Friday, January 25, 2013

RCSD adopting 'common core' curriculum

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 11:41 AM

For much of the last decade, graduation rates for most of New York State’s Big Five school districts have been around 50 percent. But the numbers have gradually improved for the New York City and Yonkers districts, which have graduation rates over 60 percent.

Rochester’s graduation rates continue to hover around 50 percent, however, with 27 of its schools performing in the lowest 5 percent in the state.

One reason for the gains in New York City and Yonkers, says Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, is the implementation of what educators call the common core curriculum. Rochester is about four years behind New York City implementing the common core, Vargas says.

The district will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, February 5, to explain the common core to parents. The meeting's at 5:30 p.m. in the district’s central office, 131 West Broad Street.

About 45 states have agreed to adopt the common core curriculum, including New York. The premise: a seventh grader in Rochester should be able to move to a public school in Massachusetts and demonstrate the same knowledge in math, for example, as the students in that school.

“It’s a clear set of standards,” says Anita Murphy, Rochester’s deputy superintendent of operations. “The standards say 'this is what children at this grade should know and be able to do.'”

The common core gives teachers a road map, Murphy says, but it’s not prescriptive. It doesn’t tell teachers how to teach, she says.

“We used to hand teachers a bat and a ball, and tell you to go play,” Murphy says. “Then we’d come back and tell you that you failed because you played cricket even though we never told you to play baseball. That’s what we’ve been doing to teachers across this country.”

The common core also has a second tier. Just as the states have established common standards, Rochester has created a districtwide common core. For example: ninth-grade algebra, whether the student is enrolled at Monroe or Charlotte high school, will be the same.

The common core also emphasizes equitable standards: students in one city school should receive the same level of art and music instruction as students in another. And it emphasizes understanding over-coverage.

Murphy says the district’s teachers fell into a habit of offering students an assortment of course levels instead of the appropriate level, based on what it seemed like students could handle. For example, students would receive seventh-grade math instead of eighth-grade math or pre-algebra instead of algebra.

Remedial instruction was being offered instead of the course, Murphy says.

“Now we’re saying, ‘Don’t do that,’” she says. “'Have high expectations for our kids.'”

Implementing the core curriculum may be the biggest challenge the district has ever faced, Vargas says.

“The state used to give us more latitude, but now that latitude is gone," he says.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

RPO board chair: organization has 'tried to take the high ground'

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 2:47 PM

Between the balance sheet, the newspaper headlines, and the crowded hall at the Eastman Theatre last night, it’s painfully obvious that the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra is experiencing a turbulent time.

RPO members who attended Wednesday's annual meeting to either support or challenge the board’s controversial decision to end Music Director Arild Remmereit’s contract early, were also confronted with the news that the organization ended the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year deep in red ink. The 2011 to 2012 deficit topped $700,000, and the orchestra also experienced declines in revenue and ticket sales.

But as much as RPO board chair Elizabeth Rice tried to keep the meeting moving, the subject of Remmereit kept coming up. Responding to criticism of the board’s behavior and even demands for the resignation of Rice and RPO President and CEO Charles Owens, Rice said Remmereit’s dismissal was the end result of a long and deliberate process.

“People’s emotions have gotten out of control,” Rice said, adding that the RPO has “tried to take the high ground” as buzz built over the board’s decision.

Rice said the termination of Remmereit’s contract is akin to a divorce, “and sometimes divorces get messy.” She also said that Remmereit has shown no interest in reinstatement and has been uncommunicative with the organization.

The committee to find Remmereit’s successor begins work tomorrow — Friday, January 25 — Rice said. She said the RPO has already fielded “many calls from agents with interested clients,” and that the board has no particular candidate in mind at this time.

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Hillary takes the Hill

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 10:29 AM

Hillary Clinton may be the country’s strongest Democratic politician, in some ways even stronger than the president.

Clinton stepped to the side — some would say she was pushed — to allow Barack Obama to lead the party to a sweeping victory in 2008. Her ability to show earnest respect for Obama over the last four years has made her followers even more loyal.

