Clifford Florence

Question 1.

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?

Answer 1.

“Commissioner Judith Davis, Minister Clifford Florence, Ms. Andria Bryant, and Mr. Howard Eagle are members of the Rochester City School District’s (RCSD’s) Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) team. Part of the purpose and function of REAL is to ‘review equity policies, goals, strategies and measures to help inform and eliminate racial predictability and disproportionality in student achievement (e.g., disproportionate overapplication of discipline to students of color, over-representation in special education, and underrepresentation in advanced learning programs)…’ See RCSD Board Resolution No. 2018-19: 631. Click on the following link, and scroll down —https://www.rcsdk12.org/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=68962&dataid=65522&FileName=01.24.19.pdf .

As Board members, we will continue to help lead and support the REAL team, and will work to ensure that the team develops concrete, comprehensive, strategies/policies, which will be presented and strongly encouraged relative to Board adoption, regarding the absolute necessity of addressing the issue of equitable access for all RCSD students, as it relates to advanced courses. This issue is also related to the declaration contained in the RCSD’s Distinguished Educator Report (p.49), that: ‘The foundation of creating equity within the District must begin with addressing racism.’ Therefore, we will work to ensure careful, thorough scrutiny and oversight relative to implementation of subsequent recommendations, which of course is vital to success: http://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/programs/main/rochester-de-report-11-14-18.pdf .”

Question 2.

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?

Answer 2.

“We will work to help develop a process that will allow us to monitor whether or not ‘the high school diploma has real value for all students.’ We are fully aware of the fact that many RCSD students ‘graduate’ with so-called ‘regents’ diplomas, but find themselves lacking regarding necessary, requisite skills and knowledge to be successful regarding Higher Education, and/or the livable-wage job market. This is a widespread systemic issue and problem, which must be eliminated. Thus, we will encourage students and families who believe they have been short-changed relative to proper/adequate preparation, to notify us, and in turn, after conferring with such families, we will possibly request guidance and assistance from NY State Commissioner of Education and/or NY State Board of Regents regarding redress.

We are also acutely aware of the fact that college remediation programs for students who ‘graduate’ with inadequate knowledge and/or skills is a very lucrative (multi-billion dollar) industry. We know that many of our students serve as the fodder that helps to feed that industry. Thus, we will attempt to develop the type of working relationship(s) with colleges and universities that will allow us to document percentages of our ‘graduates’ who need extensive remediation in order to be successful at the college level. The hope and plan is that such information can be utilized to convince and/or cause the State to enact corrective remedies.”

Question 3.

New York’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?

Answer 3.

“Of course the maximum amount of resources possible must be allocated (efficiently and effectively) for direct student services and support, period. There is ample evidence that this is not currently the case. For example, it is noted in the above referenced Distinguished Educator Report (page 44) that:

‘7. Most schools appeared to be generously staffed, with little thought given to long-term sustainability. With no clear theory of action, there is no evidence that the additional staff improves student outcomes.’

‘8. In several instances, purchases/contracts exceeding $35,000 have not been submitted to the Board for approval as stipulated by Board policy.’

‘9. There is a disparity in the distribution of resources and services from school to school. The total school funding per pupil ranges from a low of $17,414.20 to a high of $36,103.35, with a mean of $21,472.65. The District’s Auditor General 2018 Risk Assessment found that, “Equity concerns were noted across buildings.” It is not clear as to whether the disparity is based on the diverse needs of the student population.’

Circumstances such as those outlined above, not only makes it crystal-clear that the Board must oversee and monitor implementation of each of the 13 subsequent recommendations contained in the Distinguished Educator Report, but may also need to require a thorough, forensic, budgetary investigation. As Board members, we will work to ensure that all of the recommendations are thoroughly addressed.”

Question 4.

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?

Answer 4.

“Again, from October 2017 to present, each of us have served as active members of the RCSD’s Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) team, which was established in 2017 for the purpose of developing a comprehensive, Racial Equity Action Plan for the RCSD. Two of the teams’ three Subcommittees (Human Resource and Professional Learning) have developed Goals that focus on this particular issue, e.g., recruiting, helping to develop, and retain significantly increased numbers of race and class-conscious teachers and other educators of color. Increased, aggressive recruitment strategies, particularly at institutions such as Historic Black Colleges and Universities, as well as development of internal career ladders, and efforts to help ‘grow-our-own’ represent aspects or elements of our overall strategies.

We recognize and acknowledge the systemic issue and problem of ‘the least experienced teachers [being] disproportionately assigned to Rochester’s highest-need high schools.’ This is largely a function and result of choice, frequently based solely on seniority. As Board members, we view this as a critically important issue that needs to be addressed (at least in part) via open Contract negotiations between the Board and Employee Bargaining Units. It represents an issue that we will formally call for immediate, ongoing, open negotiations in the objective best interests of our students.”

Question 5.

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?

Answer 5.

“The premise behind allocating $500,000 to revise the RCSD’s Code of Conduct was to move away from punitive measures, such as suspension, as the first line of defense regarding inappropriate behavior (except extreme situations). In this case, the major job of the Board is oversight relative to the processes spelled out in the Code. However, relationship-building, especially via processes that are being developed by REAL’s Relationship Building Subcommittee should help reduce escalation of many situations, so that solutions short of suspension will be possible. Also, relative  to relationship-building, it is reported that restorative practice is helpful, which is why we might work to help expand it to all RCSD schools (depending upon evaluation outcomes).

Additionally, REAL’s Professional Learning Subcommittee is in the process of developing an aligned framework that captures (within the RCSD’s Racial Equity Action Plan) all RCSD initiatives that address racism and racial equity through professional learning. This is highly relevant, especially when considering the Report that represents the foundation upon which the premise for the $500,000 expenditure, relative to revising the Code of Conduct, identified racism as a major factor:  http://www.aqeny.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/2014_11_18-Breaking-the-School-to-Prison-Pipeline-the-crisis-affecting-rochester_s-students-and-what-we-can-do-to-fix-it.pdf”

Question 6.

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?

Answer 6.

“Clearly, currently, the school board can not ‘rely on the district leadership for day-to-day management of the school system” (at least not effectively, nor efficiently). Also, it is painfully obvious that currently, there is no “clear vision, [consistent] transparent use of data, [nor] equity-driven strategic plan for the district’s operations.’

Of all the vital information contained in the RCSD’s Distinguished Educator Report ( http://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/programs/main/rochester-de-report-11-14-18.pdf ), nothing is more clear than the manner in which “the Rochester school board [should] think about its governance role and key issues related to teaching and learning…” Both, the current, massive, institutional failure of the Board, as well as the remedy, are clearly and fully spelled out via the 21 Findings and 14 Recommendations contained in the Governance And District Leadership section of the Report (pp 16-24).

As Board members we will work to help ensure that all Board colleagues clearly and fully comprehend the nature and essence of the problems and issues regarding Board governance and District leadership (as spelled out via the above referenced, 21  findings, as well as the solution, as spelled out via the above referenced, 14 recommendations. If clear understanding exists, all that’s left is deadly-serious oversight.”