Rochester City School District gets new chief

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Beginning in July, the Rochester City School District is to be led by Terry Dade.

Terry Dade

Dade, who currently serves as an assistant superintendent of the Fairfax County, Va., schools, is expected to join July 1, at the start of city’s and school district’s fiscal year. School commissioners plan for Dade to formally ink a contract at a future board meeting, the Rochester Board of Education said.

“I look forward to partnering with all stakeholders to make this a reality for our students, families, staff, and community,” Dade said in a statement.  

The RCSD sought a new superintendent after its former leader, Barbara Deane-Williams, left the job in January with two years left to run on her contract. Interim superintendent Dan Lowengard, who has run the Rochester schools since then, did not seek a permanent appointment.

Dade’s “professional experience speaks volumes to the quality of leadership that he will bring to the District, where he is eager to begin serving students, families, and staff,” Van White, president of the Rochester school board, said in a statement.

In his current position, Dade oversees 45 schools at all grade levels that account for 37,000 students of the 180,000-student Fairfax County district. That compares to a roughly 30,000-student RCSD enrollment.

School commissioners chose Dade after winnowing a field of 31 applicants to a final four, each of whom made their case to a sparsely attended public forum last week. Dade will step into the job as the long-struggling RCSD faces several uncertainties.

Chief among them are the composition of the city school board and the possibility that the state could take over the district.

The prospect of a state takeover arises after Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino penned a highly critical report on the RCSD last November. Aquino was tasked with assessing the district by Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia, who was concerned by RCSD schools’ consistently poor test scores and low graduation rates. 

Since November, Elia, who reportedly has raised the specter of a state takeover with RCSD board members, has twice rejected improvement plans drawn by the school board and district officials as inadequate. She currently awaits a third draft. A chief concern raised by Aquino was what the distinguished educator sees as some board members’ tendency to inappropriately insert themselves into the district’s operational management.     

Four RCSD board members’ terms expire in December, raising the possibility that Dade could be working for a substantially different governing body than the one that hired him. Seats currently held by commissioners Beatriz LeBron, Liz Hallmark, Willa Powell and Judith Davis are up for grabs in December.  Hallmark does not plan to stand for reelection.

Davis recently announced that she would not participate in the board’s superintendent search and called for the board to call off the search and start over with a process that included more community involvement. 

Davis, who did not inform fellow board members of her plans to withdraw from the search, also aligned herself with a slate of activist board candidates that is sharply critical of the current board and RCSD administration for their failure to squelch institutional racism, a feature of the RCSD that Aquino also criticized. 

In addition to Davis, the group includes Howard Eagle, Clifford Florence and Andrea Bryant. All are members of an activist coalition made up of three organizations: the Take It Down Planning Committee, the Faith Community Alliance, and the Movement for Anti-racist Ministry and Action Coalition. Eagle, Florence and Bryant stand with Davis in calling for a reset.

The four plan to seek the Democratic Party’s nod in a June 25 primary. In the heavily Democratic city, winners of a Democratic primary are often seen as virtually assured of victory in a November general election.    

Should the activist slate win, it would hold four of the board’s seven seats, giving it effective control over board policies as well as the incoming superintendent. While Eagle, Bryant and Florence stand with Davis in calling for a reset of the superintendent selection process, prior to the board’s hiring announcement they said that they would not fire a candidate the present board selected but would try to work with him.

Also awaiting Dade will be an ongoing negotiation between RCSD officials and litigants seeking a court order to force the RCSD to adhere to state special education regulations. If the parties agree to terms, they would ink the district’s third such court-enforced special education pact since the late 1980s.  

One thought on “Rochester City School District gets new chief

  1. One minor correction: Assorted groups including the predecessor to Empire Justice (Monroe County Legal Assistance Corporation), The (old) Advocacy Center and others filed suit in 1980. (I joined The Advocacy Center in ’81); the original Federal Circuit Court Consent Decree was in 1983. Judge Michael Telesca presided. This consent decree was lifted in 2002.

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