School leaders offer long list of promises to improve Rochester CSD

February 11, 2019 10:19 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- The Rochester School Board's response to a scathing analysis of its challenges by a state consultant got hopeful, if cautious, reviews from one regional school leader.

"I think they put the right words on the page. But now they have to get a team that can make it happen," cautioned Sherry Johnson, executive director of the Monroe County School Boards Association.

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The school board approved the document in a four to two vote Wednesday, to reply to last year's evaluation by Jaime Aquino, named distinguished educator by the New York State Education Department. 

The distinguished educator's writeup declared the district was in dire need of a variety of reforms, most notably in governance by a school board he accused of micromanagement, a concern Johnson called key.

"Governance starts at the top," she said. "And the tone starts at the top and collaboration, and how you model the way that you want the rest of the district to run."

The school board's report took up numerous action items demanded in Aquino's report, some of which it promised to address, some of which it said were being addressed by initiatives already in progress.

The proposal was delivered to the education department and, on Monday, a written statement from department's representative Emily DeSantis said, "We are carefully reviewing the report and will provide the Rochester School Board and district with feedback in the coming weeks to ensure the children of Rochester receive the high-quality education they deserve."

In response to Aquino's call for the district to develop a multi-year strategic plan, the district's reply declared it had already come up with its own strategic plan originally developed in 2014 and updated in 2018. 

On the issue of governance, the board's plan resolved to commence in February, a plan to "develop written guidelines that define the board's common understanding of governance as opposed to management," and to train board members about the appropriate boundaries of its mission versus that of a school superintendent.

The board also said it agreed to a tighter focus on what it teaches, to adopt a "guaranteed and viable curriculum," to make sure its schools and students have the materials and textbooks they need, and to improve communications with parents.

"This report really is much more student-focused," said Johnson.

The school system also agreed with the distinguished educator's urge to define and adopt "culturally responsive teaching," to better handle students who might learn differently and have "other ways of knowing" compared to their classmates, and also, study how other school districts put together instructional leadership teams.

In the realm of special education, the board noted that it already had a special education professional development and strategic action plan in place but did agree to establish a position of special education chief.

The board also declared its intent to tackle concerns about "school climate" which could affect interactions with parents and absenteeism.

"School climate trumps anything else that you can put in place," Johnson cautioned.  "If school climate is not where you want it to be, then, no matter what kind of process and procedures and things you put in, they are going to be trumped."

Johnson also flagged one persistent challenge not in any documentation, consistent churn in the district's senior leadership including the school board itself.

The district found itself seeking a new superintendent after the retirement of Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams.

"I am hopeful that this is the board that can do the turnaround of this but you have to have 'steady-as-you-go,'" she warned. 
"You cannot be going through superintendents. And, really, when you change the board quickly, that's a problem as well."


Charles Molineaux

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