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  • Writer's pictureHoward Eagle

Is the Rochester City School District poised to miss a great opportunity?

I hope that people, especially parents, and particularly those among the suffering Black masses within the Rochester City School District (RCSD) are really paying close attention to the recently announced and hurriedly-approved so-called, school "reconfiguration" plan.

First, it's important to understand that the proposed plan offers absolutely nothing that is brand new. It's been done before (with no significant impact relative to academic improvement), none at all. That is to say, for example, when I began teaching in the RCSD in 1986, the schools were configured in the exact manner that's currently being planned (K-6; 7-8; 9-12), and though that was nearly 40 years ago, the RCSD was already in crisis relative to widespread academic achievement, or really the gross lack thereof (see the first reference link below).

Therefore, the fact that so-called "reconfiguration" is being presented almost as if it represents some sort of panacea, is very, very deceiving. Hopefully folks are paying attention to Superintendent Carmine Peluso's super-hyper rhetoric about reconfiguration translating into "high quality learning opportunities." More importantly however is the blatantly-glaring absence of details as to how that's supposed to happen. Please note that Mr. Peluso has not articulated a single new program or approach that will be put into place, not even one. There's a good reason for that. It's because there are none.

Additionally, as is always the case, there are elements of individual and institutional racism and classism at work within the plan. Though, at times, I have been critical of Mr. Justin Murphy (Democrat and Chronicle Education reporter), he pointed this factor out via a recent Twitter post (see the second reference link below). Mr Murphy had highlighted the fact that, even though the reconfiguration plan calls for a K-6; 7-8; and 9-12 model, there are some exceptions, which includes School of the Arts (7-12); World of Inquiry (K-12), and the two schools located in the EAST High building, e.g. lower (6-8), and Upper (9-12). In the cases of School of the Arts and World of Inquiry in particular, Mr. Murphy had boldly and accurately stated: "SOTA & World of Inquiry will remain 7-12 and K-12 because, well, they're successful and those parents would freak out."

So how is this related to racism? Well, as we know (at least hopefully we know that only 10% or less of RCSD students are white). You can be absolutely certain that you will find a grossly disproportionate number of the 10% or less in programs at School of the Arts and World of Inquiry, including many if not most children of the relatively few RCSD teachers and administrators who still live in the City, and who have not opted to either enroll their children in private schools, or likely pull socioeconomic-status and/or networking-strings to get their children enrolled in the Urban/Suburban Program. Close examination of budgetary allocations will undoubtedly reveal that the schools referenced above are absolutely the most highly resourced schools within the RCSD. If people want to pretend that this reality is not related to the fact that we're discussing white children and families, as well as middle class people of color --- then that's exactly what they would be doing, e.g., "pretending." Either that, or they would necessarily be deeply entrenched in denial, or just plain out of touch with reality.

While it is completely understandable that the RCSD must reduce its so-called "footprint" --- carefully-thought-out, innovative strategies are clearly in order. There is no doubt about the fact that simply going back to what existed before; back to the way things used to be, and doing nothing else of substance, will necessarily result in continuation, e.g., the next chapter of the long-existing, deep-seated, systemic, academic crisis.

As it relates to careful, well thought-out, innovation --- it seems that it has not occurred to anyone on the Rochester Board of Education, and/or within the RCSD Administration that there may well be an opportunity at hand to develop serious alternative education programs. For example, it is just not likely that students in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades who are reading, writing, and doing math at elementary levels, which is a widespread reality within the RCSD, are going to graduate (competently), no matter how many so-called "credit recovery" programs are developed. These are the very same young people (literally by the hundreds and thousands, and millions across the nation) who are feeding the very real school-to-prison-pipeline. So, since we know this, why would it not make sense to develop well-thought-out, innovative educational/vocational, alternative programs for this LARGE demographic/population. It would be important for enrollment in such programs (at any one location) to be relatively small. However, there could and should be numerous sites, which would be the rationale for keeping open, at least some, if not all of the buildings that are being targeted for closing.

We can anticipate that a main argument against this idea will be expense. However, the RCSD has more money than at any other time in recent history --- in fact more than it has ever had. Of course much of the new funding was related to covid, and will start drying up soon. Yet, the specific manner in which funding is invested NOW is so very critical. If investment results in new and innovative programs that are viable, and measurably effective, including using a percentage of the resources to help organize RCSD parents and others, as school supporters (like never before) --- when time comes to argue and advocate for continued, adequate funding, --- the entire advocacy process could become much more effective. Otherwise, the arguments, which are coming --- will necessarily be focused on basic survival of the district.



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