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ELECTIONS: School Board Candidate Essays

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JOSE CRUZ

I have been a resident of Rochester since 1965. I was educated in public schools. I graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School and Monroe Community College. I also completed a yearlong internship in community development at Pratt University in Brooklyn. As student leader at Franklin High School, I was a founder of the Puerto Rican Student Union, which later became the Puerto Rican Youth Development & Resource Center, Inc.

I had the privilege of serving on the Monroe County Legislature from 1999 to 2008, retiring after serving my full 10-year term. In 2009, I was elected to the Rochester city school board and I am currently completing my first four-year term.

I serve as the chair of the board of directors at the Legal Aid Society of Rochester, commissioner on the Rochester Housing Authority, and the board of the Ibero American Development Corporation.

Currently, I operate my own business providing strategic planning services to small organizations, not for profits, and businesses in the Rochester area.

My wife and I own a home in northeast Rochester. We have four children and three grandchildren.

The city school district has been in tremendous flux over these last few years. We have seen two superintendents, the development of new teaching accountably standards, and the creation of a new core curriculum that will fundamentally change how we teach our children.

During my current term on the school board, I have been instrumental in bringing about some semblance of stability and direction to the district. I helped name a superintendent who has been effective in providing a vision for the district, and more importantly, is able to communicate that vision to our families and other stakeholders in the community.

As chair of the policy committee, I have worked hard to develop policies related to reproductive health, transportation, and implementation of our new accountability standards. Although the challenges are many, I am encouraged that we are addressing basic issues such as attendance, encouraging families to participate in their child's education, and raising the level of expectation for both our students and staff.

I was struck by the complexity of the challenges we face as a district; although the problems often seem one dimensional, they are in reality multidimensional. For example, children not attending school is not just about that; there are a number of interrelated factors we need to address to resolve that issue.

We have a monumental responsibility to our 31,000 students, their families, and stakeholders. I appreciate the phenomenal job the superintendent, senior staff, administrators, teachers and support staff do on a daily basis. I believe that most of our staff are caring, supportive of our children, and work hard to make a difference in their lives. However, I also recognize that job is not easy in light of the many changes in state education law, new standards for assessing our students' achievement, and the ever-growing intrusion of the private sector into public education.

I am convinced that if public education is to survive, it will need to do so with all hands and hearts on deck. We need to strive to bring together the best minds available and create innovative and effective models for education.

I have learned that the greatest truth of all is that regardless of the strength of the educational system, if a child lacks interest, is not supported by family and the community, that child will have a difficult time finding success in school. We must begin now to help ALL children develop that interest so that they look forward to going to school because they "want to" not because they "have to".

Lastly, I believe every child can learn, every family can be supportive, every community partner can be helpful. But if we are not providing a classroom full of encouragement, nurturing, respect, high expectations on both sides of the desk, there will be few positive outcomes.


HOWARD EAGLE

As it relates to focus, if I am elected, I will continue doing what I have been doing for nearly 35 years, which is working collaboratively and cooperatively with parents, grandparents, guardians, students, other family members, educators, board members, and anyone else who is serious about widespread change and improvement within the RCSD (in the process of building an ongoing movement, which I am thoroughly, unequivocally convinced will be necessary in order to produce substantial change and improvement). As a board member, I would be better positioned to help build such a movement.

Of course any credible movement must necessarily be centered on concrete issues and conditions that are negatively impacting our children and families. The issues outlined below include some of the most important. Considering the breadth, and depth of the looming academic crisis within the RCSD, the outline is by no means complete. However, I believe you will agree that we must start somewhere. As a retired Rochester City School District high school social studies teacher (23 years), adjunct professor (SUNY Brockport, 12 years), current RCSD parent, and longtime community activist (34 years), I am thoroughly convinced that the direction outlined below is objectively, and solidly correct.

First, I would like to assure you that, with regard to much-needed academic change and improvement, there is absolutely nothing more important than taking every necessary action to make sure that all of our children read, write, and do math at or above grade level (all along the K-12 way). The ability to read, write, and do math (at or above grade level) represents the foundation of all knowledge. Common sense alone dictates that we cannot build without a foundation. The absence of a proper foundation is the most critical element concerning the fact that so many of our students are not doing well on tests, and not graduating.

There is no mystery surrounding the reason why many students don't do well on tests. It is because they don't have adequate (grade level or above) reading, writing, and math skills. If the proper foundation has been laid, then the testing issue will take care of itself (as long as tests accurately reflect information that is being taught).

