New York State Exposed Education: The future of U of R's takeover of East High School

Updated: 08/25/2014 5:14 PM
Created: 08/25/2014 11:20 AM WHEC.com
By: Berkeley Brean

In the next week, teachers at East High School are going to vote to accept the U of R taking over the high school. The university is trying to save one of the most historic schools in our area.

So when Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore announced this month that it was bailing on two Buffalo schools after running them for only one year, we wondered if it could happen with the U of R and East High School.

What Johns Hopkins was doing in Buffalo is what the U of R going to do here -- take over a struggling school, threatened with closure by the state and turn it around.

"We're hoping that that is not a scenario that will occur." This matters to Kyle Crandall. He's a teacher at East High -- the kind of person a lot of people blame for the school's bad attendance and graduation rates.

Berkeley Brean: "What makes you think that what happened in Buffalo is not going to happen here?"
Kyle Crandall: "The difference between that situation and what we see here is that Johns Hopkins is in a different state. They are many miles away. The University of Rochester is right here. They know where we are. We know where they are."

You know what they say -- location, location, location but it's more than that.

According to The Buffalo News, the Buffalo school district picked Johns Hopkins in August 2013 and the university took over right away. Hopkins said it wanted out one year later.

For East High, the U of R will have a full 14 months of planning before it starts. They signed a contract in July and they don't officially take over until the start of the school year in 2015 and there's more.

"Because there's something different that we have that they didn't have in Buffalo and still don't." Rochester Teacher Association President Adam Urbanski says the teachers and the U of R can forge their own unique contract. "Which means that other than salary benefits and due process, fairness, other than that, everything is on the table so that teachers at these high schools can negotiate their own contractual provisions with the principal at East High School."

Johns Hopkins didn't have that in Buffalo. We wanted to talk to the U of R and ask them -- do you promise not to do to East what Johns Hopkins did in Buffalo? After all they're not spending their money to do this. They're spending your money.

The U of R declined to go on camera but Professor/East High School Superintendent Designee Stephen Uebbing issued a statement to News10NBC saying, "Johns Hopkins University has expressed interest in discontinuing its contract with the Buffalo School District to turn around East and Lafayette High Schools. The University of Rochester is not in a position to comment on their decision to discontinue work in Buffalo. Our partnership with the Rochester School District's East High School is a unique, voluntary partnership built on many years of collaboration between the University and the Rochester City School District. While we fully expect to encounter challenges, we continue to believe this is important work and remain committed to moving forward with the development of the 2015-16 school year Educational Partnership Organization (EPO) plan for East High."

In The Buffalo News, Johns Hopkins University said it was overwhelmed and overburdened by running the Buffalo schools. "We're really not well-suited for the role" it said.

The contract between East High and the U of R is for five years. We asked several people -- is there anything in the deal that specifically prevents the university from leaving early. The answer is no. So it's a relationship that both sides have to work on.

Crandall said, "You almost define it like a marriage. It needs to be a covenant type of relationship that all sides are willing to work together through all issues and if everyone is willing to work together than hopefully this will succeed."

We also spoke with Rochester City School Board President Van White - he was the driving force behind the U of R. We asked him where he sees East High in five years.

Van White: “In five years I see kids, kids from Brighton and Pittsford and Riga applying to go to East High.
Brean: “Come on. “
White: “Dead serious. You asked me where I thought it would be in five years, I see the U of R -- they haven't promised this yet, it certainly isn't going to be there plan on December 31 -- but I see people from Brighton and Riga and Pittsford saying I want my kids in the U of R. They're talking about tuition discounts. They are the number one employer in this region. Who wouldn't want their kids to have a pathway from high school to college to employment?”

In response to that, the U of R School of Education said, "We are open to any discussions that present opportunities for East High grads."

The U of R doesn't officially take over until September 2015. The teacher vote will take place in the next week or so. Then the U of R has to present its plan by New Year's Eve.

If you're interested in helping with this relationship you can call 275-8270 or email EastHighEPO@Warner.Rochester.edu.

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