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There's no one 'fix' for the RCSD's problems

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Well, state legislators will wrap up their session this week and head home, having done nothing about the Rochester school district. And so we’ll just keep yelling at each other. And trying to make failed policies work.

A big issue, I think: Too many people believe there’s a simple solution to the district’s problems. All we need to do is elect the right school board members or hire the right superintendent or get rid of the president of the teachers union. But the district’s problem isn’t just one of low test scores or low graduation rates or racism or charter schools or special education failures or high administrator turnover or poor training or lax accountability. It’s all of them. All of them.

Each has its own cause. Each needs its own reform. No superintendent and no school board can handle all this.

It’s not that we haven’t tried to fix some of the problems. Successive school boards and superintendents have tried, and they’ve made a bit of progress. The graduation rate has indeed been going up. But overall, the problems in the district have grown more serious. And the community’s trust in the district – and its respect for the district – have declined. That’s had a terrible impact on both the district and the city.

Some of the district’s problems aren’t complicated and ought to be fixed quickly. It’s absurd, for instance, that the district has struggled to get classroom attendance taken correctly.

Harder to fix: The school board’s squabbling and interference. This is destructive, and it may very well get worse. For this reason alone, a temporary state takeover could be helpful.



But some of the district’s problems may be too hard to solve without some dramatic reforms and initiatives. We need to talk about that.

For instance: City Council member Malik Evans – a former school board president himself – says he thinks the district may be too big, and its problems too complicated, to solve under the present structure. Evans suggests that we may need to break the district up into smaller units.

Shouldn’t we talk about that?

The staff at East High School has made progress turning that school around. How much is due to the University of Rochester’s involvement? How much to East's ability to hire its own teachers? How much to individual programs at the school? To additional services and expenses?

Shouldn’t we be assessing that?

School 17 is getting praise for its own turnaround. How much of that is due to leadership? To the wrap-around services? To other factors?

And then there’s the district’s high rate of concentrated poverty. Concentrated poverty, with its attendant health and social issues, has taken a terrible toll on the children of Rochester. This community, this state, and this country are not willing to do what it takes – spend what it takes – to address poverty. And until we are, the Rochester school district will struggle to teach its children.

Mayor Lovely Warren’s plan to have the state to take over the district for several years makes sense. That would give us a chance to fix the obviously fixable problems and talk about what we have to do about the more difficult problems.

But there’ll be no state takeover. No period of assessment and search for reforms. We’ll hand off the problems to a new superintendent and the school board. And a year or two from now we’ll be yelling at them.

Disgraceful, folks. Just disgraceful.