Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - In a detailed report released Wednesday by a state-appointed consultant who observed the systems, operations and structure of the Rochester City School District, the district is in "dire need of improvement."
Dr. Jaime Aquino was chosen by New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in August to observe and interview leaders and employees in the district and develop an action plan to help improve the schools. The goal is perhaps best summed up by the question Dr. Aquino encourages staff to ask themselves: "And how are the children in Rochester?”
“That lack of stability in leadership really has an impact on the work that happens in school," Dr. Aquino said of the district having five superintendents in the past decade. "There is also, in the district, lack of a laser-like focus on student achievement. There’s not a lot of attention being paid to teaching and learning, and a lack of accountability in the system in terms of monitoring what goes on in the school and in the progress the kids are doing.”
The full 60-page report, which is online, outlines 106 findings and 84 recommendations for both the district and the Board of Education to implement in a way that would give all the children a high-quality education. The process relied on meetings with community stakeholders, focus groups and a comprehensive review of the district.
“It’s clear from the report that, right now, we have a situation that I would classify as a crisis," said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. "This is unacceptable and we cannot continue, and we will not continue to allow this happen in our state and any of our districts.”
Commissioner Elia said the district needs a total "reset."
One of the brightest spots in the district is its pre-kindergarten program, which is praised as one of the best in the United States. Since its inception in 2001, RCSD has seen its pre-K program score an average 6.0 on a 7-point scale, compared to a United States average of approximately 4.3. "No other pre-K system has demonstrated such consistent excellence," Aquino said in the report.
However, this is vastly outweighed in the report by the staggering gaps in student services and academic performance. It is not a surprise to anyone who has encountered the district to know that RCSD has some of the lowest graduation rates and ELA and math test scores out of every district in New York state. Based on the interviews and observations by Dr. Aquino, the report suggests a common theme is that decisions are being made according to what is best for the adults.
"To make fundamental changes, the system must shift its entire focus from the interests of adults to a student-centered agenda," the report said.
The Board of Education is encouraged to define, understand, outline and consistently execute its role as a governing body within the district. Aquino suggests in the report that the board create a multi-year strategic plan to guide its goals.
Plans to overhaul the staff and parent relationships are also discussed in the report.
Dr. Aquino will now begin working with the Board of Education and district to develop an action plan to address those recommendations. That plan is expected to be submitted to Commissioner Elia by February 8, 2019. He will also submit updates to Commissioner Elia and send quarterly reports to the Department of Education.
Cyterria Cooper has a seven-year-old in the school district. She believes teachers and students do not have enough support.
“If we are able to reach out to the kids, and the kids are able to communicate with us, we can figure out what needs need to be addressed,” she said.
In a statement, the Rochester Board of Education said it, "would like to take time for thoughtful review and response." A statement regarding the report is slated to be issued within the next few days.
School Board President Van White sees the report as a reference for guidance.
“I absolutely think this is something that was important, critical,” he said. “I also think it’s absolutely important that the board take the time to review thiswe got to focus in on the kids.”
White says parents and students should remain optimistic about the future.
“We must, even as we read this report, focus on those bright spots where the district is doing better,” he added.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren released the following statement Wednesday night:
The distinguished educator's report is a sobering assessment of our city schools. As a community we all need to take some time to read it and fully digest its contents, recommendations and conclusions. I believe this document needs to be the basis of important community conversations on the state of our school district today, but even more importantly on where the district needs to go tomorrow and beyond. At this critical time of flux, with the Superintendent's departure, we need to seize on this moment to ensure our children are not left behind. We only get one chance to educate a child and we cannot afford to lose this opportunity to put our schools on a sustainable path of success.
The school board has until February to come up with a response and plan. Board members will be holding a news conference Thursday afternoon.