Thursday, February 13, 2014

Students' fights may be Vargas's biggest challenge

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 9:44 AM

The last few weeks haven’t been good for Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas and the city schools; one troubling incident has followed another.

First, there was the vote of no confidence against Vargas by the Association of Supervisors and Administrators, the union that represents school administrators.

That was followed by a disturbing incident involving a mysterious envelope and school board president Van White. The envelope, which contained personal information about White's legal and financial affairs, was sent to the Democrat and Chronicle in a clumsy attempt to discredit White. Though Patricia Malgieri, Vargas’s chief of staff, says that neither she nor her husband know anything about the envelope, her husband’s name was used to log-in and access the records on the Monroe County clerk’s website. The information was on the documents sent to the D&C. 

And earlier this week, the state Education Department released a terrible assessment of the district’s career and technical education programs, which are housed mostly on the Edison campus. The department said that many of the programs have low participation and fail to prepare students for real careers.

Taken together, the incidents reinforce concerns about the management of city schools. But things got even worse: fights broke out on the Frederick Douglass campus on Tuesday. The facility houses Northeast and Northwest College Preparatory high schools.

Multiple fights occurred inside and outside the school building, police say, involving as many as 50 student. Rochester police officers had to use pepper spray to quell the violence. A student’s account of the fights is stunning: students out of control, standing on tables, fights breaking out everywhere, and adults too overwhelmed to stop it.

It’s not clear what started the fights, though there were reports that gang-related rivalry may have played a role.
School officials can conduct varying degrees of damage control on all of the other issues, except this one.

Of all the problems that Vargas and city school officials face, outbreaks of violence have to be taken the most seriously. The fights on the Douglass campus are not an isolated incident. Despite all the efforts under way and the millions of dollars being spent to try and turn around Rochester’s failing school system, nothing does more to undermine those efforts than the perception that city schools aren’t safe.

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. If they have any doubts about whether they should remove their kids from city schools, events like this will erase them. 

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