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School board weighs Geneseo proposal

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SUNY Geneseo inched closer last week to a partnership with the Rochester school board and School 19, a K-8 school in southwest Rochester. It's a sign that the board is continuing to seek outside organizations to help turn around some of its most troubled schools.

In a presentation to the board on March 16, a team of district and SUNY Geneseo educators made a strong case for taking over the management of the low-performing school and revamping its current structure. The teacher-led school they described could dramatically improve School 19 students' achievement over five years, they said.

SUNY Geneseo officials hope that the partnership would start this summer, but first they have to get approval of the school board and SUNY officials at the state level.

School board President Van White, who spearheaded the board's partnership with the University of Rochester and East High School, courted SUNY Geneseo's involvement with School 19.

White has repeatedly pushed for creating more school choices for parents while the district simultaneously improves its most academically challenged schools.

"We need incubators of success," White said before the meeting. "We'll be able to compare, and we'll know if these models work."

Currently each classroom at School 19 has one general education teacher. In addition, special education teachers provide services for classrooms with children needing that assistance. In the SUNY Geneseo model, two classrooms would be combined, with staff acting as a team: two general education teachers, a special education teacher, and a teaching assistant. A pilot program was implemented in School 19's third and fifth grades in September, and the results in reading and math seem promising.

School 19's teachers and principal would work together to develop the curriculum and school culture. And a yet to be named superintendent of the school would report to the board. But Anjoo Sikka, dean of Geneseo's school of education, said that there was no need to renegotiate labor contracts. The UR, in contrast, reached an agreement with the board and union employees to ask every individual working at East High to reapply for employment there.

For the school board, the bigger stumbling block for the Geneseo proposal may be funding. School 19 would receive a $2.5 million school improvement grant from the state over five years. But the Geneseo proposal requires additional teachers and teaching assistants, and it's not clear whether the state grant would be enough to cover all of them. White told Geneseo officials last night that the partnership can't require additional district funding above School 19's yearly budget.

Board member Jose Cruz also expressed concern that the partnership relies heavily on a state grant at a time of uncertainty about federal funding for public education.

Nor are academic results guaranteed. The UR's relationship with East High, now in its second year, is showing some incremental gains, but the school's academic performance is a long way from a complete turnaround.

Still, the proposed SUNY Geneseo partnership with School 19 has some strong support. "I think it would be devastating if the board rejected it," Rochester Teachers Association President Urbanski said at the board meeting, "because it would send the message to the rest of the district teachers – don't even try to innovate."

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