The state education law that gives superintendents of the lowest-performing public schools the power to make significant policy and staff changes, sometimes without the approval of their school boards, is flawed, says Adam Urbanski, longtime president of the Rochester Teachers Association.
Receivership won't help superintendents, including Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, confront the challenges they face, he says.
If the superintendents fail to meet improvement goals approved by the State Education Department, an outside receiver such as a SUNY college or university could take control of the schools. And that's a mistake, Urbanski says.
"It's predicated on the assumption that outsiders know best how to fix our schools, which is false," he says.
Receivership is largely driven by the perception that teachers unions are standing in the way of reform. But Urbanski says that there are talented teachers in the challenged schools.
"The main reason [the schools] are in receivership is because the district has neglected them for years," he says. "They don't have the resources."
Earlier this year, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia released a report identifying "struggling" and "persistently struggling" schools. There are three persistently struggling schools in the Rochester school district — East High, Monroe, and School 9 — and Vargas has just one year as the receiver to turn them around. He has two years to turn around the struggling schools.
"I'm confident we are going to meet the growth targets for those schools," Vargas says. "We're making significant strides, but we're not claiming victory here. I'm just saying we're doing the right things and going in the right direction."
Despite his issues with receivership, Urbanski says that the RTA is working with Vargas to meet the State Education Department's expectations and head off an outside receivership. Teachers agreed to longer instruction time, for example, in all of the failing schools, Urbanski says.
If the state was serious about turning around failing schools, he says, it would be mindful of the student population in those districts and provide proportionate resources to support the social and emotional needs of students. And it wouldn't permit the high concentration of poor, special education, and English language learner students seen in some of Rochester's public schools, he says.
Receivership's shortcomings are part of the bigger problem, Urbanski says, related to the controversial Common Core curriculum and test scores.