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Student readiness has been overlooked, says RTA president Adam Urbanski


Longtime RTA President Adam Urbanski says Aquino report doesn't take into consideration the lack of student readiness. - PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
  • Longtime RTA President Adam Urbanski says Aquino report doesn't take into consideration the lack of student readiness.
The state-imposed Distinguished Educator's report on the Rochester School District's problems has gotten praise from some quarters, but not from Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski.

In an interview Friday morning, Urbanski said he has told school board members that they should take the report seriously. But he said: “The report omits the importance of student readiness for learning. "

“It’s easy to assume that the schools can do it all," Urbanski said. "And the report doesn’t take into account the adverse impact of the state itself with its unfunded mandates, its obsession with standardized testing, and a history of blaming and shaming teachers and schools.”

The unions, teachers, and Urbanski himself have been convenient scapegoats for low student achievement in city schools, Urbanski said. Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino’s report and the public forums concerning the report haven’t welcomed input from teachers or the unions, he said.

“No one knows better than teachers how to improve schools,” Urbanski said. And he said the teachers union is open to "any plausible proposal" that would improve student outcomes, even if it requires some form of contract negotiation.

“We are prepared to make changes,” he said.

But improving student achievement in Rochester will require a school improvement plan and a serious community-wide effort to address the needs of students and their families, which Rochester just can’t seem to do, he said, referring to the failed attempt at creating the Rochester Children’s Zone.

“It’s not an either-or issue,” he said. “We have to do both in tandem." 

Urbanski pointed to what he said are successful community-wide efforts like the Say Yes to Education program in Syracuse and Buffalo. Say Yes to Education is a non-profit organization that works in collaboration with the Syracuse and Buffalo school districts, surrounding colleges, non-profit agencies, and employers to create a wrap-around approach to K-12 education.

Urbanski said that while he hopes that the school board’s response to the Aquino report will lead to better management and governance in the district, it does raise the question of what will happen if State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia doesn’t find the board’s plan adequate or “they can’t seem to get their act together.”

Mayoral control or some type of state control board have been discussed, but they would likely require new legislation, and Urbanski said he doesn’t see that happening. However, local Assemblyman David Gantt has submitted a new bill for mayoral control in Rochester. It’s still in committee.

"We're in a bad spot," Urbanski said. "I think we're going to see the most tumultuous period that I've seen in my lengthy tenure. But when people blame the union or me, that's just a pure lack of knowledge. I'm not in charge of running the district."