And as what may have been the most rancorous election cycle in recent memory unfolded, Clinton’s personal image floated above it all like a big balloon. She’s been in plain sight the whole time, but never down in the dirty fight.
What we saw was Hillary working. If she wasn’t in another country, she was either leaving or returning from one. Against the capital backdrop, much of it consumed by political nonsense and maneuvering to block Obama, Clinton has had a real job and she’s done it well.

While she’s said on numerous occasions that she’s not going to run for president again in 2016, there’s plenty of speculation that she might give it another go. And if she does, it won’t be a good day for Vice President Joe Biden or a lot of Republicans.

Yesterday, Clinton filleted some Republican leaders at a hearing concerning the deadly attack on a US mission in Benghazi. Chris Stevens, who was the US ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans were killed.

It’s been clear since the tragedy occurred that many Republicans aren't the least bit interested in learning what went wrong that day, and how to prevent it from happening again. Rather Republicans have turned it into a wholesale opportunity to try and derail the high-speed train that appears to be headed straight for them.

In her five-and-a-half hour testimony, Clinton accepted responsibility for what happened in Benghazi, and she flatly rejected the suggestion that the Obama administration misled the public for political gain right before the election. She also had a tense exchange with Republican Senator Ron Johnson, exposing the pettiness of some of the questioning.

But it was the always imaginative Republican Senator Rand Paul who showed real naiveté, saying had he been president he would have fired Clinton.

President Rand Paul? That'll be the day.

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Disagreement puts I-Square in limbo

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 8:53 AM

If the I-Square project in Irondequoit moves forward, it won't be in the form initially proposed, says the project's developer, Mike Nolan.

Late yesterday afternoon, the Irondequoit Town Board tabled a resolution to approve a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement for I-Square, a development that would include space for commercial and retail, as well as public areas near the corner of Cooper Road and Titus Avenue.

Last year, the Town Board rejected Nolan's request for a 25-year PILOT agreement, opting instead for a 10-year plan. The move infuriated Nolan and I-Square's supporters. But town officials and Nolan had productive talks after that vote, Irondequoit supervisor Mary Joyce D'Aurizio said, and Nolan subsequently satisfied many of the town's concerns about financing and the project's business plan. So Nolan was back in front of the board last night to get his 25-year agreement: actually 15 years with two five-year extensions. If the resolution had passed, it would've negated the 10-year agreement.

So what went wrong?

Nolan said he received a copy of the resolution prior to yesterday's meeting, and that it had a paragraph he never agreed to. The paragraph dealt with Nolan's plan to apply for a PILOT through the Monroe County Industrial Development Agency. In simple terms, any deal Nolan negotiated with COMIDA would have to come back to the Irondequoit Town Board for approval. (COMIDA has the ability to orchestrate an overarching PILOT agreement that would cover town, school, and county taxes.)

That was unacceptable to Nolan, who said the provision would only cause further delay for the project. He asked to have the paragraph removed, and that's why the board tabled the resolution. Town Board members said that removing the paragraph amounted to a change substantial enough to warrant further review. Many in the audience were not happy about the board's decision and voiced their displeasure.

"They're making a grave mistake today," Nolan told reporters after the meeting.

Board member Deborah Essley said town officials ultimately want one of two things: to have representation at the table during negotiations with COMIDA, or to have Nolan's benchmarks — the dates when he expects to complete each of the project's seven buildings — in writing.

What happens next is anyone's guess. Town officials say they value the project and are hopeful negotiations will continue. Nolan, however, is clearly frustrated.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Concerns about School 16's future won't go away

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2013 at 10:03 AM

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.

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Lawsuit could halt today's RPO board meeting

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2013 at 10:01 AM

Attorney Eileen Buholtz has filed a lawsuit against the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s board. And her filings include a request for a temporary restraining order which, if granted, would postpone today’s annual meeting of the board.

The case has been assigned to State Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Fisher. Buholtz says she expects to have a phone conference with Fisher and a legal representative of the RPO sometime this morning. When we spoke to Buholtz earlier today, a time had not yet been set.

