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What really ails the Rochester school district

I'm a sophomore at the University of Rochester on a full-tuition scholarship. Once I get my bachelor's degree, I plan to go to law school. Now, here's the kicker: from preschool through high school, I was a student of the Rochester City School District.

Yes, that district, the one synonymous with low graduation rates, budget woes, and abysmal test scores.

For years, my schools grappled with low budgets. I had frustrated, burnt-out teachers. I watched peers who struggled to graduate, and some who didn't. I tried to understand why my district was doing so terribly, while surrounding ones like Penfield performed so spectacularly. As much as I loved to complain about high school back then, those years were probably the most important of my life to date for they taught me something that most young people don't learn until much later, if ever – that inequality is deeply rooted.

While 90 percent of RCSD students are of color, about 84 percent of Penfield's students are white. Our country's legacy of discrimination in housing and employment means that white communities and communities of color remain separated today, figuratively by class boundaries and literally by geographic boundaries. White families are much more likely to have accumulated wealth than families of color, and so they can afford to pay for and fight for the best schools they can get for their children. The discrepancies between the RCSD and other surrounding districts is due almost entirely to the inextricable link between race and class. How can nonwhite school districts like the RCSD possibly hope to compare with mostly white districts when their budgets are underfunded?

A lot of people counter: "Forget about the money; what really matters is the parents." They think parents in poor school districts either aren't involved in their children's lives or don't care about their education, or both. They don't know what they're talking about.

Rochester is one of the poorest cities in the country of its size. Low-income residents who have no choice but to live in the city and send their children to city schools sometimes face a host of problems that the better off do not. A parent working three jobs may not have the time or energy to be fully involved in their child's education. Living in poverty means always thinking about the short-term. How do I get to work tomorrow with a broken-down car? How do I pay the bills that are due this week?

If involved parents are truly all that's needed for a child's success, why do so many involved parents pay to send their children to private school? Why do they live in insulated, expensive suburbs to be near suburban schools? The answer is because everybody wants the best for their children. It's just easier for some parents to provide it than others.

We need to realize that what landed the RCSD in this situation is a legacy of racism and the never-ending cycle of poverty. If we refuse to understand that reality, we can't even begin to make real change in the RCSD's schools.


Too many people blame the woes of the Rochester City School District on its teachers' union. Perhaps they don't realize every public school district in New York State has a teachers' union. Under this logic, all districts in the state – Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield – should be failing. They are not. Interesting.

Throughout the country, urban school districts face severe challenges. Systemic racism has left our school districts more segregated by race and income than they were in the 1960's. Rochester stands out because the issues our city faces stand out. Violence, hunger, housing insecurity, and poverty are too common for too many of our students. While I use none of these as an excuse, the multiple forms of trauma they create cannot be ignored.

Certainly not all of our students face these situations. Yet enough of the ones who deal with these things, understandably, act out in ways that negatively affect the learning environment of all. Elected officials and the public in general, for the most part, are unwilling or unable to commit the resources required to get to the root of these problems. Instead, they blame the schools and, more specifically, the teachers and their unions.

Unions protect workers' rights and ensure a living wage while providing due process to all. And, of course, they provide a scapegoat to those that are uninformed or promoting an agenda.


Valenti is a fifth-grade teacher in the RCSD.

Never say 'never'

I support President Donald Trump. I am 100 percent confident that you will never print this because this does not align with City Newspaper's beliefs.

I am thankful that Trump was elected to office. I am among those who had found the United States becoming as foreign a place as Mars until he began to reconnect Americans and advance the moral and right-minded beliefs that have always been American.

Thank You Mr. President for making the United States a country to be proud of again.


'The Vinyl Word' missed the mark

After reading CITY's recent cover story, "The Vinyl Word" (October 9), I can only come to the conclusion that no band in Rochester has ever put out a vinyl record within the last two decades.

If "new record releases are still relevant now," why not talk to active Rochester musicians about why they still bother to try to get their music pressed on vinyl and why labels here continue to do it in the era of on-demand streaming? Perhaps the story could have included conversations with local record stores about whether or not consumers in Rochester buy records from local bands. The piece sets itself up to be a part of the current landscape, but only ever looks backward without even an attempt to look at where we are now or the future of Rochester music releases. All we were treated to was a nostalgia trip for a handful of people who still like the records their friends made a long time ago.

Ultimately, it felt disrespectful to, and ignorant of, all of the great Rochester music that made it on to vinyl since then. I know that those of us who continue to invest in pressing and buying records by local bands think what's happening now is just as important as what happened back in vinyl's "glory days."

"The Vinyl Word" suggests Rochester music on vinyl is a dead concept. But my record collection begs to differ.


Fitzgerald is a co-founder of Dadstache Records in Rochester.