Parents Fight Low Graduation Rates

Photo: Syracuse N.Y. mayor considers government control of city?s public schools

One evening last month, after helping one of her daughters with her English homework, Syracuse community activist Tanika Jones-Cole said she was thinking about the future, and the prospects of sending her 14-year-old daughter, Jadasiah Cole, to a high school with a graduation rate hovering around 50 percent.

"There's a huge number of kids that enter the ninth grade, and there's less than half of them that actually graduate the 12th grade, and I'm scared to death that one of those kids could be one of my own," Jones-Cole said.

Jones-Cole, a mother of two, has heard a lot of talk about education reform in Syracuse, including a proposal for the mayor to take over the school district.

As the lead community organizer for Citizen Action of New York, a grass-roots organization that focuses on issues related to education, Jones-Cole says she isn't sure about mayoral control, but will advocate for anything that will make the schools better.

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The city's four-year graduation rate of 45 percent, measured from 2005 to 2009, is well below the state average of 72 percent.

In the first week of her term in January, Mayor Stephanie Miner announced that she was seriously considering mayoral control as one of a number of options to improve the city's public schools. Since the announcement, Miner has not specified what mayoral control would mean for teachers, students and parents.

Urban mayors across the country are also weighing the possibility of doing away with their elected school boards and taking control of their school districts.

During the last year, mayors in Detroit, Milwaukee and Rochester have expressed interest in taking control over public school systems in their areas. New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago are among the districts with some form of mayoral control.

In a statement to, Miner said she is looking for ways to improve the school district's academic performance and efficiency.

"The City is exploring a number of options to improve our schools and bring more accountability and better results. Mayoral control is just one option and one that has been successful in improving student achievement in cities such as New York City," Miner said. "The bottom line is what we have been doing has not been working, so we need to be creative and not take any options off the table that could provide for greater accountability, better efficiency and increased student achievement."

The announcement has led to discussion about whether mayoral control is the right move for Syracuse schools.

In an editorial in The Post-Standard, former Syracuse Mayor Tom Young said he favored holding the mayor directly accountable for school performance. Syracuse has three schools on the state's list of 57 "persistently lowest achieving" schools, and Young says the mayor should play a more prominent role in managing the school district's resources and tax dollars.

'The Best Option for Our Children'

"I believe the message is clear -- the best model is one where taxpayers clearly know where the buck stops and accountability rests," Young wrote of mayoral control in the editorial. "This is the best option for our children, our neighborhoods and our city's future."

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