Buholtz is also a member of a six-person dissident slate trying to gain seats on the RPO's board. The slate members are unhappy with the direction of the RPO, particularly the decision to terminate Music Director Arild Remmereit’s contract two years early.

Buholtz says that neither the board nor the board's executive committee properly set the membership deadline that determines who can vote for board candidates; the deadline was December 21. She says she wants the annual meeting delayed until the board formally sets a deadline.

The dissidents are running as a slate of write-in candidates, which the board's bylaws do not prohibit, she says. Buholtz says she also wants the judge to compel the RPO to give her the names and contact information for all RPO members. In the filing, she says she's entitled to contact the members to inform them of their right to write in a candidate, and that she wants also to inform them about the dissident slate.

The board's annual meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. today. Members are due to elect eight board members. The RPO board has nominated eight candidates: William Cherry, Patrick Fulford, Marie Kenton, Dawn Lipson, Katherine Schumacher, Mark Siwiec, Ingrid Stanlis, and Eugene Toy.

The alternate slate is Buholtz, Edward Fiandach, Sandra Frankel, Ray Grosswirth, Hobart Lerner, and John Lovenheim.

Here's a copy of Buholtz's complaint:

Buholtz complaint by

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cuomo budget proposal includes minimum-wage boost

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2013 at 3:11 PM

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released his $136.5 billion 2013 to 2014 budget proposal this afternoon. He said the budget closes a $1.3 billion gap and doesn't include any new taxes. It also includes a boost in the minimum wage, from $7.25 to $8.75 an hour.

Cuomo said the budget includes a 4.4 percent increase — $889 million — in education aid, and that much of that aid will be directed to high-needs districts. The budget also includes $20 million for school districts to extend school days or years and $25 million toward full-day pre-kindergarten programs in less wealthy school districts.

The budget proposal includes funding for several economic development programs. It has money for the state to start the Innovations Hot Spots program, which will essentially target 10 areas to serve as high-tech incubators. Along with that program, the budget includes $50 million for a venture capital fund to encourage start-up businesses based on innovative research. It funds new initiatives for job training, a third round of regional economic development council funding, and a five-year extension of a tax credit for rehabbing historic commercial properties.

Cuomo's proposed plan also includes an expansion of the Environmental Protection Fund, which provides money for a variety of efforts ranging from open space preservation to recycling programs. The budget calls for a $19 million increase in the fund, to $153 million. Much of that money will come from unclaimed bottle deposits, while the rest will come from more vigorous enforcement, according to the state Division of the Budget's website.

More information on the proposal is available at the Division of the Budget's website. The press release from Cuomo's office offers a summary of his proposed plan and it's available here.

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Obama and the liberal era

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2013 at 9:42 AM

In a historic moment, Obama’s second inauguration speech was unapologetically liberal with numerous references to core Democratic ideals.

On a day celebrating Dr. Martin Luther’s King’s legacy, Obama acknowledged the civil rights struggles of women, blacks, and gays. He reminded Americans that equality is good for a civilized society, and that inequality invites repression and violence.

He also reminded us that we are not a culture of takers and freeloaders, and that we should aspire to being a culture of caretakers. We are judged by how well we treat seniors, the disabled, veterans, and the poor — and Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are representations of a humanistic rather than a socialist society.

Some of these values are counter to the conservative movement that began with Ronald Reagan. But Obama’s speech also confirmed that the majority of Americans embrace his leadership and path forward. Obama won in spite of four years of bitter distractions from the likes of birthers, race baiters, and Donald Trump.

The American tapestry has changed demographically from the Reagan era, and some of the values that embodied that period of time have changed, too. This transformation isn’t recognizable to some conservatives and the anger toward this president is regularly heard on radio and television.

Their anxiety is understandable, and it may be the reason Obama placed so much emphasis on unity and working together on the country’s problems.

But to address these problems,Obama will have to convince more Americans that the decline of the middle class is directly linked to education, health, and economic inequalities that have grown worse over the last three decades.
And he’ll have to convince the leaders of both parties that voters won’t reward them for sitting on solutions when there’s plenty of common ground.

