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NYSED commissioner slams RCSD turnaround plan

April 25, 2019 07:24 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- The plan to turn around the Rochester City School District lacks coherency, specificity and is unrealistic in terms of timetables and achievability—that's according to the New York State Commissioner of Education.  

On Thursday, MaryEllen Elia demanded the Rochester City School Board go back to the drawing board and come up with a better, more comprehensive plan to fix more than 80 issues and problems outlined in the special educator's report.

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"It's not certain areas, it's not just one part of the district or another, it really is a systemic failure for children… the plan [to fix it] lacks specificity and appears unrealistic in terms of either timelines or the district's capacity to implement the actions effectively," Elia said.

Knowing the intense pressure the school board is facing, News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke asked Elia whether the board should currently be engaged in the effort to hire a new superintendent as well.  

Here's an excerpt of the conversation:

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke: "Do you trust the school board to choose the next superintendent of a district so desperately in need of strong leadership?"

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia: "Well, let me clarify specifically, the role of the school board is very clear that they are the ones that select a leader and superintendent for their district.  It's not my place to intervene but it is my place however and I always talk to school board members across the state about how serious that selection is and will be for the work that's done in their district."

Lewke: "We've had four superintendents in five years. We talk about how critically important this role is yet this board continues to select people who ultimately don't stay and ultimately don't help push the district forward."

Elia: "As you know, that has been identified in Dr. Aquino's report as one of the major difficulties for the district to move forward and so I appreciate you underscoring that because it is true and we all know that."

At this stage, Elia says she can't stop the school board from moving forward with the superintendent selection process but she's paying close attention. If the improvement plan for the entire district isn't revised to the commissioner's liking, she says she won't hesitate to go to the legislature and governor to intervene.  

On Thursday afternoon, Van White, president of the Rochester School Board, defended the board's response to Dr. Aquino's report. Many of the issues the commissioner has with it, he says, are related to the amount of detail that was able to be provided in the short time period the board had to respond but bigger plans are in the works.  

White also says that when he first joined the board, the four-year graduation rate was 39 percent, it now stands at 59 percent so while there's still a lot of work to be done, progress is being made.

"I disagree with anybody that things are the same. They're not better, nobody is celebrating, nobody is saying mission accomplished but we're clearly on a trajectory that I think eventually will build the kind of confidence in the commissioner and in the community which is most important to the Board of Education," he tells News10NBC.  

The district purchased a new software program that it's hoping will start to organize the work that needs to be done, who is doing it and whether it's working to help the children.

While they get used to using it, interim Superintendent Dan Lowengard says, they need support not ridicule.

"I think we need partners more than people criticizing and having no solutions," he says.

Credits

Jennifer Lewke

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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