From the beginning of his tenure in 1993, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has made education a priority — and the results are beginning to show. New Haven students have shown significant improvement in standardized test scores, including a 138 percent increase in eighth graders’ scores.

But Neil Malhotra ’02 still thinks New Haven schools are failing local students.

He said New Haven public schools need to pay more attention to students and to provide more resources for extracurricular activities.

Although only 33 of Ward 1’s 4,500 student residents cast votes in the 1999 mayoral primary, suggesting Yalies are somewhat blase about local politics, education is proving to be an engaging issue in this year’s mayoral race. Like Malhotra, many Yale students believe New Haven should be doing more for its students, but they also recognize the progress that has already been made.

Andrew Hung ’02 is active in the science demonstration group DEMOS, which aims to educate elementary school students. He said New Haven’s public schools should focus their efforts on improving math and science, which he says are often neglected at the expense of other subjects.

“Science is overlooked in elementary education because teachers tend to be trained in humanities,” Hung said.

Lauren Gold ’02 tutors Hillhouse High School student-athletes with BRANCH. She said schools tend to overemphasize athletics.

But Gold added that she has noticed impressive building renovations in her two years at Hillhouse, which Robert Smuts ’01, field organizer for the DeStefano’s re-election campaign, said was part of DeStefano’s $1.1 billion rebuilding and revamping program now underway.

Alan Schoenfeld ’02 said one of the major strengths of education in New Haven is its corps of dedicated teachers.

“I’ve only worked with a small number of teachers, but the ones I’ve worked with are paragons,” said Schoenfeld, who tutors high school juniors with Project SAT-Teacher Bound.

Whether New Haven schools actually need fixing, “any mayoral election will have education as a central issue,” Schoenfeld added.

Not coincidentally, education is an issue on which the candidates are focusing.

Smuts said Yale students want to see New Haven’s public schools succeed because of ideological commitments to education as well as personal connections they have with the schools through tutoring and mentoring programs.

One such program is Reach Out Speak Out, coordinated by Malhotra, which teaches public speaking and debate skills to high school students in New Haven.

Malhotra said when he debated for his private high school, his team practiced five days a week under the direction of five experienced adults. By contrast, the New Haven public school teams he visits through Reach Out Speak Out practice one time each week, coached by a single Yale volunteer.

“Extracurricular activities are really important to secondary and elementary schools to get kids off the street and make them well-rounded,” Malhotra said, adding that the city should invest more in education.