News & Opinion » News

District waits for word on troubled schools


Suspensions have dropped dramatically at School 9, an elementary school on North Clinton Avenue: from 56 in the 2013-2014 school year to nine in 2015-2016. Improved safety and security is one of several goals that the school must meet to avoid dramatic changes for students, parents, and staff.

July and August are important months for the Rochester City School District. The school board hopes to hire a permanent superintendent, and the district will likely hear from MaryEllen Elia, commissioner of the State Education Department, concerning the status of its receivership schools. The two schools that officials are most concerned about are School 9 and Monroe High School.

Receivership is the state education law that took effect in June 2015 and identified schools that are "struggling" to meet minimum standards and "persistently struggling" to meet those standards. The latter have been among the lowest performing in the state for years. They received additional funding, but still failed to improve.

The law gives school superintendents unprecedented authority to make sweeping changes in these schools, including an overhaul of staffing. But the timeframe is short: persistently struggling schools must show improvement in one year and struggling schools in two years. If sufficient progress isn't made, Elia can intervene and appoint receivers, such as a university or college, to take control of the schools.

If that happens, the ramifications in Rochester could be serious. The City School District's new superintendent would walk straight into a crisis only days after being hired. And it might also reignite Mayor Lovely Warren's interest in some kind of intervention by City Hall into the district.

But RCSD spokesperson Chip Partner says that officials are cautiously optimistic about Monroe and School 9. The district has some data showing that School 9 and Monroe are meeting the standards agreed on by the district and the SED, but that more data is needed, he says. Ultimately, the decision rests with the commissioner, Partner says.

Fourteen of the Rochester district's schools went on the receivership list in 2015, with East High School, Charlotte High School, Monroe High School, and School 9 considered most urgently in need of improvement.

East is under the University of Rochester's management as its educational partnership organization, which is one of the options that the SED allows to turn receivership schools around. Closing them is another option, which is what former Rochester superintendent Bolgen Vargas decided to do with Charlotte; the school closes for good this month.

That left School 9 and Monroe for school officials, primarily Interim Superintendent Linda Cimusz, to grapple with and to show Elia that progress has been made.

Both schools have serious hurdles, starting with high poverty; 94 percent of the students at School 9 are eligible for free or reduced meals. And they have a disproportionate number of English language learners, which has made improving reading proficiency and improving ELA and math test scores a top priority.

Monroe has to improve results on Regents exams, as well as its graduation rate. But at least some of the school's problems stem from a revolving door of principals.

"I hope we've made the objectives for both schools," says Van White, president of the Rochester school board. "But we only had to meet minimal goals, and that's not enough here. We're going to have to make dramatic changes to both schools."