Friday, January 31, 2014

Weingarten: Stop blaming teachers

Posted By on Fri, Jan 31, 2014 at 10:50 AM

Rochester’s teachers are not to blame for the city’s current economic problems, said Randi Weingarten this morning during a stop at the Children’s School of Rochester. Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers, which at 1.5 million members, is one of the largest organized labor groups in the country.

Randi Weingarten (left) visited World of Inquiry school #58 to talk with teachers and parents, including parent Roberta Brunelle (right). - PHOTO BY MATT DETURCK
  • Randi Weingarten (left) visited World of Inquiry school #58 to talk with teachers and parents, including parent Roberta Brunelle (right).
Weingarten arrived in Rochester yesterday to give a talk to area teachers and community leaders. And she’s touring some city schools today.

“Teachers are being blamed for Rochester being the fifth poorest city in the country,” she said. “Instead of blaming and scapegoating teachers, we need to support them. I’m hoping the new mayor [Lovely Warren] and the school board recognize this and will be more supportive.”

Regarding immediate problems facing the area’s teachers, Weingarten said that New York lawmakers and state education officials should do a better job preparing teachers to implement the new Common Core curriculum.

Taking a broader view, Weingarten said that current education reform efforts are failing.

“Stop with the fixation on testing and fixate on the whole child,” she said.

Weingarten has spent considerable time visiting countries where students appear to be outperforming US students. The most important lessons from their success: improving teacher preparation, valuing education and learning, and focusing on equity, she said. 

When the scores of urban schools are subtracted from some of the international tests used to evaluate student proficiency levels, students in the US have scored the same for the last decade. Weingarten said this shows that the problems in US education have more to do with extreme social-economic imbalances that education reform has failed to address. 

Most of the countries she’s visited don’t use testing to evaluate teachers, she said; they prepare teachers thoroughly before leaving them alone in a classroom. The American Federation of Teachers advocates raising teacher education standards, she said, by adapting an education model that resembles medical school with teachers having to pass a longer clinical internship.

Weingarten is critical of the current education reform measures, which she said emphasize austerity, de-professionalizing teaching, and privatization of public schools.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Committee recommends mostly minor tweaks to county charter

Posted By on Thu, Jan 30, 2014 at 1:10 PM

The members of a committee reviewing the laws that specify Monroe County government's organization and operations presented their initial recommendations this morning. The members of the Charter Review Committee seem primary concerned about modernizing the document. 

Each of the committee's seven members were charged with reviewing specific areas of the county charter. For the most part, members recommended technical changes, such as bringing the charter into compliance with state law, changing outdated job titles, and requiring things like reports or the budget to be publicly posted online. And in some cases, they suggested wording changes; Democratic County Legislator and committee member John Lightfoot suggested replacing "fireman" in one section to "firefighter." 

But members did make a few significant recommendations:

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Kress shines and so does the rest of Rochester

Posted By on Thu, Jan 30, 2014 at 10:22 AM

If you were heading south on West Henrietta Road yesterday around 10 a.m., you probably saw the dozen or more squad cars belonging to state troopers, and the black, unmarked Silverados stationed in driveways and parking lots. A very alert police dog sniffed the arriving salt-rimmed cars at Monroe Community College's Applied Technologies Center. 
MCC President Anne Kress - FILE PHOTO
  • MCC President Anne Kress

The heightened precautions were in anticipation of Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. The Bidens’  stop in Rochester was fresh off President Obama’s State of the Union speech where he talked about rebuilding the middle class with living-wage jobs. Community colleges including MCC, the Bidens said, have an important role in this.

The Bidens may have been the center of attention, but it's safe to say that the day belonged to MCC President Anne Kress as well. 

In a relatively short period of time, Kress has gotten under our skin. She gets Rochester and we get Kress. She moves deftly through the region’s education, political, and business elite. Though Kress would be the first to say she hasn’t done it alone, there’s no question that MCC’s image has transformed under her stewardship.

MCC has effectively shaken its blue-collar grittiness and taken on an urbane edginess. As higher education institutions go, Kress doesn’t have a huge endowment with which to work, but her deck is stacked with affordability and value. You can actually do something with the education MCC offers, and you won’t spend the rest of your life paying back student loans.

