Whether the Rochester City School District, the city school board and restive elements of the community can to come to a meeting of the minds sufficient to allay the concerns of state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is far from clear.
Elia is giving the school board six weeks to come up with a better plan but will not start the clock ticking on that deadline until she issues a more detailed critique, Elia wrote in a letter to board president Van White and RCSD interim superintendent Dan Lowengard.
“Although the (RCSD) plan includes a reaction to each recommendation in Dr. Aquino’s report, it does not include an overarching, coherent vision for district improvement nor a delineation of the priorities for the District’s path forward,” Elia declared in the Mar. 8 missive.
While the RCSD’s 110-page point-by-point response to Aquino’s 88-point critique was extensive, it did not lay out a sufficiently specific action plan and was too short on data, Elia said.
A prepared statement fired off by the RCSD declares Lowengard and White eager to cure the defects Elia points to.
“The board looks forward to working in partnership with (Elia) as well as with parents, staff, and with other community stakeholders in order implement solutions to the areas of concern she has identified. I remain confident that by working in this manner we can meet those challenges and produce the outcomes that are expected and demanded in this community,” White stated.
But will White’s and Lowengard’s eagerness suffice? How easy it will be to pull the school board together to craft the detailed response Elia is asking for, on what could be short timeline, remains an open question.
Last month, board members Judith Davis and Natalie Sheppard voted not to endorse the district’s response to Aquino’s November report. In an interview this month, White said he believed board member Beatriz Lebron, who was not present, for that vote would have approved the plan.
Not so, LeBron told me, however, offering objections to the RCSD response that in some ways anticipated Elia’s critique. The district’s response was too short on specifics, LeBron said.
“We didn’t meet often enough,” she said.
A third school board member, Elizabeth Hallmark, earlier said that she even though she voted to endorse the RCSD response to the Aquino report, she despaired of the school board coming together sufficiently to adequately address the woes that moved Elia to appoint Aquino.
Also anticipating Elia’s concerns was the local organization ROC the Future, which last week announced that it is spearheading formation of local coalition focused on school improvement whose members would include a broad spectrum spanning the Rochester community.
The RCSD response to Aquino is less than what is needed, said Jackie Campbell, executive director of ROC the Future, at the time. The coalition promises to work with the RCSD but is not impressed with the district’s efforts so far.
“Historically, there is no evidence that the RCSD’s governance has enabled—or can enable—the development and implementation of meaningful change strategies,” ROC the Future wrote in a letter imploring Elia to work with the entire community to address the RCSD’s ills.
Speaking at last week’s event, ROC the Future chair Ajamu Kitwana highlighted challenges the RCSD faces in crafting a unified position to respond to Aquino’s critique and Elia’s concerns, noting that as many as five school board members could be replaced by this year’s end, while the current board has yet to hire a permanent superintendent,
Four school board members’—Hallmark, LeBron, Davis and Willa Powell—terms expire in December. Hallmark does not plan to run. Whether the others will run and whether they would be reelected is not clear now. Though White’s term runs through 2021, he has expressed interest in running for a spot on the City Court bench.
In a previous interview White said he was confident that the board would name a permanent superintendent by July, when the RCSD and the city begin a new fiscal year.
Still, how that individual would figure into the mix is, for now, something of a black box.