Dismantling barriers to educational learning and success

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I am writing today to build bridges and relationships. This piece is also a call to dismantle years and decades of hurdles and barriers in this community that have perpetuated and stifled our children’s educational learning process and success. I write to challenge and/or dismantle the “status quo” and make this community aware of the current system’s opposition to change.

James Patterson

It is for this very reason that I respectfully draw your attention to how prior boards and our current actions, or lack thereof, are barriers to our children’s educational success. Additionally, there is a lack of respect for selective board members. My colleagues’ constant depiction of division is not only unhealthy, but a poor example for our administration, our community, and especially our youth. Our actions and tone of escalation are damaging and toxic. There appears to be limited structure, rules, or accountability, and as a result, interactions are often unacceptable.

There’s a moment when you have a choice to either remain silent, or to stand up against the status quo and speak in an effort that allows our community to hear your concerns as an elected official. Though the Rochester City School District’s current administration and my school board colleagues have made positive strides in the direction of change, a lot remains uncertain. Most agree that data is extremely important, that it depicts system failures and areas of concern.

One area that I have personally chosen to illuminate is the administration’s failure to prepare our students for graduation and college readiness. Additionally, there is a lack of support for Career and Technical Education (CTE) and financial literacy. Whether intentional or not, the RCSD has failed to be open and honest with parents by inflating grades and graduation rates. We have failed to prepare our students for their future by being less than truthful about their education. The statistics depict that our students are underperforming, reading well below grade level, and currently performing well below their suburban and statewide counterparts on New York State exams and regents.

Possessing grade-level performance and skills to read, write and comprehend are essential for our students to learn, grow, and move forward. It is also important in the early stages of growth that our children not only be able to read, but of equal importance, be read to. We’re also aware that the first three years of a child’s education is a critical stage for social and emotional learning and growth. The message that I continue to hear is we’re all responsible for student outcomes and this necessitates a “village” approach in educating our youth. This includes the school’s administration, board members, teachers, psychologists, social workers, counselors, parents, community members, leaders, and stakeholders. One must ask oneself, what then is the downside of welcoming reading guests, such as myself, in our schools?

Knowing the importance of reading early in a child’s life, why was the prior reading and writing specialist program dismantled? Why have walls been constructed and new policy created that make it difficult for a person of color, an elected official and school board member, to voluntarily read to our K-6 students? So, it begs the question, are the children in our schools truly the priority? I believe we are to view our students as gifts and do all we can to ensure their success.

Community statistics depict numerous pockets of poverty, single-mother families and fatherless homes, lack of Black/Brown role models and mentors, and lack of Black/Brown male teachers who students can identify with. When I attempted to engage myself, by offering to volunteer my time to read to elementary school students, I was criticized and my character attacked by people that resembled myself. I was left with a feeling of being marginalized, not allowed to participate on the “journey.” My presence and demeanor often characterized as threatening, and the way I express myself confrontational.

As part of this community and board liaison to a K-6 neighborhood school building, I’m advised by the building principal that my presence to read to our students is “disruptive,” a hindrance to students’ learning. There is an issue with my “approach” when advocating for our children. Can anyone question that reading is quality and supportive instruction, that value is added when students are read to? School board officials and the administration speak of equity, diversity, and inclusion, but often fail at modeling in these areas.

In closing, I commit myself to always doing what is in the best interest of our students. My hope is that through my transparent heartfelt words and personal feelings, my colleagues, the acting superintendent, his cabinet, RCSD staff, our students, family members, the community, its leaders and stakeholders will begin to see the ineffectiveness of our decisions as school board officials. In unity, we need to practice forgiveness that begins with grace, build relationships, mend/build bridges, and acknowledge the presence and severity of cracks in our foundation and admit that we, as a board, are in desperate need of repair.

Hate will take you nowhere, but compassion will take you around the world and back. My prayer for this board is that we will begin to invite all along on this journey of reconstruction. Frederick Douglass wrote, “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” We must take heed to those words. Our students deserve better!

James Patterson was elected to the Rochester City School District Board of Education in November 2021. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

21 thoughts on “Dismantling barriers to educational learning and success

  1. Interesting much was lost during the COVID days with the on- line leaning. Nothing, nothing is better then in class learning. Sitting on front of a computer at home without any human interaction will get you the results we got. Disastrous.

  2. CAI – CAI – CAI (Computer – Aided – Instruction)
    The problems of Rochester City Schools are overwhelming.
    No amount of money and staffing can handle the challenges.
    Our school systems seem out of touch, with the times.

    We have online learning tools, we are not using.
    CAI, computer – aided – instruction can be developed.
    We can at least have test question practice, online

    We used these tools using the Covid lock-downs.
    Why not expand web – based learning, more and more?

    S – O – S Save our schools, now!

