JAMESTOWN, N.C. – In a “historic day,” Guilford County on Thursday officially became the next community partner of the pioneering national scholarship and student-support program Say Yes to Education, which promises to make possible a college scholarship to every student in the Guilford County Schools (GCS) system – an opportunity advocates say will, in turn, enrich the future of the entire county.
The resulting new local affiliate of the national organization, Say Yes to Education Guilford, expects to begin providing last-dollar tuition scholarships to students graduating in the Class of 2016 next spring.
“This is a historic day for the children of our community and for Guilford County Schools,” said Maurice O. “Mo” Green, superintendent. “Entire generations of young people and their families will find their lives forever changed because our community and the Say Yes National Foundation believe in them and are willing to help them make their dreams of a college education possible.”
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To great fanfare, area students, parents, teachers, education and government leaders and joined together Thursday morning for the official announcement at Ragsdale High School in Jamestown, N.C. The event was the culmination of a tremendous grassroots undertaking begun two years ago to attract Say Yes to Guilford County over more than two dozen medium-sized cities and counties vying for the opportunity nationwide. Each of the communities that were under consideration serves a majority of students from low-income and other backgrounds historically underrepresented on the nation’s college and university campuses.
Say Yes’ selection of Guilford County doubles the number of students eligible for Say Yes scholarships and support services to nearly 140,000.
“As someone who could not have attended college without a scholarship, I know first-hand how transformative that commitment can be in the life of a young person,’’ said George Weiss, the New York money manager who founded the national nonprofit Say Yes to Education, Inc. “I am especially gratified today to see the way Guilford County has embraced the promise of Say Yes.”
The Guilford County Board of Commissioners, Guilford County Board of Education and city councils in Greensboro and High Point pledged their support for partnering with Say Yes through memoranda of understanding or resolutions.
Local commitment has been demonstrated through substantial financial support, as well. Officials also announced that fundraising efforts had significantly surpassed a minimum expectation set by national Say Yes in order for Guilford to be considered – $28 million – and had, in fact, hit more than $32.5 million. This is nearly half the $70-million endowment ultimately needed to fully fund local scholarships annually.
“We applaud the local partners in Greensboro, High Point and across Guilford County for their commitment to guide students along the pathway to and through college and other post-secondary opportunities,’’ said Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, president of Say Yes. “We look forward to partnering with them as they seek to help children throughout the county to realize their gifts and talents – which will not only have a positive impact on them and their families, but on the community as a whole.”
“As in our other partner communities,’’ she added, “we believe Guilford County can serve as a demonstration model to the nation on how to leverage private dollars with existing public funds to make a college scholarship available to every student, and to bulldoze the predictable barriers that prevent students and their families from seizing that opportunity.”
The national Say Yes organization heralded its alignment with Guilford County in a full-page advertisement in today’s edition of The New York Times. In addition, coinciding with Thursday’s announcement, a new website – SayYesGuilford.org – launched, as did new pages on Facebook and Twitter.
Next steps to be taken include the hiring of local Say Yes to Education Guilford staff, including an executive director, as well as identifying office space for the local operation.
This school year, students will begin the application process, and beginning this spring (2016), Say Yes to Education Guilford will provide all eligible GCS graduates a last-dollar tuition scholarship for postsecondary education. Say Yes scholarships are supported by the monies generated from a local endowment fund. It is estimated that $70 million must ultimately be raised for an endowment to support GCS students. The national Say Yes organization will invest an additional $15 million to help coordinate support services in the Guilford County community and build a plan for long-term sustainability.
With more than 72,000 students, GCS is larger than comparable school systems in
Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. It ranks among the 50 largest in the nation. Its students are globally diverse, representing more than 79 countries and speaking nearly 100 languages. The student poverty rate in the public school district, which has a majority of students from minority backgrounds, exceeds 60 percent.
Guilford County becomes Say Yes’ third community chapter, joining the upstate New York cities of Buffalo, which began implementing the Say Yes community strategy in 2012, and Syracuse, which began a pilot program in 2008.
Supporters say a Guilford partnership with Say Yes will result in far-ranging, positive effects on the community, including a more educated labor force, incentives for businesses to start or relocate into the area, a stronger tax base, increased property values and more.
In early 2014, four leading community organizations – Guilford Education Alliance, The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, High Point Community Foundation and Guilford County Schools – launched a collaborative exploration of a potential partnership with Say Yes to Education.
