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NY Sen. Malcolm Smith announces $1 million state funding for Say Yes to Education initiative and Blodgett Middle School Renovation Project

September 08, 2009

Jemeli Tanui
(315) 443-5172

New York State Senate President Pro Tempore Malcolm A. Smith will visit Syracuse Wednesday to announce a $1 million grant from New York State in support of the Say Yes to Education initiative.

Sen. Smith will make the announcement at a 2:45 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9, press conference at Blodgett Middle School, 312 Oswego St. in Syracuse’s Near Westside neighborhood.

The $1 million grant has been targeted specifically to go toward the first phase of the proposed multi-million dollar renovation for the Blodgett Middle School to start this fall if approved by the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) Board of Education, the Syracuse Mayor’s Office and the Syracuse Common Council. The Board of Education will vote on a resolution to renovate the Blodgett School on Wednesday, Sept. 9.

“Say Yes to Education is, I believe, one of the best educational opportunity programs in the country, and it has helped breathe new life into important facilities like the Blodgett School. This school and the local community are full of heart—hundreds of people lobbied to save this building when it was at risk of closing,” says Smith. “I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to work with the administrators and educators, Say Yes, Syracuse University officials and local leaders to secure this funding. With it, we can launch Phase I of an extensive renovation project that will give our kids the education they need to succeed.”

Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, president of the national Say Yes to Education program, says she is very excited to receive state support for the Syracuse program. “Syracuse is a community that has committed to doing business differently in terms of ensuring the success of their children’s education, and a key part of success is a good learning environment,” says Schmitt-Carey. “We are so grateful to Sen. Malcolm Smith for this encouraging contribution. It’s powerful to have the state see this is important. It’s really going to make a huge difference and give momentum to our program. All the pieces that will enable kids to succeed are coming together.”

“We are delighted with this contribution from Senate President Malcolm Smith,” says SCSD Superintendent Dan Lowengard. “Hopefully this funding will accelerate the architectural phase of the Blodgett School renovation. This contribution will not only help revitalize the school but the entire neighborhood as well.”

Speakers and guests at the announcement event will include Smith, state Sen. David Valesky; SU Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor; the SCSD’s Lowengard; students; and county, city and neighborhood dignitaries and residents.

“I think this is a very exciting announcement because it allows the possibility of moving forward with the school district plans for renovating the school without placing a burden on taxpayers,” says Marilyn Higgins, president of the Near Westside Initiative Inc. and SU vice president for community engagement and economic development.

About Syracuse Say Yes to Education

Syracuse University, Say Yes to Education Inc. (Say Yes) and the Syracuse City School District have joined forces to develop and launch the unprecedented Syracuse Say Yes to Education Program. For more than 20 years, Say Yes has worked to demonstrate that the persistent and well-documented “achievement gap” between urban and suburban kids is not an accurate measure of students’ abilities or potential but is an “opportunity” or “access” gap. Say Yes has successfully bridged this gap at the level of a single school by implementing comprehensive and integrated support systems that address four major types of obstacles to post-secondary access for low-income students: academic, social-emotional, health and financial. Now the Syracuse Say Yes to Education program is bringing this success to an entire school district—the first program of this scale in the nation.

At the heart of this pioneering program are two core components: 1) a K-12 comprehensive support program aligned with the key barriers to college access, and 2) the promise of free tuition, fees and books for all participants. Any SCSD student is eligible to participate in the Say Yes program as long as he/she completes high school and meets college entrance requirements. A partnership of 23 visionary private colleges and universities in the Northeast has committed its support to Syracuse Say Yes with the offer of free college tuition. Graduating high school students may attend these institutions, along with any SUNY or CUNY college or university.

About Blodgett School

Blodgett School is in the heart of the most economically depressed neighborhood in Syracuse and the ninth poorest census tract in the United States. Built in 1915 by noted architect James Randall, the building has fallen into a desperate state of disrepair. Despite its current condition, Blodgett is the most monumental and memorable feature in the neighborhood landscape, serving as a touchstone for individuals, families and organizations that call the Near Westside home. It is also an environmental and economic asset that needs to be renovated to provide a neighborhood-based, quality educational experience for the neediest students in Syracuse.

Originally targeted for renovation under Syracuse’s Joint School Construction Board Program, Blodgett was dropped from the list of Phase One projects due to competing priorities. Fearing that this decision would result in the school’s closure, more than 600 residents, concerned parents and community leaders lobbied to save the school. This resulted in a financial analysis conducted by the Joint School Construction Board that clearly recommended renovation over new construction as the most financially viable option for Blodgett. The Syracuse City School District has now developed a realistic, phased approach for renovating the facility, and funds are needed to carry it out.

Blodgett is in the center of a massive neighborhood revitalization project, the Near Westside Initiative, which is currently underway in Syracuse. Tens of millions of dollars in private and public investment are being applied to renovate abandoned warehouses, restore turn of the century homes, construct new green homes, implement job training programs, create green infrastructure, and build a strong neighborhood association. The renovation of the Blodgett school is critical to the success if this enterprise and will result in new jobs and the preservation and reclamation of the fabric of a former industrial neighborhood immediately adjacent to downtown Syracuse.

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