UR President Joel Seligman
When the State Education Department released the results of the English language arts and math tests for grades 3-8 a couple of weeks ago, many of us looked for some sign that Superintendent Bolgen Vargas's strategies – implementing universal prekindergarten, expanding learning time, and reducing summer learning loss — are working.
But Rochester’s students showed little progress. Vargas says that the testing opt-out movement — 20 percent of city students didn't take the tests — is partly to blame. Many of those students were in some of the district’s higher performing schools – School 58, School 23, School Without Walls, and SOTA.
And many students under Vargas's turnaround strategies aren't old enough to be tested yet. And not every school has expanded learning time.
Nonetheless, the pressure to get results is on like never before. Vargas and his staff have a short window to turn around the district’s lowest performing schools or face a potential takeover.
While the University of Rochester has been hailed for its willingness to intervene and take control of East High School, it will soon share in this era of heightened scrutiny. East, one of the district’s most troubled schools, will officially open under UR's management on September 8. Shaun Nelms is the new superintendent and a lot of eyes will be on East going forward.
Will the UR succeed? Does it have a winning formula to turn around failing urban schools around?
A lot is at stake for the UR. If it fails, it's probably in a position to take the hit. You don’t have to look far to find other areas where the university is highly successful.
If it succeeds, the Warner School of Education could become one of the most relevant teacher education schools in the country.
UR President Joel Seligman says that the university has no magic wand. The university is borrowing a little of what public, private, charter, and parochial schools do best, he says.
“The question is not which one has the magic bullet, it’s how to provide [students and teachers] the right kind of support,” Seligman says.