Readers respond to the Beacon’s education forum

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The keynote speaker of the Rochester Beacon Solutions Forum: The City School District was Christopher Cerf, former superintendent of schools, Newark, N.J.

The Rochester Beacon Solutions Forum: The City School District focused on two levels of intervention in the city schools to improve their performance: state action, such as establishing mayoral control or imposing some form of receivership on the district, and local initiative empowering individual schools. The keynote speaker was Christopher Cerf, former superintendent of schools, Newark, N.J. (The slide presentation for his speech can be viewed here.)

The first of two panels at the event responded to Cerf’s remarks. The panelists were Mayor Lovely Warren; Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Union; Rochester City School District parent Walida Monroe-Sims; and Jackie Campbell, executive director of ROC the Future.

The second panel detailed school-level reforms. Here are the panelists and links to their slide presentations:

• Charter schools– Anna Hall of the Northeast Charter School Network;

• Community schools– Kirsten Barclay of the Farash Foundation;

• Magnet schools– Don Pryor of Great Schools for All; and

• New York State receivership– Shaun Nelms, superintendent of East High School

The forum was hosted by the College at Brockport’s Institute for Poverty Studies and Economic Development in downtown Rochester. Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC was presenting sponsor. Canandaigua National Bank & TrustCostanza Enterprises Inc.Mengel Metzger Barr & Co. LLP and the Rochester Area Community Foundation were silver sponsors.

The following are the comments submitted in response to the event and last Thursday’s article on it:

Don Bartalo

I thought Christopher Cerf was excellent. He has the experience and understanding to be the forum keynoter. The follow-up panel offered additional valuable information and suggestions.

Howard Eagle

People frequently say that — “a picture is worth a thousand words.” If that’s so — then the photo of the first panel is surely worth millions. WHO’S MISSING???

Calvin Eaton

Kudos to the Beacon for putting in the work to make this forum happen. That said, I feel that not enough parents or student voices were represented. Their voices are what really needs to be heard and engaged in the conversation on what needs to be done for them. We barely even heard from the audience that came out for the event. 

This event was more or less what we have come to expect from systems here. A carefully curated selection of outsiders, insiders, politicians, and leaders that say the same thing but do not put the parents and students in the spotlight or at the center of what needs to be done. No clear actions were outlined on what next. 

Everything that was shared, we already know and the “elephant in the room” was never blatantly stated or called out. Overall, it was really a missed opportunity by the Beacon to do something different from the status quo.

Paul Haney

I thought the session was very good, especially the keynote speaker. I ended up more convinced than ever that we need a basic change in the governance structure. The State must act! 

I also found the presentation on the School 17 experience very interesting and promising. 

Harry Pearle

Great event! I look forward to the videos from the event, when they are posted on the story.

On Thursday (May 16), I went to a school board candidates debate, at Monroe High School.
It was interesting, to me, because of the endless confusion. No wonder RCSD cannot make progress, with all the confusion. 

But some new ideas came to me about the problem of fixing our schools. Perhaps there are some ways to cope with all the confusion at RCSD.

Millie Sefranek

It is always good to bring varied groups together for conversations on how we can ALL work together for the betterment of education in Rochester. However, I think that many of us who have been involved for a very long time become weary of the conversations and the lack of literal action. While many of the topics and strategies are good from an idealism point of view, I believe from a pragmatic standpoint that RCSD needs to have both a financial and process audit. We talk about all of the challenges that children, families and teachers face, but rarely do we talk about the ridiculously ineffective practices of simple things like paperwork and balanced budgets. Let’s start with a financial audit. Let’s find out what areas (i.e. too many ineffective, high-priced administrators) to cut and where that money SHOULD go. Let’s do an audit of simple things, like what a parent has to do to register a child and the ridiculous run-around that parent must go through. Let’s talk about how there are far too few individuals that will take responsibility for an action, no matter how small. Let’s talk about how the website is impossible to navigate and ridiculously out of date so it’s next to impossible to access information. Let’s deal with the pragmatic and then we can begin to deal with the idealistic.

Bill Wynne

  1. Jackie Campbell …. “need to change behaviors” …. She really wasn’t clear what this meant.
  2. Also from her: “Community needs to step forward” …. Not clear on what she means by Community …. although Lovely touched upon it in her remarks.
  3. From Lovely … “NYS (or the Commissioner) needs to step up” …. Not clear on what she specifically meant or what she wants them to do. Urbanski seemed to echo my thoughts when he said you need to define specifically want the wants/needs are … and then be careful what you ask for.
  4. Bottom line: I think the unclarity re: these remarks speaks to a great deal of uncertainty, who’s actually leading, who wants to lead, etc….. A lot of “dancing” was going on with these remarks and kudos to Urbanski for addressing some of it. 
  5. However, he didn’t touch the racism hot potato which I thought was particularly interesting since the discussion turned towards teachers and the parent panelist was choosing her words very carefully. This is one, though, that Lovely nailed.
  6. It was great that the 1st panel revealed all this perhaps thru Kent’s handling of the questions.
  7.  Cerf was excellent … and I especially liked his remarks on racism and referencing the book “The Color of Law” … worth recommending to your subscribers. 
  8. And the second panel did a great job on their alternative approaches.
  9. Now we’ll see where the “Community” action comes from!

