When people talk about Rochester’s schools, the conversation often involves sweeping generalizations, bad-mouthing teachers, and characterizing city children and parents in unfair ways. Some of the most challenging and effective work in education is being done in city schools; and many parents are elated with their children’s school and teachers.
But that work and the great performance of many city students is often overshadowed by the serious needs of other students. Often the gains that some students make are more significant than their test scores because they have so much learning to do and so many obstacles to navigate. In that context, these students are survivors and show unimaginable resilience — something that is frequently overlooked or minimized.
That’s why it makes the words of this parent so hard to read. Andrea Raethka’s “The Best Decision I Made in 2014" is a heartfelt editorial in the Democrat and Chronicle
that had to send chills through many Rochester City School District teachers and administrators.
The decision that Raethka made was to remove her children from city schools. Raethka’s decision was clearly not an easy one, but a combination of poor school management, indifference to parents, and a troubled and disruptive school environment.
“We’ve had a few good teachers over the years in the RCSD, but teachers alone can’t make a school worth it nor a child’s education great,” reads the editorial. “It takes all of the moving parts to make things work well, and the RCSD is only the sum of its weakest links.”
Any responsible parent understands what Raethka is saying and cannot fault her for her decision. Still, there are so many people, businesses, and organizations in the Rochester community trying their hardest to help the district with its myriad problems.
The question is, will it be enough? And how much longer can students and families be expected to wait and stay hopeful?
In a recent interview with Bob Duffy, the incoming president and CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance, it is clear that he has deep concerns about student performance in city schools. And they may have even hardened a little. Few people have looked at education from the perspective of a police chief, a mayor, and a lieutenant governor. He’s now responsible for championing local businesses.
Duffy says that businesses seeking to locate, stay, or expand here have a major concern: the schools. Business owners can’t attract the best employees to a community without good schools, regardless of how affordable the housing is.
Raethka’s message is more direct and less politically tempered:
“To new parents thinking about buying a home in the city, don’t, unless you can afford to send your kids elsewhere," she says in the editorial.