After nearly a year-and-a-half leading Rochester's schools, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has yet to set the usual benchmarks. He’s instead downplayed expectations and has not promised to raise graduation rates.
This is a different superintendent from his predecessors.
For instance, Vargas hardly reacts to whatever the latest report says about Rochester’s low student achievement. But he becomes visibly upset when he talks about a student who has never had the chance to be in a school play.
He never name-drops, though he seems to know a lot of high-level people. And he clearly has the support of the business community and many of the city’s politicians. And they trust him to stay and fix the district, rather than leap to a bigger job in a more cosmopolitan city. Or maybe it’s because some still hope to draw middle-class families back to the city.
Vargas’s relationship with some school board members has quickly turned, however, and they are less eager to support his agenda. He has in turn erected a barrier of senior cabinet members.
And Vargas has a remarkable ability to pivot between people who are not friends or allies. He’s a charmer with a gift for making people who don’t like each other feel as if they do. And he’s frequently praised Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, in public — something few of his predecessors were inclined to do.
But Vargas has taken the district’s helm at a time when Rochester’s child poverty rate is increasing. Students speak casually about the violence in their neighborhoods and losing friends to shootings. Every superintendent has tried to change things on the ground, but the ground keeps changing.
Maybe that’s why Vargas hasn’t made any promises, and we haven’t asked him to.