  3. The silence to any effort in addressing the RCSD education crisis…..in deafening.
    Nobody seems to care. What is it with Rochester….giving up?
    You think its that bad that we cannot fix it?
    I think we can.
    I know we can.
    But in order to fix it one needs to step up and enter the arena.

  4. I just heard the report (WHEC) on the RCSD and its failure, not the student not the teacher, but the RCSD office and its unacceptable record. Then a flash,….Adam Urbanski giving his expert advice on hiring more teachers, more psychologists, more, more, more, $$$$$! East High School spends 37K per student. What amount is enough. I would ask Adam Urbanski to put a wish list together and when that too fails, finally, finally set him out to pasture. He has been a failure all by himself. He did become a very, very wealthy man though. Give him credit where credit is due, he built up a significant bank account. But that is where it stops. For God’s sake, change the leadership and overhaul the system. The RCSD is bolstering the generational poverty population. If you consider that success, you have it. And he has the audacity to point to the successful private school for his failure.

  5. Oh,…almost forgot. I am a product of the RCSD of 1965. That was in the day that a school called Edison Technical and Industrial High School was in full bloom. It had high nineties in graduation, very, very few drop outs, it produced well trained graduates who were snapped up by our local businesses, they could attain self supporting wage jobs, they had more than enough academics to have an opportunity to attend most colleges/universities and they were the best years of my life. That school was thee Crown Jewel of the RCSD. It was sought after by students outside of the RCSD. It was systematically destroyed by some of the best (in their minds) educated educational experts. Those who thought they were Gods gift to educating our kids leveled the “playing field” by destroying a school that was,…. and no longer is. Educating our kids is not rocket science. It just so happens that some (and apparently enough) of the elite educator and director types couldn’t see the trees through the forest. They have been struggling ever since. Finally…..if the East High/University of Rochester is so incredibly successful, why has it not been replicated in the other RCSD high schools? Ever ask yourself that question? That my friend is inequity at its foundation. But that said, I don’t hear a peep, Jalil Muntaqim. Semper Fi.

  6. I can see there are those who would like to take Mr. Patterson to school on just how things need to be done. If all of the nine items were addressed to its fullest, it would surely satisfy Jalil Muntaqim. That said, would it change the attendance, would it reduce the drop out rate, would it increase the graduation percentage, would it increase the level of education so that students could academically be successful in a certification program, college and or university, would the graduates be able to attain good self supporting wage jobs, would they have any trade exposure or opportunity, or would we have much of the same. Decades of failing to teach the way kids learn. Failing to show kids careers and professions. While questioning, would they experience a K-12 journey that allowed them to discover their innate skills and or gifts. If those nine items assure that our youth will stay the course and graduate with a relevant education and a future that would give them choice in their future,….by all means. Mr. Patterson is highly,…let me repeat that for those who think they know better,….Mr. Patterson is highly qualified for his role. Instead of feeling that one needs to coach Mr. Patterson be grateful he is involved. Semper Fi.

    • So let me see if I got this straight __ so you think that if “all of the nine items were addressed to its fullest, it would NOT “change the attendance, reduce the drop out rate, increase the graduation percentage, increase the level of education so that students could academically be successful in a certification program, college and or university, enable the graduates be able to attain good self supporting wage jobs, have any trade exposure or opportunity.” HOWEVER, Mr. Patterson merely reading to them will accomplish all of these things??? MUST BE MAGIC.

  7. While I can appreciate some of what Mr. Patterson alluded as part of RCSD/BOE problems, I resent him placing himself as a victim of BOE chaos when in fact he voted in favor of bad budget and advocated for the return of cops in school buildings. The idea that reading to students is a primary literacy problem is both short-sighted and disingenuous, when 9 specific issues has been identified as sever RCSD problems, none of which were specifically addressed by Mr. Patterson.
    Those nine issues are as follows:
    2022-2023 demands:
    1. Improved school lunches that students will eat.
    2. Increased fully trained School Safety Officers.
    3. Mandatory ongoing Anti-Racist Education for all students, teachers, administrators, and non-teaching staff.
    4. Full implementation of the Culturally Responsive Sustaining Education Framework as recommended by the NYS Education Department.
    5. Full implementation of the 2016 RCSD Code of Conduct.
    6. Establishing a Citizen Budget Review Committee.
    7. Diversity and Equity in Hiring Practices.
    8. Full implementation of Restorative Practices.
    9. Creating the environment that supports homeless students and their trauma (suggested by Adam Urbanski, RTA President)
    Not until these nine (9) issues has been fully addressed and implemented will there be any significant or substantial change in the operational development of RCSD or improvement in the test scores of RCSD students.
    So, Mr. Patterson, if you want to provide serious and consistent leadership in your role on the BOE, I encourage you to chose three of the nine identified issues to be rectified and dedicate yourself toward their full implementation and open honest transparency on how the budget you voted in favor of will ensure your success on these specific issues. Needless to say, the victim game is undignified for your position on the BOE.

