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Message to Commissioner Elia about RCSD's future: "Engage us in your decision."


ROC the Future, an organization representing numerous city leaders, institutions, and non-profit agencies,  held a press conference this morning to say they agree with State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia : the Rochester City School District is in a state of crisis and the status quo isn't acceptable.  And they want Elia and the board of Regents to include them when they decide what to do about the district.
Mayor Lovely Warren said today taking action to improve the city school district is not optional. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Mayor Lovely Warren said today taking action to improve the city school district is not optional.

Elia had given the school board and administration until
February 8 to come up with a plan addressing  Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino's report about the district's failures. The district sent a detailed response, and now it's waiting for Elia's response. Elia and Rochester-area regents had warned that if they weren't satisfied with the report, they might take action.

ROC the Future sent a letter to Elia on Friday, outlining their concerns and expressing their need to be involved.

"As a cross-sector alliance of over 60 community institutions and leaders, ROC the Future has been successful driving some improvements in child outcomes in Rochester, largely from outside the district," the letter says.

"Don't do anything without us," Mayor Lovely Warren said at the press conference. "Come and talk to us about the decision you're making. We want to believe in the decision the commissioner is making."

RTF executive director Jackie Campbell said that RTF leaders made the decision  to approach Elia preemptively after reading the district's response to Aquino's report. "We felt the plan was less than needed," Cambell said, adding that it "lacked vision."

But the group  and Warren said they are also concerned about the district's ability to manage itself and to implement the plan.

For instance, the letter also said, "there is no evidence that RCSD's governance has enabled — or can enable — the development and implementation of meaningful change strategies."

But some people saw this as a pretext for urging Elia to consider changing RCSD's management to a mayoral control form of governance.

"We are not asking for a state take over or a mayoral take over," Ajamu Kitwana, RTF chair said at a press conference.  Warren said she did not think that mayoral control was the answer to the district's problems at this time. 

But the lack of  the school board's full endorsement of the plan weighed on RTF's decision to send the letter.  Upcoming elections could result in the board members who approved the plan no longer being on the board to implement it, Warren said.

Added to the uncertainties: The board is looking for a new superintendent, who would also have to implement a plan that he or she had no role in creating.