charter school graduates.
Public officials, foundation representatives, university administrators and parent leaders were among the nearly 200 people who gathered at First Niagara Center’s Harbour Club for the inaugural meeting of the Say Yes Buffalo Community Leadership Council, which will set policies and monitor outcomes.
“It is a new day in the City of Buffalo, and it is a new day in Buffalo Public Schools, whether we refer to it as a renaissance or rinascimento [Italian for “renaissance”], or rebirth or game-changer. Things are about to change in Buffalo Public Schools,” School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown said.
Consultants hired by Say Yes Buffalo also publicly released two reports critical of the school district and teachers union.
The reports describe a corrosive culture under former Superintendent James A. Williams and suggest ways to achieve better results and save money.
Brown, whose tenure began June 13, said she welcomed the consultants’ work and would incorporate some of the findings into a strategic plan she aims to begin later this month and complete by early February.
“I do embrace what was shared today. Many of the points are things that have been evident to me during the first few months of my tenure here,” Brown said.
Mayor Byron W. Brown, a co-chairman of the Say Yes Leadership Council, celebrated the scholarship plan as the only one in the country that provides comprehensive support services and promotes school district reform.
“Some children in this community don’t have the resources of two-parent households. They don’t have the resources of parents who are doing well economically. We can fill that void that many children experience in this community, and Say Yes is the vehicle we can all come together around to have that impact,” Brown said.
The leadership council announced that $17 million has been raised for the scholarship fund so far, with a short-term goal of $30 million.
“I describe the support we’re getting as miles wide and miles deep. I’ve never seen anything like this in Buffalo,” said Alphonso O’Neill-White, another council co-chairman and the president of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York.
“We want the words ‘Say Yes’ to be on the lips of every single person in this region,” he added.
Absent were Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, who also didn’t attend a Monday meeting he was invited to with the Say Yes Buffalo consultants, and Crystal Boling-Barton, president of the administrator’s union.
Both were invited to participate on Say Yes Buffalo’s Community Leadership Council.
“I won’t say I’m disappointed,” Pamela Brown said. “Hopefully, there are very good reasons why they’re not here. I want to make sure they know I really value being able to work with them and that I think it is important that we work together.”