In his last public statement before leaving the district, former Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas recommended that the school board close one school a year until the quality of city schools improves.
Vargas often said that without significant improvements, the city school district will continue to lose students to charter, private, and suburban schools. But Vargas and the school board often disagreed on how to address the declining enrollment.
Board president Van White not only opposes closing more city schools, he’s advocating opening new ones. About two years ago, he floated the idea of a School of the Arts for the west side of the city; it didn’t get far.
He’s now assembling a panel to review the viability of a military academy; White says that it could be in the form of a program or a distinctly separate school.
Whether to close existing schools that aren’t doing well or open new ones has been a conundrum for large districts with a high number of failing schools for more than a decade – much of it the result of No Child Left Behind. It’s still hard for many educators to say with confidence which, if either, is the right way to go.
And it’s one reason why charter schools are frequently touted by educators and parents as worthy of a try even if they aren’t, in the end, the solution.
What doesn’t get as much attention in discussions about improving schools is how difficult it is to open new ones and close those that are failing. For instance, opening another SOTA would require a specific type of space suitable for arts, music, and theater education.
Opening another School Without Walls, what’s referred to as a consortium school, is a challenge mainly because the state approves so few of them.
Adding another trade school for students not interested in pursuing a four-year college degree is a perennial recommendation. But much of what was taught in trade schools 30 years ago isn’t going to lead to a good paying job today. And frequently the programs that will
lead to solid careers are now offered at the community college level.
Then there are the political and financial hurdles.
White says that the district needs to pursue innovative solutions, such as its partnership between the University of Rochester and East High School.
“The military academy is not a vision for replacing a struggling school,” he says. “We can’t keep thinking in a deficit model. This is being forward-thinking.”