Burst of school improvement planning


It seems like K-12 education is all about plans. There are lesson plans, plans for School Improvement Grants, plans for School Innovation Grants. There are plans for plans.

All this week, the Rochester school district is holding public hearings focused on improving its lowest-performing schools. The meetings are required under the new receivership law, and the purpose is to gather parent and community input for, you guessed it, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s plans to improve the schools – 13 to be exact.

The first hearing was held last night, and it was about School 34. The school is what state education officials call a “struggling” school – meaning that it is low performing. Without intervention, School 34 would likely become a “persistently struggling” school – one that has persistently been among the lowest performing in the state even with additional aid.

As the receiver, Vargas will have two years to improve School 34, and just a year to improve persistently struggling schools such as School 9. This includes the planning time, and Vargas has to submit his turnaround plans to the State Education Department for approval within days. Preliminary plans for some schools have already been submitted to the SED.

The University of Rochester had roughly a year to plan with numerous parent and community meetings to determine what it will do to improve East High School.

And it’s summer. Many parents have made plans of their own. This week’s meetings seem tossed together for appearance rather than meaningful parent input. That’s not a criticism of district officials. Despite the short window, school officials have contacted parents in a variety of ways and even offered to shuttle parents to the public hearings.

“We’ve pulled out all the stops,” said district spokesperson Chip Partner. And the final plans submitted to the SED will be revised to include parental input. 

About 30 parents attended last night’s meeting to listen to School 34’s principal, Carmine Peluso, explain what steps his school has already taken to improve ELA and math scores. Even without a receivership plan, his teachers and students have made some impressive gains over the last two school years. And from his description, success has more to do with creating a focused and positive school community than plans.

The state has set aside $75 million for persistently struggling schools statewide; about $17 million of that money is expected to go to School 9, East High School, and Monroe High School.

No additional state funding has been set aside for the struggling schools such as School 34. The SED will provide growth targets for each of the schools by September 2, which means that somebody in Albany will need to read all of these plans from schools all over the state.

Let’s hope they’ve got a plan for it, but it’s hard not to be skeptical.