In order to help address this critically important issue, there is a need for more local control (as opposed to far too many dictates and unfunded mandates from the state and federal governments). Increased local control is necessary in order to free teachers and other educators up so that they will have the time and energy to focus (again, with laser-like precision) on laying the academic foundation upon which all knowledge and skills-development rests. This issue is even more important when considering that huge numbers of our students enter the system lagging far behind their middle class peers.

Therefore, as JOB ONE, I will work to help insure that we (the entire system) get keenly and seriously focused on doing everything necessary and possible to ensure the foundational, academic development of our children by making certain that they master literacy skills and knowledge (reading, writing, math skills, and knowledge) at or above grade level (right from the very beginning).

Other critically important issues, which limited space does not allow me to elaborate on include but again, are not limited to the following:

establish relevant, broad-based parent, student, and community engagement at every level of the system, and throughout the community (movement).

address / end systemic, social promotion.

work to secure equitable resources in order to provide whatever our children need in order to develop to their full potentials.

root out massive waste and possibly fiscal mismanagement, malfeasance, and corruption.

address (via ongoing professional development) individual and institutionalized / systemic racism, and establish cultural equity relative to curricula, hiring, and retention practices, etc.

develop authentic, alternative models of education, especially for students who are victims of systemic, social promotion.

Those who support me can absolutely count on the fact that, if elected, I will lead. However, if we are to produce widespread, fundamental change and improvement, voters will necessarily have to remain active supporters. I am not Superman. No one is. Change and improvement can only occur via deadly serious, ongoing, collective efforts.

Please feel free to contact me anytime at (585) 752-1426, and / or howard.eagle90@gmail.com


CYNTHIA ELLIOTT

After almost eight years of representing the citizens of Rochester as a commissioner on the Board of Education, I have concluded that the number-one priority in the city school district is stable leadership. There will be no student achievement, no fiscal responsibility, and no effective parent engagement until there is stability in leadership.

The district has had four superintendents in an almost eight-year period. Each new superintendent comes to the district with their own vision. New strategies are developed with specific goals to be met. This new vision, strategies, and associated goals mean that resources, including human, financial, and systemic has to be realigned because of new leadership every time.

As such, we don't really know what we have, what we need, or how to get where we need to be. The data proves this point. Low graduation rates, high dropout rates, low literacy and math rates.

It has been said that we need more money. As if only money would solve our issues. We now have a budget of $734 million. It does not matter how much money we have if every two years the vision is changing and new strategies are developed. No wonder we have not been able to ensure our students are prepared to compete in the global marketplace.

When elected to my next term, my focus will be on ensuring that the district has stable leadership. With my doctoral work in human and organizational development from Fielding Graduate University and my certification in civic sector leadership from the University of Notre Dame, I believe I have the expertise to assist in this endeavor.

Additionally, I will support the superintendent in implementing with fidelity the Common Core learning standards, work to improve quality in food service, strongly recommend to the board to reinstate the Personnel Committee, and ensure that parents are respectfully engaged in the academic performance of their children.

My vision for the students of the Rochester City School District is that every student exceeds proficiency on state exams, that students are prepared for the global marketplace, and that they return to their community to help others to achieve their dreams.

I believe that the district is working to get us on track to educate our children. I want to continue my work on the school board to help with this endeavor. I have the experience and training to support this board and the superintendent successfully.


ERNEST FLAGLER

I am Ernest Flagler and I am a candidate for commissioner of schools in the City of Rochester. I am a husband, a father of eight children, a grandfather of two, and a 15-year veteran of the Rochester Fire Department.

I am also the president of Rochester Parents United, an independent parent group whose purpose is to strengthen and support parents by helping them to navigate the system.

There is a crisis in the Rochester City School District. The graduation rate is 43 percent. Only 9 percent of African American males and 10 percent of Latino males graduate. On top of that, only 5 percent of Rochester City School District students who graduate are actually prepared for college. As both a father and a grandfather, this troubles me.

I have a plan for the Rochester City School District. My first goal is to return to neighborhood/community schools, so that our children attend schools in the neighborhoods in which they live. This will help to build stronger, safer, and more cohesive neighborhoods.

We need to develop a strong safety policy with expectations of behaviors and guidelines to address any situation that may arise.

We need to institute a three-track learning system:

College-bound: Strict curriculum that will ensure that our children are college-ready and capable of competing with students from any district in the Greater Rochester area.

Skilled trades: These trades will include plumbing, electrical, carpentry, automotive, optics, machining, entertainment/arts careers, and also police, firefighters and EMT's.

Entrepreneurial: Studies have shown that three out of every seven children want to own their own businesses. We want to teach our children how to build successful businesses.

All of our students will master reading, writing, and math before they graduate. The days of social promotion must end.

