Rochester mayoral candidate Lovely Warren has staked out education as the centerpiece of her campaign. At a press conference earlier today, Warren said Rochester is facing many challenges, but "none of them is more important than the failure of our schools."
After citing some well-known statistics concerning the city’s grim educational outcomes, Warren put the situation in stark terms. The city will not survive if the crisis in education is not addressed, she said. And she introduced what she called her “seven-point education plan": initiatives that include expanding pre K, recruiting teachers trained to work with urban children, creating a scholarship bank to help students with college costs, and realigning city programs around the city’s educational needs.
But the thrust of Warren’s approach to improving education is offering parents more choice, largely by actively recruiting successful charter school management organizations.
Warren said she supports Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s efforts to increase reading proficiency and to clamp down on truancy. And she said her support for charter schools will supplement Vargas's work, not compete or conflict with it.
But she also said that parents in Rochester should not have to wait another 20 years for the city’s schools to improve.
Referring to a recent statement made by Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation, Warren said that the next mayor’s biggest challenge will be attracting middle-income families back to the city. But that task will be impossible if those families aren’t confident in the quality of city schools, she said.
Warren went so far as to say that she supported a close friend’s decision to sell her house and move to the suburbs rather than put her children’s education at risk in city schools.
Warren reiterated that she will not pursue mayoral control, a contentious issue that divided the city under Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy’s tenure as mayor. And she said she would not lobby to change the city’s annual contribution of $119.1 million to the district.
But the city could support charter schools, she said, by assisting charters with one of their biggest expenses: making city-owned building space available.
Some of Warren’s points smack of political campaign glee, but her focus on education is an astute decision. As a parent, Warren can make a passionate appeal to other city parents who share her concerns about education. She may be able to better connect with their fears and aspirations than her opponent, Mayor Tom Richards.
Warren said she doesn't dismiss city schools, but she defended without apology the right of city parents to choose the best education option for their children. And when asked whether she would send her child, now 2, to a city school, Warren firmly aligned herself with those mothers and fathers she wants to reach.
The public will have to wait and see, she said.