Across New York, White students were given nearly twice as much access as their Latino and Black peers to a range of key courses in middle and high school in the 2016-17 school year. They were nearly three times as likely to be enrolled in advanced courses like Advanced Placement Math and Science. In Rochester in 2016-17, for example, White students were nearly 5 times more likely to be enrolled in AP or IB courses than Black students and more than 6 times more likely to be enrolled in AP or IB courses than Latino students. How should the Rochester school board address the issue of equitable access to advanced courses?
“Access to AP/IB courses should be available to any student. Additionally, we must focus on identifying students at younger grade levels for advanced coursework preparation, Pre-AP programs etc. Many middle-class families choose to leave RCSD because advanced or rigorous coursework is not widely available, or is only available at certain flagship magnet schools. Every high school should offer this type of programming. I work at one of the highest performing suburban schools in NYS, and a National Blue Ribbon Award School. I fully understand what a high quality institution looks like, and how schools should operate. We can replicate this in RCSD, not just for my own four children, but all of our students, regardless of socioeconomic background or family circumstance. Equitable access to high quality programming, as well as ready access to basic social services can help RCSD develop social capital for our families and students. Community partnerships and corporate investment through educational philanthropy can provide measurable gains for even our most at-risk populations.”
New York has expanded the ways students can earn a high school diploma. These new rules can provide multiple pathways for students to demonstrate college and career readiness. But they can also be used to “track” students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities into less rigorous coursework and lower graduation standards. How should the Rochester school board address the issue of making sure the high school diploma has real value for all students?
“Not all students will end up going to college. There are multiple pathways to success in career and life. As educators we have an obligation to ensure that there are rigorous standards in place for whichever path students choose. We must balance the public desire for accountability with more user-friendly models of assessment. Community partnerships through student internships in the private sector have shown success in some U.S. cities, and can easily be instituted in Rochester, currently one of the poorest cities in the USA.”
New York State’s school districts are frequently failing to provide their highest-need schools with significantly greater levels of resources so that all students receive the support they need to succeed. For the 2018-19 school year, most school districts planned relatively little difference in budgeted per-pupil funding levels between their schools that serve the smallest share of low-income students compared to their schools serving the highest share of low-income students. How should the Rochester school board allocate the resources that it controls?
“Inequity is a huge problem in RCSD, highlighted by the state report (Aquino Report). Some of our schools rival their suburban counterparts. We should highlight and celebrate these schools. But more resources must be allocated to neighborhood and community schools, especially those in our most impoverished neighborhoods. The fact is, our wealthiest students tend to attend these magnet schools. I fully support all efforts to level the playing field for students and families. More importantly, we need to ensure that we are committed to working with all stakeholders within our community in order to engage in dialogue and problem-solving.”
One-third of all New York schools had no Latino or Black teachers in the 2015-16 school year. As a result, more than 115,000 Latino and Black students were enrolled in schools without a single full-time same-race/ethnicity teacher, and nearly half of the state’s White students attended schools without a single full-time Latino or Black teacher. In Rochester, 86% of students were Latino or Black in 2015-16, compared to 18% of teachers. In addition, the least experienced teachers are disproportionately assigned to Rochester’s highest-need high schools. How should the Rochester school board address the issue of improving access to strong, well-supported, and diverse educators?
“Improving access to high-quality, diverse, and experienced educators should be one of our top priorities as a district. This begins with active recruitment, as well as instituting from-within teacher-training programs. Teacher retention is also key, and efforts must be made to retain quality employees with competitive compensation packages, as well as teaming with community organizations on housing resources. Encouraging teachers to live where they teach can thoroughly help them become more fully integrated into their students’ culture and community.”
New York schools suspended a student at least once every minute during the 2016-17 school year. During that period, Rochester schools suspended Black students at more than twice the rate of White students. How should the Rochester school board address school discipline?
“I support restorative practices 100%. We must balance staff safety with the institution of programs that will help us end the school-to-prison pipeline. Restorative justice programs have proven to be far more effective at teaching students the effects of their behavior than punitive, no-tolerance policies.”
School boards are expected to hold the superintendent accountable for results and rely on the district leadership for day-to-day management of the school system. That requires a clear vision, transparent use of data, and an equity-driven strategic plan for the district’s operations. How should the Rochester school board think about its governance role?
“A school board must work collaboratively with district leadership. Yes, a common vision is essential. However, our ability to retain a superintendent for more than 2 years should be another primary focus. The board has a history of animosity with superintendents, sometimes very publicly disagreeing or putting up what can be construed as roadblocks. It becomes a tug-of-war between adults, instead of a vision to help our students and families. There is a public perception of board members attempting to micro-manage the day-to-day operations of the district, as well as political in-fighting. We ultimately need a superintendent who shares our vision, but one who has the leeway to carry out this vision how they see fit. We cannot hope to retain a superintendent if this relationship is not respected.”