For our low-wage workers in the district, I want to create a tuition-assistance program to encourage them to obtain college degrees that will allow them to earn a living wage.

Some believe that fixing our schools will take 50 years. What does that say to our children? Their futures depend on us. We must stand together and put people in office who will not accept the idea that it will take forever to see improvement in our failing schools.

As a veteran of the Rochester Fire Department, I am constantly working to ensure that you and your children are safe. When an emergency arises and the bell rings, you can be sure that I will be there. Right now, there is a crisis in our schools and you need someone whom you can trust to be there for our children and their families. I need your support, and I need your vote on September 10.


RONALD HALL

I am running for the Rochester City School Board because of the poor leadership that we currently have in place now. Like most people, I am deeply concerned about the many issues in the Rochester City School District, such as low morale from students to parents to teachers to building administrators and central office. There is also a lack of student achievement. In addition to a lack of parent engagement, parents do not feel welcomed to participate in any of the decisions that are affecting their children's education. And yet and still, the current leadership wonders why parents are not more involved in the schools.

Our children have a right to be provided a quality education all throughout their school years and currently the RCSD has not been providing it, which was recently shown in the deplorable test results of RCSD students in comparison to students of other districts in the state. This issue is not something that just appeared this year. It has been around for decades. We are just now deciding to pay attention to it because all of the new state mandates which is the focus of the current education policies.

Reading, writing, and math are the foundation of education and the building blocks of knowledge. If our students are not proficient in these areas, it is nearly impossible for them to catch up. Currently, 78 percent of the third graders in the RCSD are functionally illiterate — meaning they are reading and writing at a level that is inadequate to manage daily living and employment tasks that require skills beyond a basic level. Currently, many third graders are performing at a pre k, first grade, or second grade level.

When these students are identified as being deficient in these areas, instead of retaining these students so that they can have an extra year of instruction to help reinforce and increase their level of proficiency with grade-level material, the RCSD socially promotes these students to the next grade level without having the sufficient literacy skills to advance , academically. This creates an issue at high school when many of the students are reading and doing math at an elementary school level. This is why our children are graduating without the proper skills to compete in this global economy. This is a criminal practice that needs to be stopped immediately.

In addition to the above, I also want to support and implement a true student first approach with all of the decisions and any votes that I will make. I will also provide leadership on the important educational issues of the time and be accessible to the people of which I serve. With the current makeup of the board, there is simply a lack of leadership and a case of the blind leading the blind. I honestly want to be held accountable for my performance as a board member. With results like what we have in the school district, there needs to be a total reorganization with a clear and concise message from the top down and to each and every employee.


ELIZABETH HALLMARK

I am a teacher with a background in the performing arts. I have taught in many K-12 Rochester schools and currently teach teachers-in-training as an adjunct professor at Nazareth College and the Warner Graduate School of Education. I earned my doctorate in teaching and curriculum at the University of Rochester, and was deeply involved in the school district throughout my children's attendance and recent graduation from RCSD schools.

The investments we make in schools have a major impact on our city. I'm committed to improving public schools because I believe public school systems have the capacity to weave together large communities of families in ways that private or for-profit charters cannot. I feel that a school board with a shared vision, commitment to collegial collaboration, and deep knowledge of schools can strengthen the school system. As there are no current commissioners with extensive experience in teaching, educational policy and research, I would bring this needed anchor to the school board.

Here are four main areas I'd focus on:

1. Poor reading skills affect students' self-esteem and comprehension in all subject areas. Schools typically focus on learning to read in the earliest grades, but that emphasis changes at mid-elementary. Those students who need continued reading support are often passed forward without those skills. To address this problem, I would push for expanded reading time in the upper elementary and middle school while reducing social promotion practices.

2. We need increased parent engagement for better student achievement, so I would facilitate more family and teacher leadership in forming education policies. To achieve this, I believe school board commissioners should regularly visit school communities for input, redesign public forums to encourage wider participation, and hold central office and school administrators more accountable and responsive to families.

3. I would call for a greater commitment to teacher professionalism as well as the development of principals as instructional leaders more than resource managers. The schools' academic and social climates are not simply individual teachers' responsibilities. Instead, good school climates depend on continuous collaborative mentoring that encourages growth in learning and instruction among all school members. I would also call on the unions to counter-propose the Annual Professional Performance Review with an improved evaluation strategy based on critical peer and administrative review at the local level.

4. I would challenge high-stakes testing that is expensive, narrows curriculum, and steals instructional time from students who need it. Although much of the testing is coming as state mandate, I believe it is the role of school board commissioners to call for waivers and diagnostic modifications through multiple assessments that give more nuanced pictures of student learning.

