Saturday, June 29, 2013

Districtwide surveys gauge Rochester school climate

Posted By on Sat, Jun 29, 2013 at 7:41 AM

Students, teachers, principals, and parents in the Rochester school district recently participated in comprehensive districtwide surveys. Each group was given a survey with questions tailored to their relationship to the district. For example, students were asked about their teachers’ instruction, responsiveness, and classroom demeanor.

The New York State Education Department required the surveys as part of the teacher evaluation legislation enacted last year for priority school districts — those where the majority of schools are failing and in need of improvement.

In some school districts, such as New York City’s and Syracuse’s, the results will count toward teachers' professional evaluation. But that's not the case in Rochester, says Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association. Still, teachers found the surveys frustrating, he says.

“They ate up so much valuable time,” Urbanski says. Some teachers found some of the questions intrusive, he says, and not always age-appropriate.

But Anita Murphy, deputy superintendent of the RCSD, disagrees. The surveys were intentionally designed to gauge perceptions of students and parents for planning purposes, she says. And the cumulative results will be used to help identify problems and guide in the development of solutions, Murphy says.

“We worked very specifically to not make it punitive,” she says. “We want to use the data to make the schools better.”

Rather than providing feedback that is specific to individual students, teachers, and principals, Murphy says, the feedback will be more generalized, like “Here’s what people said about this school."

Still, Urbanski sent a letter (below) to teachers earlier this month acknowledging their frustration with the survey. The RTA is also filing a class-action grievance with the state due to what Urbanski says are violations of the collective bargaining agreement.

The district should get the results of the surveys sometime in August, Murphy says.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Former Albany nursing home director to head MCH

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 1:18 PM

Former Albany County Nursing Home administrator Gene Larrabee will be the new executive health director at Monroe Community Hospital, says Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks. 

The Albany County Nursing Home is a 250-bed facility. Larrabee's technical position was executive director of the Albany County Department of Residential Health Care Facilities. A press release from Brooks' office says Larrabee's duties included clinical programming, regulatory compliance, policy development, personnel matters, and budgeting.

An Albany Times Union article published yesterday says Larrabee has given his notice, and it notes that Larrabee is leaving among uncertainty about the Albany County home's future.

Brooks also announced that Colleen Rose has been hired as the hospital's deputy director. Rose comes to MCH from the Fairport Baptist Home, where she worked as director of strategic initiatives. 

Rose's and Larrabee's appointments must be approved by the County Legislature. A vote should happen in August, although the pair will begin work at MCH in July. 

Officials tout Eastman Business Park agreement

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Kodak's bankruptcy filing  generated a lot of questions, and some legitimate worries about the future of the Eastman Business Park on West Ridge Road. But some answers are starting to emerge, leaving state and local government and elected officials, as well as business park tenants, more confident in the facility's future.

Eastman Business Park on West Ridge Road, formerly known as Kodak Park, is in a period of transition. - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • Eastman Business Park on West Ridge Road, formerly known as Kodak Park, is in a period of transition.
Some of those answers have come via a recent agreement between the state and Kodak. This morning, a panel of officials gave an update on the park and the agreement at, appropriately enough, Eastman Business Park.

Under the agreement, which was originally announced on June 19, Kodak pledges to keep its core operations at the park. At today's event, Brad Kruchten, a Kodak senior vice president, said that the company has already consolidated some operations at the park, including moving some manufacturing work back from Mexico.

But several of the speakers highlighted another aspect of the agreement, which they say is critical to attracting future investment to the park. Kodak has agreed to pay $49 million into an environmental trust fund, which officials expect will cover the cost of long-term environmental monitoring and clean-up efforts at the park and in the Genesee River. In exchange, current and future occupants of the park will not be liable for any legacy pollution. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has formally agreed not to sue any of the park businesses over pollution generated in the past by Kodak.

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Survey would gauge public perception of the RPD

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Rochester Mayor Tom Richards wants to hire a group out of Cornell University to study public perception of the Rochester Police Department. The legislation to pay $15,000 to Survey Research Institute for the project will be considered by City Council next month.

The legislation's wording is rather vague, saying that SRI will work with the RPD "to develop a survey instrument that will assess community opinions and perceptions of aspects of RPD services identified as areas of concern."

It also says that the survey will be administered to "a random sample of city residents and business owners representative of the ethic, socioeconomic, and geographic distribution of the population."

Richards has said that the city would study policing, specifically whether or not Rochester should go back to the old seven-section model instead of the east-west model the RPD is using now. Some people say that eliminating the old model has caused an erosion of police-community relations — and the reorganization has become an election issue this year. Richards has previously defended the reorganization.

It's unclear if the proposal to hire SRI is the study that Richards referred to, but I don't think so. This sounds like something different.

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Kodak power plant buyer getting state assistance

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 8:56 AM

The board of the state's economic development arm has approved $7.2 million in incentives for Recycled Energy Development to put toward purchasing and upgrading the Eastman Business Park utilities system.
Recycled Energy Development is purchasing the Eastman Business Park utilities. - FILE PHOTO
  • Recycled Energy Development is purchasing the Eastman Business Park utilities.

The incentives, approved yesterday, include a $3.6 million grant and a $3.5 million loan, according to a press release from Empire State Development. The grant will go toward the $12.4 million in acquisition costs while the loan will facilitate $5.5 million worth of efficiency upgrades, says the press release.