Say Yes to Education informed Guilford County in January that it was the leading candidate to be the nation’s next Say Yes community.
Say Yes to Education, Inc. was founded in 1987 by Weiss, who promised 112 sixth graders at a Philadelphia elementary school that he would pay for their college education if they graduated high school. Say Yes, which has its headquarters in Manhattan, later opened smaller chapters (typically serving 100 to 300 public school students) in Cambridge, Mass.; Hartford, Conn., and Harlem in New York City, as well as two more in Philadelphia.
Over the last decade, Say Yes’ mission has evolved to encompass entire communities. Say Yes has worked with local partners to implement its community-wide strategy in the upstate New York cities of Syracuse (since 2008) and Buffalo (2012).
What makes the Say Yes program unique is that it is not simply about providing last-dollar tuition scholarships. In addition, Say Yes helps provide those students and their families with the academic, social-emotional and other supports to ensure that they can seize that opportunity. In other Say Yes communities, supports include tutoring, after-school programs, summer programs, medical care, counseling and legal help.
The national Say Yes organization will now invest $15 million in seed funding for such supports in Guilford County. However, Guilford County will decide what local supports are needed here, not the Say Yes organization.
Say Yes also will invest in seed and expansion funding, capacity and technology in Guilford County. The national organization will provide significant staff resources to put together long-term financial plans so that the work Guilford engages in is sustainable. Its $15 million will be invested here over the next three to five years. After that, Say Yes will provide modest funding to cover the cost of a small coordinating staff on an ongoing basis.
Say Yes to Education already has invested more than $1 million in Guilford to conduct feasibility studies, share its vision and to create some basic structure for moving forward. The Say Yes team visited area schools and met with diverse stakeholders from across the community to explore what it would mean to bring Say Yes here. This included parents, students, teachers, nonprofits, business leaders, faith leaders, college and university administrators, and local government officials.
For more information, visit the new website SayYesGuilford.org and follow along through newly launched pages on Facebook and Twitter.
What area people are saying about Say Yes to Education’s selection of Guilford County
“This is a historic day for the children of our community and for Guilford County Schools. Entire generations of young people and their families will find their lives forever changed because our community and the Say Yes National Foundation believe in them and are willing to help them make their dreams of a college education possible.”
- Maurice O. “Mo” Green, superintendent, Guilford County Schools
“I believe we can have no higher calling than to build a child-centered community. This work in partnership with Say Yes helps us do that. I am deeply grateful for the investment in Guilford County Schools’ students. I know our students will not disappoint.”
- Alan Duncan, chair Guilford County Board of Education
“I think we have all the resources, all the brain power, man power, woman power and children power it takes to really hit the ball out of the park with this.”
- Frank McCain, vice president, Strategic Initiatives, United Way of Greater Greensboro
“I am excited to see the public and private partnership that has driven the Say Yes initiative. I applaud the good work that’s been done and look forward to seeing the impact it will have on our students and our community.”
- Bill Bencini, Mayor of High Point
“Being a Say Yes community is a terrific achievement and we could not be more thrilled about what it means for Greensboro residents with children in Guilford County Schools. The City of Greensboro is supportive of the Say Yes effort and excited about the fact that it creates opportunities to provide post secondary education to our students. We know a strong workforce creates economic growth and we look forward to seeing how Say Yes impacts our city and region for many years to come.”
- Nancy Vaughan, Mayor of Greensboro
“Bringing the community together in this kind of collaborative public-private partnership to benefit our children is extremely positive.”
- Hank Henning, chair, Guilford County Board of Commissioners
“Say Yes is a phenomenal opportunity for Guilford County and our students that ensures we’re going to have a great future.”
- Rosalind Fuse-Hall, president, Bennett College
“It really does take a village, and this Say Yes initiative certainly does feel like a village coming together for the good of every child.”
- Michelle Felt – Guilford County Schools parent and volunteer and PTA president, The Academy at Lincoln
“After a successful implementation of Say Yes, I think the sky is the limit, I really do.”
- The Rev. Amos Quick, vice chair, Guilford County Board of Education
“This is a long-term thing, it isn’t about now or this generation. It is about the next generation. Say Yes says we are leaving a legacy there for you.”
