Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rochester school board looks for answers at East

Posted By on Thu, Jul 31, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Updated version: Friday, August 1, 2014

The Rochester school board met yesterday to review a plan to improve East High School. The plan, put together by a team at East High, is supposed to be submitted to the State Education Department today for approval, but some board members said they needed more time to examine the plan, which they had several days earlier.
Rochester school board member Willa Powell. - FILE PHOTO
  • Rochester school board member Willa Powell.

But it wasn’t just the assumption that the board would immediately sign off on the plan that irked board members; they wanted to do know how this plan differs from last year's strategy. (The plan is for the 2014-2015 school year. The University of Rochester takes over the operation of East High in the 2015-2016 school year.) 

And if last year’s plan didn’t work – and that’s putting it mildly, since less than 1 percent of East’s students achieved in the higher ranges on standardized tests – school board members wanted to know why they should expect this one to do any better. 

Board member Willa Powell asked if last year's plan received enough funding. Concerned that school administrators are making commitments they know they can’t keep, Powell said that the board can’t hold state officials accountable for lack of adequate aid unless there’s clarity in budgeting.

“I’m looking for the truth,” she said.

With more than 60 schools in the Rochester district required to submit similar plans to the SED, knowing exactly what went wrong at East has become a critically important autopsy.

“I’m leader of the school,” East principal Anibal Soler said. “I’m partly the owner of what went wrong.”

Soler said that in the past, East’s plans were written to meet state compliance requirements, but then weren’t properly implemented. He didn't say why, despite board members repeatedly asking him to explain. 

Soler said that there are several changes in the new plan that should produce better results next year: extended hours, the addition of four social workers, and increased communication between Soler and his staff, as well as with parents.

Soler is an admirable guy and you can't help but want him to succeed. He's more than willing to be accountable, and he's quite candid about his fight to keep his job as East principal. 

Much of the board’s questioning at yesterday’s meeting seemed long overdue. But it offered a bay window view of the district’s management struggles, particularly in the areas of implementation and measurement. 

If the board learned anything new, it’s unclear what it is. 

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RIT student takes on climate advocate role

Posted By on Thu, Jul 31, 2014 at 10:38 AM

Susan Spencer sees potential for the Rochester region to lead on technology that could prevent the acceleration of climate change.

In particular, she says she sees promise in the solar cell research and development work happening across the area, especially at Eastman Business Park. And that makes sense: Spencer is a Ph.D. candidate at Rochester Institute of Technology who studies solar cell technology. Her dissertation, which she defends at the end of August, deals with ways to optimize solar cells at the molecular level.

In a sense, Spencer is trying to fight climate change from inside a lab. But she says she also wants to talk to the public about climate change, and solutions including renewable energy.  And to that end, she'll give a free presentation — "The Climate Crisis and Renewable Energy Solutions" — at 6 p.m. tomorrow at RIT, in the Xerox auditorium in Gleason Hall. It'll last 45 minutes to an hour, and a question-and-answer session will follow. 

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Get used to the downpours

Posted By on Tue, Jul 29, 2014 at 10:14 AM

Rochester has had a pretty wet July. Going by National Weather Service records, the area has had 7.51 inches of rain this month through yesterday, when the normal level is 3.11 inches.

And yesterday's intense rains broke the daily record: the 2.42 inches measured by the NWS at the Rochester airport topped the 1966 high water mark of 1.94 inches. Outside of the city, some areas received much more rain: Richmond Fire Chief Ken Adami told the Democrat and Chronicle that the town, which suffered substantial flood damage, received 7 inches.

It's worth looking at the storm through the lens of climate change, with the caveat that it's difficult to tie individual weather events to climate change. It's more about long-term shifts in weather patterns, driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. 

But climate scientists say that the Rochester region and much of the Northeast will experience extreme precipitation events — downpours and heavy snowstorms, for example — more often, and they will be more intense. The US government's 2014 National Climate Assessment says that the Northeast states have already seen a 70 percent increase in precipitation from the heaviest 1 percent of storms.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Irondequoit releases draft comprehensive plan

Posted By on Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 10:01 AM

I-Square, which was in the thick of construction this past winter, now has businesses opening. It's one of several major projects under way in Irondequoit. - FILE PHOTO
  • I-Square, which was in the thick of construction this past winter, now has businesses opening. It's one of several major projects under way in Irondequoit.
Irondequoit officials will take public comments on a draft comprehensive plan for the town during a public forum at 7 p.m. on Thursday, August 7. A public hearing will take place at 7:35 p.m. on Thursday, August 21. Both meetings will be held at Town Hall, 1280 Titus Avenue.

The town government hasn't adopted a townwide comprehensive or master plan since 1985. The last effort began in 2008, but was never finished. The new draft is essentially an updated version of the 2008 document, and it'll contain development objectives and other goals for the town.

Officials have said that the plan will help redevelop some parts of town and will aid the community's economic growth. It'll provide developers with specifics of what the community wants to see and what it expects of projects. It will also spell out how town officials plan to bolster neighborhoods and town infrastructure.

The draft plan is available here.

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Week Ahead: Dems want parking study for DHS building

Posted By on Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 9:28 AM

Democratic County Legislator Leslie Rivera has introduced legislation for a parking study for the Department of Human Services building at 619 St. Paul Street. A Legislature committee will take up the measure during its meeting at 5 p.m. on Monday, July 28.

In a memo accompanying the legislation, Rivera says that the parking situation at the office has created serious concerns for staff and clients. In particular, the lack of available parking is a problem, Democrats say. And on-street parking near the building is susceptible to ticketing and towing, the memo says.