Kress is not only a tireless promoter of MCC, she’s developed a deep understanding of the region. As SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said in her opening remarks yesterday, “If we want to get anything done, we call Anne.” 

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Staub staying put in Parks Department

Posted By on Thu, Jan 30, 2014 at 9:38 AM

Monroe County Parks Department director Larry Staub won't join the County Legislature after all.

Earlier this month, Legislature President Jeff Adair appointed Staub to fill a vacant Perinton-based seat in the Legislature. Staub's appointment was supposed to be effective today. But yesterday, Staub sent a letter to Adair declining the job and Adair withdrew the appointment.

"After serious reflection and heartfelt conversations with my family and friends, I have reached the conclusion that I am just not ready to leave the Monroe County Department of Parks," Staub wrote. "The reward and satisfaction that I feel at the end of each day's work is too special to give up, at this time in my life."

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On climate, Obama's in a difficult spot

Posted By on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 at 10:07 AM

  • President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama is in a tough spot. He has his agenda, his list of issues he wants to address and laws he wants passed, but he faces an uncooperative Congress.

His State of the Union address last night reflected that reality; he laid out a few areas where he said he plans to take executive action. For example, he said he plans to issue an order requiring all federal contractors to pay their employees at least $10.10 an hour. But he also said he wants Congress to pass legislation to set the federal minimum wage at that amount.

Climate change action has been a particular victim of Congressional intransigence. Early in Obama's first term, he tried to get Congress to pass a sweeping carbon emissions cap, but the effort failed. Since then, he's resorted to using executive and administrative actions.

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Vargas appeals to Albany for more money

Posted By on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 at 9:40 AM

When Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas testified before Albany lawmakers in the past, he didn’t press for an increase in funding for the school district. Instead, he stressed how the district was able to handle its budget challenges by allocating resources more efficiently. 

He told lawmakers that he reduced the number of teachers, revised the way students received tutoring services to include more students at a lower cost, and reduced the district’s building space to account for a declining
Superintendent Bolgen Vargas. - FILE PHOTO
  • Superintendent Bolgen Vargas.

But it's a new year and Vargas, staring at a $40.2 million deficit, has no choice but to rattle the tin cup. 

Speaking before the New York Senate Finance Committee, Assembly Ways and Means Committee, Senate Education Committee, and the Assembly Education Committee, Vargas said yesterday that he’s grateful for the increased funding — $5.9 million — to begin expanding pre-K to full-day classes. But, he said, it's not enough. 

Vargas pointed out that Rochester is the fifth poorest city in the country, and that the school district is the poorest district in the state. 

Vargas used the well-worn education anthem that “poverty is not an excuse for low student achievement.” But he also told lawmakers that concentrated poverty in Rochester is a cold reality that’s growing worse.

Who knows whether Albany lawmakers will be sympathetic to Vargas's plea. But at least Vargas wasn’t alone. Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren was there, too, pressing for a re-evaluation of how financial aid to cities is allocated. Rochester seems to always get the short end of the deal.

But let’s be honest: there’s never a good time to ask for money. And for many lawmakers, Vargas’s request will be weighed against providing more support to charter schools. Republicans and many Democrats, too, are not overly aligned with teachers unions. Many would rather support vouchers and merit pay for high-performing teachers than help an upstate superintendent.

But this may also have been the best time for Vargas to take a stand. Parents are not impressed with the state’s rocky roll out of the Common Core curriculum. And Education Commissioner John King’s public meetings have been packed with parents, teachers, and students angry over standardized testing, among other issues. Their discontent has bubbled up to lawmakers, some of whom have had their own public meetings. These lawmakers may decide that more help for superintendents like Vargas couldn’t hurt.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Review clears Andrew Brown for appointment as city's top attorney

Posted By on Tue, Jan 28, 2014 at 11:58 AM

Rochester City Council is expected to move ahead with the appointment of T. Andrew Brown as the city's corporation counsel tonight after an analysis (see below) by a local law firm confirmed that the appointment would not raise ethical questions or violate the City Charter. 

The council meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 30 Church Street. 

