Recommendations for improving city schools: What now?


School board President Van White. - FILE PHOTO
  • School board President Van White.
Last week, about 60 city students got a preview of recommendations to improve city schools. And as anyone who was there can tell you, the students responded with incredible enthusiasm and insight.

The recommendations are the culmination of more than a month’s work by committees of teachers, parents, and community leaders. Rochester school board President Van White called on the community to brainstorm solutions rather than pile on complaints. And the committees responded with a serious and heartfelt stab at some of the district’s most embedded problems: student achievement, poverty, parent engagement, and safety.

Last night it was the adults turn to hear the committees' recommendations. 

But the event was slightly marred by a chaotic and challenging venue. There were too many people to fit into the school board’s third-floor conference room. And technical problems and a competing event in the hallways made it difficult to hear the presentation. The work the committees earnestly undertook deserves a better presentation to the broader community.

And though the turnout was strong, many of the people were familiar faces. It's a shame that a broader segment of the community isn't tuning in. They're missing something. 

White intentionally focused on soliciting input from the community. And the strategies for improving city schools, he says, are not the board’s promise to keep – it’s the community’s. But the kinds of changes being discussed can’t happen in a vacuum.

On the flip side, though this has been discussed as a community effort rather than a top-down to-do list, the community is going to need the support of teachers and principals, as well as Superintendent Bolgen Vargas. All have been noticeably absent.

Here are a couple of unsolicited recommendations: White should immediately schedule at least one more public meeting at a much better venue, perhaps at a city high school with a large auditorium.

And a fifth committee should be formed that focuses exclusively on implementation strategies. Are all the ideas pitch perfect? No. But it would be a shame to see this effort wasted and wind up as another of our seasonal talks about city schools.