I would be honored to serve the public as a commissioner of the school board. If you'd like to learn more about me, please visit my website at http://lizhallmark.com.


CANDICE LUCAS

As the parent of two Rochester City School District students, I know what it's like to worry about the safety, education and success of my children. I know what it's like to feel frustrated with the lack of communication, clarity, and transparency that we experience. And I know what it's like to have to make the tough choice of whether or not to leave this district in search of better for my children.

For more than a decade, I have volunteered in multiple roles in the classroom, the school building, and at the district level. In my last volunteer role as president of the RCSD Parent Advisory Council, I worked with parents, teachers, union leaders, the superintendent, and the board commissioners to bring voice to, and address issues that were important to parents and their children. I understand how this district functions, and I see areas where improvements can and should be made.

Parent and family engagement is an educational imperative. Parents and families must be recognized as partners in the education of our children. When parents are involved, attendance is better, grades are higher, test scores go up, and graduation rates increase. This must be a priority, and I am committed to working with other commissioners to enact policies that will change the culture of the district to make this a reality.

If we value parental engagement, we must have a welcoming, inclusive environment where families have a sense of belonging and children are eager to learn; where teachers and parents are working together in the best interest of the child, and children feel supported, nurtured, and encouraged.

The district must also communicate clearly, consistently, and honestly with all stakeholders. We are experiencing considerable change, including: the implementation of the Common Core standards, the new master schedule, ever changing state testing standards, and over-testing of our children, to name a few. Now more than ever, the superintendent must be held accountable for ensuring joint decision making between differing constituencies, effective communication with all stakeholders, integrity in the implementation of policy and measurable outcomes.

I am seeking a seat on the school board because I can no longer participate merely as a volunteer when our children's futures are at stake. In order to bring about the change that will truly impact the success of our kids, I must be an elected member of the school board. My educational background, work experiences, and community involvement give me the skills necessary to work with diverse constituencies to make the positive difference needed in the district.

I need your support and your vote to make this happen. Please vote for me, Candice Lucas, on Tuesday, September 10 in the Democratic primary. Together, we can change the trajectory of the district for the overall benefit of all children.


TIM MCCAULEY

I am running for Rochester city school board because I deeply care about improving the future for our kids and our city. Right now, Rochester ranks among the worst school districts in the nation, posting dismally low graduation rates, especially for its black and Latino male students.

It is apparent that the entire Rochester community must work together to improve the future for our young people, and I believe I am most qualified to lead that effort. There are many people willing to help — parents, retirees, professionals, business owners, and academicians. I would be privileged to offer ways to synergize and direct their efforts.

I am a Rochester native who graduated from East High School, Monroe Community College, and Rochester Institute of Technology. I've held sales and marketing positions in the Rochester area for over 30 years. As past president of the Rochester Black Business Association, I've worked with many business owners to find ways to improve our community.

My work as a former Boy Scout master of Troop 46, past president of the Austin Steward Foundation (a coalition of business people focused on making kids aware of the importance of education), founding member of the Rochester Better Life Collaborative, and a Junior Achievement volunteer confirmed for me the belief that we can make real and sustainable changes in our schools and our kids' futures by working together.

I will be the school board commissioner who becomes heavily involved in early-intervention activities, focusing specifically on kindergarten through second-graders with an extra emphasis on the 25 percent of kindergarteners who have teenage mothers.

Perhaps our early intervention efforts can include a "We Care" package that arrives on the child's first birthday. This package would include ideas that caring parents can do at home NOW to help their child become the future mayor, Rochester police officer, doctor, nurse, teacher, technician, musician, artist, or even president of the United States. It would include information on where to call for help, parenting tips, such as the importance of more human interaction with their children and less electronic interaction, and it would stress the need for education, education, education as the key to success.

I will be the school board commissioner who is the catalyst in tapping our community resources to form partnerships that would result in providing more extracurricular, healthy activities for our students, as well as ongoing support for their parents. Local rec centers, libraries, and churches can offer facilities and volunteers to support afterschool activities.

Creating an organization of "We Care" volunteers could help young parents learn how to cook healthy meals, manage their household budgets, encourage educational activities, and offer parenting advice for ways to start today to build strong character in their children.

I will be the school board commissioner who looks deeper into the issues of why there is a disproportionately high percentage of male students receiving special education, and what changes must be made to establish safe, structured, disciplined classrooms that are free of distractions. I will advocate for clear policies on behavior, dress, and expectations, and then work diligently to provide the resources to ensure all children can meet those expectations.

I deeply care about the future of our kids and our city — so much so that I have committed to work for the rest of my adult life on behalf of these children. Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work — you, me, and the community, together.

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