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Nothing 'interim' about Cimusz's agenda 

Interim school superintendents are often thought of as placeholders: people who keep the lights on and the buses running until a permanent leader is found.

That's not a description that fits Linda Cimusz, who was thrust into the interim job with the Rochester school district after a health crisis felled the school board's pick.

Though understated and reserved, Cimusz has a thorough grasp of the district after only a few weeks on the job. At this point in her career, Cimusz is what you might call an education interventionist. She gets "911" calls to help struggling school districts that find themselves without leadership.

Considering that her administrative experience dates back to the 1990's, it's not as if Cimusz hasn't had opportunities to be a permanent superintendent. But says she's never wanted the job.

"My eyes have always been on teaching and learning," she says. "When you're superintendent, you can't possibly get down to the teacher-student level."

Cimusz has an incredibly full agenda. The board handed her a list of priorities that include finalizing the budget for the 2016-2017 school year, supporting the second phase of the schools modernization program, negotiating labor agreements for teachers and administrators, and developing plans for receivership of schools.

The latter are low-achieving schools identified by the State Education Department. Under a new state law, superintendents can make bold decisions to improve these schools, or the SED can intervene.

"There are many balls in the air here and I don't want to drop anything," Cimusz says. But she says that she also doesn't want to go off on a tangent that makes the job more difficult for her successor.

Cimusz, who was involved with receivership in Buffalo's schools, says that Rochester is ahead of Buffalo because some of the remedies that superintendents can use under receivership, such as forming an educational partnership with a college or university and expanded learning, are already happening here.

But Cimusz says that she wants more flexibility from teachers and administrators during labor negotiations; it's necessary to improve student achievement, she says, and to reduce the number of schools in receivership.

She says that she'll keep up the districtwide push to improve attendance and reading proficiency: initiatives that began about three years ago. Like many educators who work in urban school districts, Cimusz is especially concerned about students developing reading and language skills as early as possible. She's encouraged by the district's pre-kindergarten program for 4 year olds, she says, and its more recent effort to enroll 3 year olds.

She's also encouraged by the reception she's received from teachers and principals.

"I haven't talked to one person who is discouraged," she says. "No one has said to me, 'There's nothing else we can do.' It's just the opposite."

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