The Eastman Business Park utilities include a power plant, water system, steam, and various other systems. Local government and economic development officials say the low-cost utilities are part of what makes the park attractive to certain key industries. 

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

MCC-Kodak deal finalized

Posted By on Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 4:50 PM

Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks has sent out a press release announcing that the county has completed the purchase of Kodak properties on State Street, which will be used for a new Monroe Community College campus.

The press release says that the purchase was completed this afternoon. The county is paying just shy of $3 million for approximately 562,000 square feet of building space, as well as part of a parking lot. It plans to invest a total of $72 million in the purchase and renovation of the property.

The press release says that the county and college are in the process of securing architectural design services and that the college hopes to occupy the campus in 2017.

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Supreme Court strikes down DOMA; celebrate tonight

Posted By on Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 11:01 AM

Come party in Washington Square Park tonight to celebrate two milestone victories for gay rights. Today, the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and appeared to clear the way for same-sex marriage in California.

The court struck down DOMA in a 5 to 4 decision on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. Justices Roberts, Thomas, Alito, and Scalia dissented, with Justice Kennedy as the deciding vote. Kennedy’s opinion was supported by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

“DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a state entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty,” according to Kennedy’s opinion. "The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity."

The decision — a major victory for gay rights advocates — means that the federal government recognizes same-sex marriages in those states where same-sex marriage is legal, such as New York. Legally married same-sex couples here can expect equal treatment under the law as opposite-sex married couples with respect to issues like filing income taxes jointly and Social Security benefits.

But the court’s decision would not impact states where same-sex marriage is not legal.

The Supreme Court also dealt a blow to supporters of California’s Proposition 8, which essentially bans same-sex marriages in that state. The court decided that opponents of same-sex marriage didn’t have the right to appeal a lower court’s decision to overturn the ban.

Tonight's celebration, organized by the Equality Rochester Coalition, begins at 5 p.m. at Washington Square Park, 181 South Clinton Avenue. In case of inclement weather, the rally will move to Fellowship Hall in the First Universalist Church, 150 South Clinton.

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Lead exposure numbers down; federal funding in danger

Posted By on Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 10:22 AM

Since 2000, the number of children in Monroe County showing elevated levels of lead in their blood has dropped substantially. That year, testing showed that 1,293 children had elevated blood-lead levels.

In 2012, 182 children tested positive for blood-lead levels above the 10 micrograms per deciliter threshold, according to data released today by the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning. That's down from 222 children in 2011 and 290 children in 2010.

The trend is a success story for Rochester and Monroe County. Elected officials, public health officials, University of Rochester researchers, children's advocates, and pediatricians have worked together to approach the problem of child lead poisoning from several angles. One significant effort came from the City of Rochester, which implemented a law requiring lead inspections as part of the certificate of occupancy process for apartments.

But House Republicans could undermine that progress. They've proposed cutting funding to federal Housing and Urban Development lead hazard prevention programs. In a press release sent out yesterday, Representative Louise Slaughter said the GOP wants to cut the program to $50 million, down from $128 million in funding approved last year. The press release says the House Appropriations Committee will vote on the proposal today.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Obama announces climate actions

Posted By on Tue, Jun 25, 2013 at 3:23 PM

President Barack Obama just wrapped up a speech at Georgetown University where he announced federal actions aimed at cutting the country's carbon emissions. The White House issued a fact sheet and report on the president's agenda, which is available here.


Some of the measures, all of which are executive actions not requiring the approval of Congress, are significant. Obama's directing the Environmental Protection Agency to complete new carbon limits for existing power plants, but the utilities industry and Republican lawmakers will likely push back on those efforts. Obama also said he's directing federal agencies to develop new efficiency standards for vehicles and household appliances.

Obama also called for more federal investment in renewable energy and said that the government will get 20 percent of its power from renewables within seven years. And he called for the federal government to put more emphasis on climate change adaptation, including providing local governments with help to "harden" their infrastructure against things like storms and flooding.

The president also, once again, called for a transition away from coal to natural gas, nuclear power, and renewable energy. As for the Keystone XL pipeline, he said he wouldn't approve it if it adds to US carbon emissions.

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Quality issues in charter schools

Posted By on Tue, Jun 25, 2013 at 11:01 AM

Champions of charter schools were dealt a sobering reminder of their core mission recently: to innovate effective and new education models that can be successfully channeled into the nation’s broader public school system. A new report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes questions whether this, after 20 years, is happening.

According to the CREDO report, about 17 percent of charter schools had academic gains significantly higher than traditional public schools, 37 percent performed worse, and about 46 percent showed no significant difference.

The report examined charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia, with more than 70 percent of nation’s charter school students. Despite considerable demand for charter schools by parents and support from the business community, charter schools vary widely in quality, the report says. And it warns that states need to take steps to more quickly evaluate and close low-performing charters.

However, the report also says that low-income students and English language learners showed more significant gains in charter schools than they did in traditional public schools . And students overall performed better the longer they attended charter schools.

Critics and supporters of charter schools issued their position statements for and against the latest CREDO report. Overall, the report doesn't reveal a lot that we don’t already know. But it does continue to raise questions about the real purpose of charters, and where the charter school movement is headed.

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