Solving the RCSD crisis requires collective change

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Whenever a student in our city falls behind in math or reading comprehension, when they leave school before graduation or walk across the stage and receive their diploma but are not prepared for work or college, it is not a failure of that individual student.

Leonard Brock

It is also not a failure of any one politician, teacher, parent or program. It is a failure that our entire community shares, and we as a community must come together behind the efforts of ROC the Future to change that.

Despite the hard work and best intentions of local leaders going back decades, the Rochester City School District still struggles with student performance and graduation rates. This tends to bring out the cynicism of our community, but we will accomplish nothing by simply laying blame. No cynic or skeptic has ever changed the world, and no amount of finger-pointing has ever navigated us out of a deeply rooted and complex problem.

But we do know this: There will be no quick fix for the Rochester City School District. There is no cavalry coming to save us. We will make positive changes and improve the lives of our students by first recognizing that what we face is an urgent crisis and that the status quo is unacceptable. This situation demands that a “new standard” be set, a vision of education for all of our children that puts them at the center of all that we do.

This crisis presents us with a unique opportunity to act quickly and together, showing collective courage to bring collective change. There are many parts of our school district and approaches that are working very well and producing positive, measurable outcomes. Any changes in RCSD administration and governance must not jeopardize those parts that are working well, but instead institutionalize the strategies and supports that improve outcomes for our children.

ROC the Future plays a uniquely important role in this journey, organizing community consensus across sectors. Its members gather support from the grassroots and move it to the tree tops to bring about the evidence-based and community-informed changes that our children need most. ROC the Future must work together with the state Department of Education to create this change and ensure that it is permanent.  

The Rochester City School District distinguished educator’s report is a call to action for our community, and ROC the Future is prepared to answer that call. We as a community must be prepared to stand with ROC the Future, our business leaders and educators, civic organizations, faith groups, parents, teachers, and all residents working as one to address these issues.

This approach to improving our school district is very similar to how we as a community are addressing poverty through the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, taking on immediate issues while remaining focused on creating long-term systemic changes. The urgent call to action from the distinguished educator’s report presents immediate steps to address the practices, policies and adult behaviors to improve the quality of education students are receiving right now. That must be paired with a long-term strategy that starts from the bottom up to build a world-class education system for the children in our city. 

The journey will not be easy, but it is one we must take together for the betterment of all our city’s children. So, whenever a student feels the rush of pride from reading a book for the first time, from passing a test or walking across the stage and holding their diploma, ready for whatever comes ahead, we will celebrate those accomplishments together as a community.

Leonard Brock is executive director of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative.

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