Commissioner John King's support for the controversial Common Core curriculum and its emphasis on frequent testing to measure student leaning hasn't wavered one iota. In fact, if King's visit to Greece Odyssey Academy High School earlier this week is any example, the change is coming from the other end.
Greece Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams and most of the teachers and parents at the event said they support the Common Core, though they are critical of the way the State Education Department rolled out the new curriculum.
King’s Greece visit was a sea change from some of his visits to the Rochester area last year. At that time, many local parents joined parents and teachers across the state in vehement opposition to Common Core. Many even asked for King’s removal from office.
But the attitude change wasn't the only thing that stood out during the visit. It was virtually impossible to avoid visual comparisons between Greece Odyssey Academy and the failing East High School in the City of Rochester. Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas is under orders from the SED to devise a plan to fix East. The plan is due at the end of the month.
Students at Odyssey Academy are racially diverse. Their classrooms are smaller both in size and in number of students. Students moved through the hallways without disturbances. Many seemed to be sprinting to get to their next class. The school building was clean and orderly, and although it didn’t appear to be a new building, it was contemporary and functional.
But the starkest difference came during an announcement from the principal’s office. A woman’s voice rattled off a list of after-school sports activities for girls that afternoon. It seemed to go on forever: tennis, lacrosse, golf, and more.
Vargas has repeatedly said that he is trying to offer city students many of the same extracurricular activities fairly common in suburban schools. He says he's trying to make city school more interesting than the streets. Greece, with about 11,000 students, is not one of the area’s wealthiest communities. But you could drive a truck through the gap between Odyssey and East.
And sadly, there’s no turnaround plan on the table to fix that problem. It will be a long time before city schools catch up to many of their suburban counterparts.