Keep up your great work! 

Questions posed by the audience

For the first panel:

∞ What (specifically) should be done to address individual, institutional and structural racism in the RCSD?
∞ What evidence is there from Newark that graduates are
1. Succeeding in college?
2. Succeeding in careers?
3. Are responsible and active citizens?
4. Have the skills necessary for success in all of the above?
∞ In 1987, this community embraced reforms offered by the RTA. These included teacher empowering tools like the school-based planning teams, a commitment for home visits, along with a 40% raise. The promised outcomes have not materialized. How accountable should RTA be? Can we declare that a failure and look at repealing the school-based planning teams?
∞ If we accept that public education is about values and socialization as much as reading, writing and arithmetic, is it fair to say that our suburban schools are also failing to the extent that they produce ahistorical, non-cosmopolitan and often racist students that maintain the status quo?
∞ Is it possible to have genuine equality of opportunity that cannot deliver equality of outcome? If so, how?
∞ Must assessment be standardized across the district or can educators be left to their own to assess their students?
∞ What is meant by changing behaviors? Who’s behavior? How? Be specific.
∞ How can we teach a child traumatized by having been taught/bullied by a racist teacher?
∞ What are your feelings about keeping teachers because of their tenure who have been racist toward children of color?
∞ Early childhood/case management not addressed by Mr. Cerf. Please provide more info about it.
∞ How will academic performance contribute to the skilled trade crisis in our country?
∞ How do we engage parents if we don’t remain about the core issues our district administration faces?
∞ Other districts similar to RCSD are able to see success in programs like career pathways and Ptech. Where do we stand with this?
∞ Understanding not all children learn the same—college may not be an opotion, how are we tangibly preparing them for employability?
∞ How can we reform district funding at a state level? How will that reform impact school taxes for each district?
∞ We are a region with some of the best school districts in the country. What is the role of the predominantly white suburban school districts to causing and solving this problem with RCSD?
∞ What can we as parents do to help the situation?
∞ Jaime Aquino reports: Culture of fear & intimidation; no uniform professional development; curricula not aligned to standards; principals without authority; board members micromanaging and interfering in hiring. Given all that, would it be best for the board to be removed and Jaime Aquino appoint a volunteer board?
∞ Can you talk about how Newark transformed secondary level options for students? How have these changes influenced H.S. graduation and college matriculation?
∞ At times, suggestions are made for countywide school funding. Will Mayor Warren support that funding scheme?
∞ What is the elephant in the room?
∞ How did Newark transform itself? What specific steps were taken?
∞ Please have Cerf comment re: $200 million Newark received from private philanthropy—impact/role in outcomes. (Cerf noted that the Zuckerberg grant was $100m over 5 years in a budget of $1b)
∞ Is there a web site with the 7 pillars? Are there handouts with this information? (See link above.)

For the second panel:

∞ There are a large number of charter schools that are potentially authorized under New York State law but few charter schools have been in opened recently in Rochester. What are the barriers to increasing the number of charter schools in the city of Rochester?
∞ High-stakes testing in grades 3-8: What do you think about these tests?
∞ How much did the conversion of School 17 to a full community school cost?
∞ Do you believe in more charter schools?
∞ Can a magnet school succeed with the RTA contract?
∞ What is the practice of enrolling children who have significant special needs in charters?
∞ From a parent perspective I see community schools working. Is there any work being done to your knowledge to have community schools district wide because all of our children can benefit from the great works of community schools.
∞ Why was nothing done to remove the racist teachers from the district?

7 thoughts on “Readers respond to the Beacon’s education forum

  1. Again, everyone is weighing in, except — guess who???

    No one is going to save us, in fact no one can save us, but us — period.

      • Right, and no one can deny that Urbanski does an outstanding job of defending his members (at all cost) — even when it’s against the objective best interests of the overwhelming majority of OUR students. So defending his members, and defending public education is not necessarily one in the same (even though he does everything within his power to convince people otherwise).

  2. Christopher Cerf is an excellent speaker. However his statements on Newark student success is highly questionable. Upon stopping him on his way out of the forum, I asked him how well Newark students are doing in college. His response was : “Not very well. And that’s a whole new issue!” Further research into Cerf’s claims of Newark student success through the use of charter schools led to the following research by Mark Weber, aka “Jersey Jazzman:” How NOT To Evaluate Education Policy: A Newark Example

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