Brown's appointment was uncertain due to his unusual decision to stay active in his own law firm, Brown & Hutchinson, while serving as City Hall's top lawyer. Many in the legal community raised concerns about the potential for conflicts of interest, especially since Brown & Hutchinson frequently represents people who are suing the City of Rochester. 

Council sought an outside opinion on the Brown situation from local firm Harris Beach. In a statement released moments ago, Council says that Brown's appointment would not violate any ethical provision, statute, or the City Charter. 

An earlier opinion had been solicited by Nixon Peabody, which arrived at the same conclusion. Council pursued the second opinion "in the interest of thoroughness and due diligence" the press release says. 

Harris Beach - Andrew Brown

Monday, January 27, 2014

ASAR says 'no confidence' in Vargas

Posted By on Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 5:26 PM

For the first time since it was established in 1980, the Association of Supervisors and Administrators of Rochester has voted “no confidence” in a city schools superintendent. At a press conference this afternoon, Deborah Rider, ASAR’s president, said that 87 percent of its members supported the no-confidence vote against Superintendent Bolgen Vargas.

Rider cited a lack of a strategic plan, lack of instructional leadership, and lack of clear and consistent communication for the vote results. The most recent evidence of this, she said, is the lack of direction give in the roll out of the new Common Core curriculum.

Rider said that ASAR members have had concerns with Vargas’s leadership almost since he started as superintendent in 2012. 

“Members thought it was time to take a stand,” she said.

Rider said that continuous changes in the district’s senior management team have been a detriment and have increased instability.

Even though the vote could inflict serious damage to the superintendent’s public image, Rider said she does not believe it will be an impediment to working with Vargas. District officials have begun negotiating a new labor agreement with ASAR. The current contract expires in June. 

“We met with Vargas and board president Van White last week and it was a productive meeting,” she said. The no-confidence vote has nothing to do with contract negotiations, she said. 

The union, which represents principals and administrators, has about 400 members.

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Week Ahead: State of the Union, Biden visit, county charter review

Posted By on Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 10:15 AM

President Barack Obama will deliver his annual State of the Union address at 9 p.m. on Tuesday.

National media speculate that the address will focus on the economy, income inequality and the federal minimum wage, and immigration reform. It seems likely that he’d also address the ongoing successes and problems with the Affordable Care Act.

On income inequality, specifically, the president may warn that he’ll use executive actions if Congress doesn’t act, says a Politico article. What actions Obama wants Congress to take, and what executive actions he could take on his own, aren’t spelled out in the article.

In fact, a report in the Washington Post says that Obama may try to distance himself from Congress and use the speech to focus on what he can do at the executive level.

On Wednesday, a day after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, will speak at Monroe Community College.

At the moment, few details are available. The White House website lists no public events on Biden’s schedule for Wednesday. Media reports say the Bidens will talk about education and work force development.

Whether the event will be open to the public is also not clear.

The Monroe County Legislature’s Charter Review Committee will meet at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Watts Conference Center, 49 South Fitzhugh Street.

The commission is examining the county charter, which is the law that established the county government and laid out its organization. The group last met at the end of August. Each of the committee’s members, which include county legislators and some attorneys active in Republican politics, is researching an assigned area of the charter.

Issues addressed in the charter include the county budget process, the County Legislature’s size, and term limits for legislators and the county executive. Jeremy Moule 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Reggie Hill, Warren's uncle, resigns from city employment

Posted By on Fri, Jan 24, 2014 at 5:00 PM

Reggie Hill, uncle to Mayor Lovely Warren, has resigned as the city's director of executive services. Warren's appointment of Hill set off accusations of nepotism and was due to be reviewed by the city's ethics board. The status of that review now is unclear. 

The resignation is effective immediately. 

"I want to be very clear that this is a decision that Mr. Hill has come to on his own," said Warren spokesperson Christine Christopher in a statement released moments ago. "He told me personally he no longer wants to be a distraction from the important work that Mayor Warren was elected to do." 

Hill, a retiring state trooper, essentially acted as one of two personal bodyguards for Warren. But he was suspended from the job and fined after it was revealed that he had twice been stopped for speeding while driving Warren. Warren drew criticism, too, and intense media scrutiny for being less than candid about the traffic stops.

Christopher said that Hill can still apply for the permanent position of director of executive services. The previous appointment was temporary until the Civil Service process played out. 

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