- Angel Guerrero, parent and business owner
“The partnership between Say Yes and Guilford County is incredibly exciting. With Say Yes we can provide scholarships so that all public school students can pursue a post-high school degree or certification. Equally important is how we will connect students with the individual support they need to succeed. The bonus for us all is that by helping to create a strong work force this provides a significant boost to economic development in Guilford County.”
- Chuck Cornelio, chairman, Guilford Education Alliance, and former board member of North Carolina A&T University
“I have never been so proud of the High Point community and the leadership of the High Point Community Foundation for their support, their commitment, and vision. We are saying loudly and clearly that education is a priority in this community, and that every child deserves a chance to reach their God-given potential.”
- Paul Lessard, president, High Point Community Foundation
“The best way to predict the future is to create it. Say Yes is creating the future for so many young people.”
- Mildred Poole, parent and Say Yes to Education Guilford donor
“This is a bold initiative that strongly illustrates the confidence our leaders have in our community’s future. It’s also inspiring to see the community come together to make this happen. To be able to support so many children and families this way – as well as serve the needs of our current and future employers – is extraordinary. This partnership says quite clearly that Guilford County values education and is investing in it. Today is one of the great moments in Guilford County’s history.”
- Walker Sanders, president, The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro
“We are so excited for the transformation Say Yes will bring not only to our school system, but to our community, as well. This is a huge win for all of Guilford County, and we’re so proud and thrilled to be part of it.”
- Mindy Oakley, executive director of The Edward M. Armfield, Sr. Foundation, a leading Say Yes to Education Guilford donor
“Say Yes is a game changer for this community.”
- Nathan Duggins, vice chair, Guilford Education Alliance
“Our community will look back on this as a pivotal moment when every graduate from Guilford County Schools gained the opportunity to pursue their dreams of higher education and achieve success.”
- Elizabeth Phillips, executive director, Phillips Foundation, a leading Say Yes to Education Guilford donor
“Say Yes has given Guilford County a once-in-a-generation gift that will provide opportunities for students that their families in the past could have only dreamed of.”
- David Miller, High Point business leader
About Say Yes to Education Guilford
Say Yes to Education Guilford was formally announced on Sept. 17, 2015. Guilford County vied with more than two dozen mid-sized cities and counties throughout the United States to become the next community partner of Say Yes to Education, Inc., a national nonprofit based in New York. Say Yes to Education Guilford seeks to help Guilford County Schools system students get the support they need to graduate from high school and be ready for post-secondary success. This support starts with the youngest learners and continues until students graduate from college or post-secondary programs. In addition, the program provides last-dollar tuition scholarships to Guilford County Schools graduates so they can afford to complete college or a postsecondary certificate.
As the program takes shape, Say Yes to Education Guilford will bring to a common table every major stakeholder in Guilford County with an interest in education, including representatives from throughout the Guilford County Schools, parents, students, government officials, labor and business leaders, philanthropists and faith-based organizations.
For more information, visit www.sayyesguilford.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
About Say Yes to Education (national)
Say Yes to Education was founded in 1987 by money manager George Weiss, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who boldly promised 112 sixth graders at a Philadelphia public school that he would pay to send them to college if they graduated high school. In the years since, Say Yes has evolved into a national nonprofit that helps organize and galvanize entire communities around the goals of every public school student graduating high school prepared for a college or other postsecondary education – and with access to scholarships to make that education affordable. The organization works with nearly 140,000 public school students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. Most are in communitywide chapters in the upstate New York cities of Syracuse (since 2008) and Buffalo (2012). More than 5,000 students have gone off to college with the support of Say Yes, most in the last three years. The organization announced the addition of its newest chapter, in Guilford County, North Carolina, which includes the cities of Greensboro and High Point, on Sept. 17, 2015. The organization, which expects to add its fourth community chapter in 2016, has smaller chapters in Harlem and Philadelphia. http://www.sayyestoeducation.org
About Guilford County Schools
Guilford County Schools, the third largest school district in North Carolina, serves nearly 72,200 K-12 students at 127 schools. With approximately 10,000 employees, the district’s mission is to graduate responsible citizens who are prepared to succeed in higher education or the career of their choice. Guilford County Schools is a national leader in providing specialized schools and instructional programs designed to meet the educational needs of a culturally diverse citizenship. For more information, visit the district’s website at www.gcsnc.com.