Several sources say that Luvelle Brown has been picked to be the next superintendent of the Rochester City School District. He replaces Bolgen Vargas, who left in December 2015. Brown is currently superintendent of the Ithaca City School District. The Rochester school district would not confirm Brown's selection this morning, and because no contract has been signed yet, the deal could still fall apart.
Linda Cimusz is Rochester's interim superintendent.
Brown earned his doctorate in education at the University of Virginia, and his career includes classroom teaching as well as administrative and supervisory experience.
He was included in the National School Boards Association’s “20-to-Watch” in 2014 and that same year, he was invited to the White House to participate in an education summit.
The search process for superintendent has been closed, despite early comments from board president Van White that it would be transparent and would include opportunities for public input.
White and other board members say that they were swayed to keep the process closed by the professional search firm they hired; many high-caliber candidates wouldn’t apply for the position unless their application was kept confidential.
The Ithaca school board renewed Brown’s contract last year for five more years. While he did not receive a pay raise from his starting salary of $185,711 in 2011, it did include “$61,872 in benefits, and $14,370 in other compensation,” according to an article in the Ithaca Journal.
In the same article, Ithaca’s school board credited Brown with improving the graduation rate, increasing grade-level reading skills, and narrowing the achievement gap for minority and special education students.
The New York State Education Department’s Report Card for Ithaca showed that in 2014, 44 percent scored proficient on ELA scores for grades 3-8, and 47 percent in math. Scores climbed in 2015 with 46 percent proficient in ELA and 54 percent proficient in math.
But Ithaca is not only a much smaller district than Rochester’s with just over 5,000 students, the enrollment is almost the reverse of Rochester’s in demographic terms. Only 9 percent of Ithaca’s students are African American, 5 percent are Hispanic, and 66 percent are white. Less than 40 percent are economically disadvantaged and just 5 percent are English language learners.
Brown, in most respects, would be making an upward career move. The Rochester school district, the third largest in the state, is one of Monroe County’s largest employers, with an annual budget that is closing in on $1 billion.
But the district also faces some of the most serious and deeply entrenched academic and managerial challenges in the country. It has: the lowest four-year graduation rate of New York’s big five school districts; one of the lowest graduation rates for black males in the country; a culture of instability and racial inequities; and a sizable list of schools tagged by the state as low performing.
In Rochester, Brown would need to grapple with a student population that is largely black and Latino, and a teaching staff that is largely white. And Rochester’s childhood poverty rate puts it on par with cities such as Detroit and New Orleans.
Brown would report to a school board that is decidedly hands-on in its supervision: an issue that proved untenable for former superintendent Vargas. He’ll need to negotiate with a notoriously strong teachers union leader, and he’ll have to collaborate with Mayor Lovely Warren, who isn’t always keen on collaboration with the city school district.
Last April, for instance, Warren proposed putting the most troubled schools into a separate district that would be managed by a company or organization that she helped choose. The New York State Education Department told Warren that her plan isn’t permitted by state law.