It's been more than two months since Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas presented his draft proposal for modernizing city schools. And during that time, School 16 in the 19th Ward has become a symbol of resistance to parts of the plan.
A group of neighborhood residents and parents are determined to keep the school open. And they’re challenging district officials to think about how closing small schools impacts neighborhoods, and the students in those neighborhoods.
At a meeting last night, Vargas was again on the defensive, saying that the school is, technically speaking, not closed, and that he hasn't recommended closing School 16 permanently. The school’s students and staff have been moved temporarily to Freddie Thomas on the other side of the city until the district decides School 16's future.
But that could take years, residents said. And by the time the building is back up and running — if a decision is made to remodel and reopen it — the damage to the neighborhood will be done. Families and students who would have attended that school will have moved on.
It’s been months since Vargas released his draft proposal for the second phase of facilities modernization. The plan recommends closing some city schools and to discontinuing use of some school buildings. Vargas wants to close Schools 16, 10, and 44, and consolidate them into a newly built school to serve the 19th Ward area.
DeWain Feller, former president of the 19th Ward Community Association, sent a letter to school officials last month rejecting that idea. Feller says the superintendent’s plan has inconsistencies that make it difficult to understand the recommendations. Why should a small neighborhood school like 16 be targeted for closure when a school like 23, a similar structure in the Park Avenue neighborhood, is recommended for rehab? Feller wrote.
Feller also raised questions about the estimated costs for rehabbing Schools 16, 10, and 44 compared to building a brand new school.
One thing is clear: enthusiasm for updating the city’s aging schools is dampened by skepticism. Many residents and parents see the state, city, and district spending millions shuffling students around in the name of reform while some of their concerns are ignored.
Vargas may be new on the job, some residents say, but we’ve been here before.