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Our stressed-out lakes

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2013 at 9:06 AM

The other day, I stumbled across an article on ThinkProgress that gives a snapshot of how climate change is affecting the Great Lakes. And it talks about some of the potential future effects on the region.

But what caught my attention is a map embedded in the post. The image, developed by the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project, shows the cumulative environmental stress on each lake. And Lake Ontario is not looking good: it's all orange and red, the color codes indicating the most stress.

The GLEAM website maps shows the extent of certain environmental problems in the lakes. In Lake Ontario, these stressors include nitrogen and phosphorous pollution, mercury and PCB's in sediment, warming waters, and invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels.

Ultimately, the map is a good reminder that no environmental problem in Lake Ontario occurs in isolation.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

WEEK AHEAD: Cuomo's budget, MCC site meeting, planning downtown, College Town designs, chat with the police chief

Posted By on Mon, Jan 21, 2013 at 9:49 AM

Governor Andrew Cuomo will present his 2013 to 2014 budget proposal to the State Legislature at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, January 23.

The proposal will likely top $130 billion. During his State of the State address earlier this month, Cuomo rolled out a load of new initiatives: he offered school districts extra funding to extend school days, he proposed economic development initiatives for Upstate, and he called for a broad effort to improve infrastructure.

After Cuomo’s address, some legislators and journalists wondered how he planned to pay for the proposals. His budget should address those concerns.
The governor’s office hasn’t indicated whether the presentation will be streamed online, though it probably will be via

The Irondequoit Town Board will meet at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, January 23, to vote on a tax deal for the I-Square project.

Town residents Mike and Wendy Nolan have proposed the development, which would contain a mix of businesses, offices, apartments, and public areas near the intersection of Titus Avenue and Cooper Road. The Nolans initially sought a 25-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement from the town, but officials approved a 10-year deal. At the time, they said information provided by the Nolans didn’t support a 25-year agreement.

The two sides recently restarted talks and appear to have come to an agreement. The Nolans provided the town with additional details on the project, says a Democrat and Chronicle article. And the town board directed its attorney to develop a new, 25-year agreement with the Nolans, the article says. The new agreement is to include performance benchmarks at the 15 and 20 year marks.

Monroe Community College officials are holding two informational sessions this week on their vision for a new downtown campus.

The sessions will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, January 24, and at 9 a.m. Saturday, January 26, in the Damon City Campus’s fourth-floor community room. Organizers are encouraging people to register for the sessions by e-mailing

MCC plans to purchase several buildings on Kodak’s State Street site for a new downtown campus. Officials from the college and the company are in the final stages of negotiations, MCC spokesperson Cynthia Cooper said last week. Once there is an agreement, the County Legislature will have to approve the terms.

Meanwhile, Rochester Mayor Tom Richards still supports keeping MCC at the Sibley building downtown. Jeremy Moule

Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard will hold the third in a series of one-hour Twitter town halls at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, January 22. You can ask the chief questions on any topic and offer comments on policing in Rochester.

You must have a Twitter account to participate. Follow #rpdchief. The last town hall is Tuesday, January 29.

The City of Rochester is seeking citizen input on a new master plan— essentially a guide for future development — for downtown. The first public meeting was held last week.
The second meeting is at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 23.

This event will have an open house format where anyone interested in downtown Rochester can visit various information tables at their own pace and speak with city staff.

The meeting is in Council chambers at City Hall, 30 Church Street.

There will be a College Town design presentation by the developer at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 24, at St. Anne’s social hall, 1600 Mt. Hope Avenue.

College Town, which was initiated by the University of Rochester, will be built on 16 acres on the west side of Mount Hope between Elmwood Avenue and Crittenden Boulevard.

This week’s meeting is in response to the desires of the neighborhood to revise the building plan which was shown last October. The developer has met with the city, a design review board, and members of the neighborhood and business associations.

Groundbreaking is expected next spring on the $100 million project, which includes a hotel and conference center, offices, grocery store, and street-level retail with apartments above. Christine Carrie Fien

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