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?
“RCSD has to establish a systematic approach to ensure that students have access equally at all schools. Not just a few select ones but that every school is equipped with staff that are able to identify students, support, select and encourage them to enroll. To ensure that students and parents have the understanding what an AP or IB course is and why the student would benefit from taking it. From my own experience as a parent to two high school graduates in the district who did take AP courses, I had no understanding of why that was important or what that meant to their future. All I knew was that my girls were taking them, and they themselves did not understand the significance of it. It is a small but critical piece that is lacking in the district for students of color. It has to be a standard of expectation at all schools, knowledge and tracking/monitored annually to ensure that students have access and opportunity and supports in place.”
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?
“Every child in the district should have a plan that is 1. Modified as needed and 2. Reviewed annually. In every part of adulthood, we are all tasked in our lives to meet goals, whether they are personal or professional. In our jobs, we have outcomes and performance measures that we are held accountable to. Every student should be able (along with their families) determine what track they want to go through that is best for them so that we as a district and staff are supporting the students in their goals, not ours. Graduating students to increase the graduation rate with no plans for the students’ future is a major disservice to them and an opportunity lost to help young people transition into their next goals in life.”
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?
“The district for years has had inequalities in funding for schools. Not just due to highest needs one could argue that our rate of poverty makes the entire district a high need district. But there is inequalities that have been done so by design and have been maintained over the years for a lack of desire to want to address it. The RCSD has an opportunity right now to look at every school and shift funding to the schools based off the populations they are serving and the needs that they have. There should be base line standard of per pupil cost but there should also be a measure of additional funding and resources to a school that has been identified as having more special education and more ELL students and funding shifted to support the populations they are serving in higher quantities. We have the data, we have the ability to but it is going to require the board ability and desire to want this, and stand behind it. Not just say they do but require administration to put together an action plan and implement it.”
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?
“RCSD has been actively working on diversifying our teacher diversity by having a recruitment plan that includes visits at historically black colleges and recruitment trips to Puerto-Rico. In addition, there is a plan that supports teachers coming into NYS that are certified elsewhere, to receive proper NYS teaching credentials through partnerships with higher education institutes. Could we be doing more? Absolutely. We have an internal student to teacher program (Teaching learning institute) and that high school program allows students to get on track to become teachers. That program needs to be fully supported to go beyond RCSD supports (transition to college and supports in college to the exam). Additionally we should create a pipeline for our paraprofessionals and teacher’s assistants to be able to obtain the degree’s and certifications needed to transition to becoming certified teachers. Diversifying the teacher base has to have several pathways to grow and support people of color becoming teachers.”
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?
“The board needs to support restorative practices in all our schools and implicit biases training for all staff. While the district has been trying to address this, it is still far from where it needs to be. However, I am and do support restorative practices, as I believe it respects student’s voices, it allows them to express themselves, their frustrations but also allows the opportunity for them to learn, to grow, to self-reflect when they have made a bad choice and hold themselves and others accountable. Without penalizing them in a way that further harms their education by not being in school. We simply cannot state we want children to be successful and then through system design create an access to education gap.”
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?
“The board has to actually come together and agree on a model of governance and right now, it has simply not done so. It is difficult for new board members to come on and accept guidance from the very individuals that have not accepted that the way they have historically done governance simply does not work. It also gives the impression that the board as a body cannot function well when in reality it can only do so once a model of governance has actually been established. The board leadership is a critical piece of this and it is absolutely lacking right now. Being a leader does not mean everyone will be happy with the choices you make but rather a solution has been decided where everyone can walk away with a win-win. The board has to establish what its priorities will be and create a strategic plan for the district based on those priorities. It has to set a standard of expectations that is clearly communicated and understood by the superintendent and all staff. The board has to hold people accountable with actions and consequences. In regards to teaching and learning, we as a board body should have the expectation of a standardized district wide curriculum and allow teachers to select what supplemental curriculums they want to use in their own classrooms.”