    Jalil Muntaqim
    Special Projects Coordinator
    Citizen Action of new York, Rochester Chapter
    [email protected]

    • I thank you for your response Ms. Muntaqim, but remember Rome was not built in a day. Though I’m in agreement that you have noted legitimate issues, I made a decision to be transparent concerning the few that have personally affected myself and therefore a hinderance to further educate our children in the area of literacy. Yes, I’m aware that there are several areas of concern. But the ones I note in this column are the ones God has placed on my spirit to speak about publicly. He leads and directs my path. Kindly, Commissioner Patterson

  8. Comm. James Patterson,
    Thanks for your words of concern. But perhaps you remember that I urged you to read Justin Murphy’s book, “Your Children are very Greatly in Danger.” I wonder if you did, in fact, get the book, and if you encouraged other Board members to read it.

    Also, I sent emails are postcards to all Board members on ideas on RESILIENCE, from WhyTry Resilience training. I suggested, the use of their Resilience Slap bands, at a cost of 60 cents each. I mentioned some free advice for parents, on: http://www.ResilienceGuide.org from WhyTry. No one at RCSB ever got back to me, and I assume that this suggestion was totally, ignored.

    Will the suggestions, above, by these four people, also be totally ignored at RCSD?
    I for one, have been attempting to share ideas and my own experience with you, for decades.
    My own blog is: http://www.SavingSchools.org where I collect helpful ideas from many sources.

    Can we start to have a real sharing of ideas and talents, now, with a new Super? thanks

  9. Thanks for writing this essay, James. Your frustration with not seeing the kind of meaningful education progress from RCSD students is shared by many. We’re all looking for the RCSD Board of Education and Superintendent to implement new policies that will transform education into a process that will be deeper, more meaningful, joyous, motivational and effective for all our students. One piece of the puzzle for creating or identifying a solution that would accomplish these education goals is having the RCSD BoE, Administrative leaders and teachers become knowledgeable of what brain research & science says are the most effective ways to motivate students (and staff) to learn. Just think about that for a moment: Having a BoE and a Superintendent, Administrative leaders, principals and teachers making decisions based upon brain science and research, rather than individual opinions, unreliable & invalid standardized test scores, drill and practice, punishment, fear and historical precedent. What a wonderful process it would be to have all adults and students having their needs, interests and individual learning styles meaningfully addressed. I urge the BoE to begin this process by identifying some of the premier brain and motivation researchers and scientists and schedule workshops for the entire district to attend, discuss, learn from and apply to all RCSD schools. But, it is very critical for the BoE to actively participate. The U of R’s Dr. Richard Ryan, is a world renowned authority on what motivates students and teachers to engage and learn. I think he’d be a great individual to start with.

    • Dan,

      I have asked you this before, and you have NOT answered. Is this ^ ^ ^ ^ what they do in the lily-white suburban school districts of Monroe County???

  10. James Patterson:
    While reading your words of wisdom on the education effort, I thought that I had written them. You hit the nail on the head, hit the bullseye, scored a homerun, etc. Etc.!!
    I have been advocating for this type of “attitude” and this focus on education for 13 years. My take goes a little further, as in K-12, but other than that I commend you for your written word of request, advice, calling, etc. etc.!! My take…..ALL kids have innate skills and or gifts, ALL of them. It has nothing to do with the city/county border. It is the educational journey that has a mission, the goal of helping the student to identify those innate skills and or gifts. Then assist them in their journey toward this graduation with a relevant education. One that will allow for employment, certificate programs, Community college, university, etc. A relevant education will provide opportunity and,….CHOICE! We seem to ignore our kids K-12 journey and then spend an extraordinary amount of funding and effort on rescue programs. If we do education right, most of the funding for the rescue program can be funneled into the initial K-12 journey.
    I have a program that I have developed that will expose kids to careers and professions so that they can identify those “boring” academics with those opportunities. The number one question from dropouts is,…………”what do I need this s— for anyway”? What an opportunity! Answer their question with a program that does just that. Lets connect. Thank you and Semper Fi.

  11. Thank you, James for expressing your beliefs and ideals. When you go in classrooms to read or write with children, the teachers view you as a board member first, and a volunteer second. For many, this is intimidating. One way around this is to set up a time in advance to read or write with children outside the classroom [e.g., in the hallway or vacant room]. This will accomplish your goal without making anyone feel uncomfortable. Keep in mind that it’s not easy for most teachers to be relaxed teaching in front of parents, board members, or administrators. GO SLOWLY & thanks for caring so much.

  12. I agree yet ‘what is the Rochester Board of Education DOING’ to correct the horrible graduation rates. Please take a proactive role and engage those in the Greater Rochester community that can make a difference.
    There is currently no unity around DOING what is needed! And as you said “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”. Let’s get started, without unity. Look at the Charter Schools as a good example of building strong children. Look at YWCP was good example of building strong children.

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