Expert's report details problems, demands reforms at Rochester schools

November 14, 2018 08:48 PM

The Rochester City School District faced intense criticism and a mandate to reform in a scathing new assessment from a state observer who evaluated the district.

"If RCSD's schools are going to transform into places where all students thrive, the district must undertake a total reset of the way in which the district operates," declared education expert Jaime Aquino in his report, "A Review of the Rochester City School District." 


Aquino was named by the New York State Education Department in July to evaluate Rochester schools and deliver his findings and recommendations.

On Wednesday, Aquino, along with State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Chancellor of the state Board of Regents Betty Rosa, went over his findings with members of the Rochester Board of Education, community activists and the press. 

The report included 106 findings about the school district and 84 recommendations.

"The report points to a situation that's very dysfunctional," Rosa exclaimed. "This is unacceptable. And we cannot continue. We will not continue to allow this to happen."

The report did note the district's progress in improving students' test scores. It also mentioned improved graduation rates and the successes of its nationally recognized pre-K program.

But much of it highlighted shortcomings.

Aquino's assessment said those shortcomings left the district ill-equipped to deal with chronically low proficiency rates and one of the worst graduation rates in the state. 

It cited a lack of systems to coordinate strategies or curricula between different schools or between the schools and the district's central office.

"That lack of systems in place, in those departments, leads to chaos," Aquino said Wednesday. "There was not a clear vision as to where the district wants to go."

"This chaos," the report added, "is compounded by the district's frequent operational crises, sometimes expressed as 'crisis du jour'…and leads to the system's distraction from what matters the most: the work teachers do in the classrooms with their students."

One major impediment to reform in the district, Aquino asserted, was a relentless churn in leadership, from principals and school board members to the superintendent's position. 

The report further flags what it calls a tendency by the school board to do 'management' instead of 'governance' and a focus on administrative minutiae over the education of children.

"Things seem to be focused much more on adults, rather than on the students that we need to serve in our district and support to success," said Elia.

"It hurts. It hurts," sighed Willa Powell, vice president of the school system's Board of Education. "It is a little shocking and uncomfortable to see it all piled together in one document. But there were no surprises there."

Powell hopes the report will help unite a fractious school board that is sometimes more inclined to act based on demands from constituents. 

"We have a lot of work to do as a board to work together as a board instead of as a seven individuals," she said.

Board President Van White declined to comment on the report, saying he wanted to first closely examine all 60 pages of it.

Elia said the school board would have until Feb. 8 to develop a response and action plan.

"The image in the mirror shows us that we haven't been doing the job we really thought we were doing," said Powell.


Charles Molineaux

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