It is difficult to resist shaking the bony finger of disapproval at the Rochester City School District. But this morning’s Democrat and Chronicle editorial
telling Superintendent Bolgen Vargas and the school board to “reassess” was simplistic to the point of being ridiculous.
Their recommendation follows the announcement that Rochester Institute of Technology will partner with the charter school gr
oup Uncommon Schools. The announcement hardly deserves the ballyhoo they’re giving it; what could be safer and more convenient for RIT?
Rochester is frequently referred to as a college town. And many of the local colleges offer some form of teacher preparation program. Beyond the standard teacher training programs where student teachers do internships in city schools, the relationship between the RCSD and area colleges is somewhat distanced considering the urgent needs of the district, its students, and its families.
Yes, some offer niche programs aimed at improving reading and math. And the University of Rochester provides much needed physical and mental health services. But the area’s colleges can and should be expected to do more to help the city school district. They have the resources and expertise that other organizations lack.
While partnering with a charter school, an entity that is allowed by law to operate almost entirely differently from a traditional public school district, is commendable, it does not rise to the level of being innovative. With RIT’s prowess in technology and research, it would have been far more interesting to see what the school could bring to a full partnership to create a new district high school or turn around one of its most troubled schools.
As far as advising district officials to reassess their situation, what is there to reassess? We already know many of the reasons for the district's struggles. Thousands of students don’t come to school every day. In between door-knocking with Mayor Tom Richards, Vargas had to plea with Albany to make kindergarten legally mandatory.
Student behavior in many classrooms is beyond coarse; even a recent gathering of African-American clergy concerned about city schools recognized this.
Charter schools can limit their size and the enrollment of students with special needs. And they can send students who don’t work out in their classrooms back to city schools, if they choose.
Rochester school board member Van White is correct to be concerned about the loss of students and families who are more focused on education to charter schools. A win for charter schools and a loss for the district doesn't add up to progress for the community. This trend is putting the remaining district students’ educational footing on quicksand. And it's disingenuous to pretend otherwise.