DeStefano: Where we’ve been and where we can go

As we look forward to Tuesday’s election, I want to highlight some of the work the community has accomplished together since 1994, the work I believe we still have left to do in New Haven and to explain why I believe Yale students have both a vital interest in New Haven and a role to play in the work of building community.

Relationships between Yale and Yale students and the rest of the city were not always as collaborative as they are today. Much of the gains of the last 16 years — from the public financing of our municipal elections to the Elm City ID card to economic development — have come from successful partnerships between Yale and the city. As we introduce an ambitious education reform initiative in New Haven and as Yale continues to expand with two new residential colleges, the relationship between Yale and New Haven will remain an important impetus for change.

In my tenure as Mayor, New Haven has made great strides in public safety, economic development and the environment. We have cut crime in half since 1994 and crime is down 10 percent in the first six months of this year. We have welcomed 130 new businesses to downtown in the last four years, and we are seeing new construction like the mixed-use development at 360 State St. We have taken a proactive approach to the foreclosure crisis — before national attention caught on — and worked with partners across the city including the Yale Law School Clinic to contact every homeowner with a sub-prime mortgage, provide assistance and purchase properties before they become blighted. We have created an Office of Sustainability to coordinate environmental efforts, switched to hybrid city vehicles, and, this year, we will welcome a new single-stream recycling program.

These improvements in New Haven have come not simply because people voted on Election Day. Real change comes from individuals remaining engaged, working hard and working together to make improvements in their community. I am proud to be a leader who has encouraged real change through competence and persistence, and I look forward to the opportunity to continue to do so.

The next real change in New Haven will come and must come in our school system. I am committed to, and my opponents are against, real education reform for our students. As you may already be aware, New Haven has garnered national attention from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten for our efforts, because of our inclusive approach. Rather than alienate teachers in this reform process, we have chosen to include the teacher’s union. As a result, teachers ratified a historic agreement that allows for reform in the contract and transforms the role that teachers will play in our public schools.

Our school change initiative, built on the foundation of a $1.5 billion school construction project, will aim to close the achievement gap, lower the dropout rate and prepare every graduate for college and competitiveness in the job market. This change will seek to grade schools and promote accountability, bring a differentiated, “portfolio” approach to managing schools and recruiting and retaining the best teachers and principals. We will be making a promise that every child should have the opportunity to go to college, regardless of financial circumstances.

Education reform, like our response to the foreclosure crisis and the Elm City ID card, is an example of how New Haven takes the lead on national issues, always pushing for progressive solutions, never being happy with the status quo. As Mayor, I consistently pursue ways to make positive change in New Haven, don’t stop when it gets tough and understand what it takes to bring real results.

Our successes have been bolstered by student involvement. Education reform is no exception. Already, students have been reaching out in the New Haven community on the phones to educate the public about the new teacher contract and education reform.

I ask for your vote on Nov. 3, but the work does not stop there. In your years here, I encourage you to volunteer, advocate and lobby for causes that are important to you. In my administration and in the city as a whole, there is always a place for those who wish to work hard and move New Haven forward.

John Destefano, Jr. is the mayor of New Haven.

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