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Vote may be this week on UR's plan for East 

If all goes well, the Rochester school board will vote on Thursday, December 18, on the University of Rochester's sweeping proposal to transform East High School. That would let the district meet the State Education Department's December 31 deadline for submitting a turn-around plan.

If the SED approves the plan, the UR will assume full management responsibilities for East starting in July 2015.

School board members, Rochester Teachers Association representatives, and University of Rochester officials have spent much of the last few days hammering out the last details on the plan.

The UR needs the agreement of the district's four labor groups. Three have already indicated they approve of the proposal, but early this week, RTA representatives were still in negotiations with the school board over what teachers will be paid working under the new system.

Calling the proposal "unprecedented," RTA president Adam Urbanski said in an interview last week that he didn't see any insurmountable obstacles to the negotiations.

In most contract negotiations at the school level, 80 percent of teachers must agree to any proposed changes. But the UR agreed to become the EPO – the Educational Partnership Organization – at East on the condition that only a 51 percent majority was needed.

There is some urgency to settle negotiations and get the state's approval to move forward.

"It is our understanding that unless an EPO agreement can be achieved this month, East High School will likely be closed by the State Department of Education," UR officials said in a written statement last week.

The UR's proposal, which it unveiled last week, identifies key areas in East's culture, instructional abilities, and support services that it says must change if the school is to achieve the university's goal of an 84 percent graduation rate in about six years. The strategy involves creating a smaller, neighborhood-oriented school environment at East, increasing social-emotional support for students and families, and putting extra emphasis on ninth grade and alternative career programs.

Students who live near East will have priority for enrollment, which UR officials say could help improve parent and neighborhood engagement.

Enrollment will be reduced to 1350 from its current level of about 1750. And the building will be organized into a Lower School for grades 6 to 8 and an Upper School for grades 9 to 12.

The UR hopes to address East's high number of ninth graders who repeat that grade, some multiple times, by creating what it's calling the Freshman Academy. Ninth graders will be housed in a separate wing, where they will be provided with the academic and social support they need.

If some of those students continue to do poorly in school, East will use the services of Big Picture Learning, a non-profit organization that develops special programs for added support.

The proposal calls for a longer day, a flexible schedule, and an increased emphasis on reading and math literacy, says Steve Uebbing, the UR Warner School of Education professor who will become East's superintendent. Uebbing will report directly to the school board rather than to school district Superintendent Bolgen Vargas.

Changing East's student and staff culture is also an important part of the proposal, Uebbing says. A code-of-conduct policy will emphasize a "restorative justice" approach to discipline designed to teach students that they are responsible for helping each other succeed, Uebbing says.

The proposal will build on East's Career and Technical Education program, which will not only include partnerships with local businesses, but will also draw on the UR's resources for students interested in health-care careers. And East's teachers will be required to participate in ongoing professional training that is geared to the particular needs of the new school.

The cost of the proposal, however, could draw some concern. The UR's proposal recommends an increase in the budget for East of about $3.7 million from the current school year to the 2015-2016 school year. But the proposal doesn't recommend a final budget, according to a spokesperson for the UR, "because there are still too many unknowns."

It's unclear whether the state will provide additional funds to cover those costs. If the state doesn't offer East additional financial support, the proposal could mean pulling funds from other parts of the district's budget to support East.

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