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White's revolution

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The Rochester school district is in a state of emergency and an aggressive agenda for change is urgently needed, says school board member Van White.

This week White will present a talking paper, "We're Beyond Reform, It's Time for a Revolution," to Superintendent Bolgen Vargas and the rest of the school board.

The seven-page document calls for sweeping changes. For instance, White says he wants to restore reading teachers in elementary schools, return the district to neighborhood schools, and extend the school year by two weeks to a month during the summer.

Some ideas, such as holding nonpartisan school board elections, are bolder.

"Our board leaders are vetted by a big boss political system," White says. "What value does that add to educational outcomes? Maybe in the past we've eliminated good, highly experienced people."

White also says he wants to create "Opportunity Zones" in the city's poorest neighborhoods. And he says he wants to approach neighboring suburban superintendents about accepting children in grades K to 3 in their schools from the zones.

And White's calling on area colleges to create a high school on their campuses to accept students from the zones.

White says there is no better antidote to neighborhood decline than high- quality schools. But Opportunity Zones could help expedite breaking up the concentration of poverty in Rochester, White says.

"At this rate it will take decades to break it up, and we can't wait that long," he says.

There's been no shortage of studies and action plans over the years on how to improve student achievement in city schools. But most have been difficult to implement due to a lack of resources, and some would argue, the political will.

White will have to convince at least four board members to act on some of the ideas, which may not be easy. Some board members have opposed some of these ideas in the past. And he will also need allies in local and state government to implement his ambitious Opportunity Zones.

Rochester city schools, Rochester school board, Rochester graduation rates

There's been no shortage of studies and action plans over the years on how to improve student achievement in city schools. But most have been difficult to implement due to a lack of resources, and some would argue, the political will.

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