New York has extended the University of Rochester’s partnership with East High School through 2025—a year that will mark a decade of the alliance.
The extension allows the Educational Partnership Organization, managed through the university’s Warner School of Education, to continue and build on the successes that have dramatically transformed the school’s culture and educational outcomes for East’s scholars, officials say. The EPO assumed full management responsibilities for the school, which has a Lower School (grades 6-8) and an Upper School (grades 9-12), when East High nearly closed in 2015.
“I’m not certain everyone involved in the creation of the EPO six years ago truly believed that such educational and cultural success and turnaround would be possible given the circumstances, but the point we’re at today is a testament to the power of community, partnership and determination to create meaningful and sustained change in an urban educational environment,” says UR President Sarah Mangelsdorf.
“The University is very proud to be a part of this EPO and the Rochester community, and we look forward to continuing to work with all of our partners to demonstrate even more progress in this mission. Most importantly, I want to recognize East High’s community of scholars, teachers and parents who every day drive the success of this model.”
The UR partnership has allowed East High to try new approaches and practices, resulting in an increase in graduation rates. East High’s graduation rate has jumped to 85 percent in 2020-21 from 33 percent in 2014-15. Annual suspensions have dropped by 90 percent from 2,468 recorded suspensions in 2014. The dropout rate has fallen to 15 percent from 41 percent in 2014-15 while attendance has increased to 90 percent from 77 percent in 2014-15.
“In government, oftentimes the success of an initiative is measured in terms of quantifiable results,” says Van Henri White, president of the Rochester City School District Board of Education. “Accordingly, by multiple yardsticks (graduation, drop out and attendance rates), most would have to concede that what has happened at East is a remarkable success.
“But to truly measure and gauge why East High School’s transformation has been so successful, one must begin by looking and counting up the endless number of collaborative partnerships—between the RCSD and the University of Rochester, management and unions, teachers and parents, businesses and nonprofits—which help create and reveal on a daily basis what success looks like for the students and families of East.”
At the Warner School, the East High partnership serves as the foundation of its Center for Urban Education Success, which was established in 2015 to support the success of K-12 urban school settings, officials say. The center is led by Shaun Nelms, superintendent of East EPO. CUES has emerged as a research center designed to inform the university’s work at East High and act as a clearinghouse of research for similar initiatives nationally, Nelms wrote in an online message for the center, where he is the first William and Sheila Konar director.
CUES is building a body of research about urban education transformation, as it relates to culture, teaching and learning with a goal to share the findings openly and freely.
“We have worked tirelessly over the past six years to create a system that is responsive to our students, staff and families of East, and that improves outcomes for our scholars,” says Nelms, who also serves as an associate professor in educational leadership at the Warner School, “but COVID-19 has created a new set of challenges and opportunities to recreate how we engage scholars, staff, parents and the community. An additional three years will not only allow us to continue drive improvements and systemic change for our school community, but to be able to share that success with other schools. I look forward to what the next couple of years bring for East and as we shift our presence at East into other schools.”
East High’s success extends to the Warner School as well, creating new energy and momentum, says Sarah Peyre, dean and UR’s interim provost.
“When I look at the research agendas, when I look at how we define community partnership, what we’ve done at East has set this whole other standard within Warner,” she says. “Our major research grants are anchored at East, and we’re doing forward leaning, great work around pedagogy and content there. The work happening at East represents what the mission of a school of education should be about.”
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.