The Rochester school district is one of 70 public school districts in New York flagged as a "Focus School District" by the State Education Department, an unfavorable designation given to low-performing districts. Twenty-two Rochester schools have been classified as "Focus Schools" and 30 are "Priority Schools," designations under the FSD umbrella.
The new classifications are a result of the Obama administration's revisions to the No Child Left Behind Act, and will mean greater oversight of Rochester's schools, says Susan Hasenauer-Curtis, the district's director of school innovation.
A State Education Integrated Intervention Team, acting something like a state control board, will come to Rochester to work with school officials to develop and oversee a comprehensive district-wide improvement plan.
"We have to take very specific steps toward improvement," Hasenauer-Curtis says, explaining that the state will evaluate both the district as a whole and the Focus and Priority schools, she says.
Remedies range from developing plans to improve low-performing schools to closing problem schools.
The state announcement comes in the wake of diminished expectations for Rochester's schools. The 2011 graduation rate of 49 percent could fall next year, said Superintendent Bolgen Vargas recently, as students grapple with new graduation requirements.
Focus Districts are persistently low performing that show no trend toward progress in English language arts and math, or low graduation rates for one or more special student groups. That refers to minority groups, low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
Districts are also classified as Focus Districts if they have multiple Priority Schools: schools with ELA and math scores falling into the lowest 5 percent statewide. Focus Schools, another classification, are those selected for intervention to improve student performance in specific areas.
The designations are particularly troubling because even the much-lauded School of the Arts and one of the district's new schools, Integrated Arts and Technology, have been identified as Focus Schools in need of attention.
The state also recognizes high-performing schools, or Reward Schools, but none of Rochester's schools earned the acknowledgement. A handful of Rochester's schools are described by the SED as in "Good Standing," which means they're meeting expectations.