“The issues at this location have been longstanding and have been in need of solutions for far too long,” Rivera says in the memo.

The study would determine the facility’s parking needs, the memo says.

A second Legislature committee will consider the legislation at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 30. BY JEREMY MOULE 

Friday, July 25, 2014

[UPDATED] Vargas muffs principal's removal, comes under attack

Posted By on Fri, Jul 25, 2014 at 11:19 AM

An update appears at the bottom of the story.

The Rochester school board heard from more than two dozen students, teachers, and principals last night who came to protest Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s decision to remove Monroe High School Principal Armando Ramirez from his post.

In a packed room, board members listened to students and teachers describe Ramirez as the catalyst for improvements at Monroe during his short tenure at the school.
Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas. - FILE PHOTO
  • Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas.

“I beg you, please do not replace my principal,” an emotional Heidi Robles, a senior at Monroe, said. “He’s been like a father to us.”

Vargas planned to replace Ramirez, who has been principal at Monroe since 2012, with Barbara Zelazny from the Avon school district. But after deliberating in executive session for about an hour, board President Van White said that while Zelazny would be hired, she would not be Monroe's principal.

The decision was not a victory for Ramirez or his supporters, however. Vargas said he would continue to look for new leadership for Monroe.

Much of the tension at last night’s meeting stemmed from how Ramirez learned he was being replaced. A resolution seeking board approval to hire Zelazny appeared on the district’s website earlier in the week. Ramirez said last night that Vargas did not inform him until yesterday afternoon of his decision to remove him from Monroe.

When district spokesperson Chip Partner was asked if the allegation was true, he said, “I can’t comment on that.”

There were also contradictory views of how much Monroe has improved under Ramirez’s leadership. The school has been on the State Education Department’s list of schools in need of improvement, and there has been rampant speculation that Monroe was in a situation similar to East High School; that Vargas would soon receive orders from the SED to make major administrative changes to improve the school.

Some indicators show that Ramirez is making progress. For example, the school's August graduation rate in 2012 was 29.2 percent. In 2013, the rate climbed to 42.4 percent — an increase of about 45 percent.

But Vargas zeroed-in on the fact that the grad rate for Latino students has been stuck at 27 percent for two consecutive years. 

Several speakers last night used the dueling data to criticize Vargas’s management style, the school board, and the SED, saying that expectations to turn around problem schools such as Monroe within a few years are unrealistic. And the chronic changes in school leadership only add to instability and confusion, they said. Some schools such as Monroe have had frequent turnover of principals. 

And the principals and teachers pointed out that Ramirez was granted tenure not long ago, and that he has been publicly lauded by Vargas and State Education Commissioner John King .

The meeting also drew some of Rochester’s Latino community leaders; Monroe has a large Latino student population. City Council member Jackie Ortiz and former City Commissioner Julio Vazquez attended the meeting. Though neither spoke on behalf of Ramirez, Vazquez was visibly concerned by some of the comments.

Though Vargas apologized to Ramirez at last night’s meeting for the manner in which his removal was communicated, the growing opposition to Vargas from administrators and principals is palpable. And it resembles in some ways the opposition that teachers developed toward former Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard.

Some of the harshest criticism last night came from a defiant Anibal Soler, the principal at East High School. He said that speaking out against Vargas often results in retaliation. 

Sandy Jordan, the former principal of All City High and now president of the Association of Supervisors and Administrators of Rochester — the union that represents administrators and principals — said she hoped that the decision to remove Ramirez from Monroe was not retaliation for the union’s vote of no confidence in Vargas earlier this year. And she said that ineffective communication, such as the way Ramirez was told he was out of a job, is the union’s main complaint about Vargas’s leadership.

Update, Monday, July 28: Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has selected Vicma "Vicky" Ramos as the new principal of Monroe High School. Ramos, who starts the job next month, will replace Ramirez. Ramos is the district's executive director of the student placement and school operations, but she was principal of Monroe from 2009 to 2012. 

There's no word yet on where Ramirez or newly hired Barbara Zelazny from Avon will end up.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

County's algae solution: suck it up

Posted By on Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 8:58 AM

Ontario Beach Park has had odor problems for a long time. The culprit: the algae that forms rotting, stinky piles where the beach meets the Charlotte pier.

The muck and its odor have been a stubborn nuisance for years, despite periodic efforts to haul some of the accumulation away. Often, the hotter the day, the worse the beach smells.

But yesterday, despite temperatures close to 90 degrees, the fishy smell was subdued; it might have ranked three or four on a scale of 10. And there was a good reason: no noticeable algae pool near the pier. County-contracted crews have started construction on a project in that corner of the beach — one that they say offers a long-term way to keep the algae piles from forming. And that should mean less odor and more swimming days at the beach. 

The county is building a pump system. When the algae gets bad, county workers will use a tractor fitted with a boom and skimmer to push all of the muck into the corner where the beach and the pier meet. They are installing a suction head there, which will connect to a pump and a pipe through the middle of the Charlotte pier. Long story short: the system will suck the algae out of the corner and pump it over into the Genesee River. The flow of the river will disperse the algae farther out in the lake.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Council seeks input on economic development projects

Posted By on Tue, Jul 22, 2014 at 12:00 PM

The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council wants the state to provide assistance for the ongoing redevelopment of the Sibley building (pictured) in downtown Rochester. - FILE PHOTO
  • The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council wants the state to provide assistance for the ongoing redevelopment of the Sibley building (pictured) in downtown Rochester.
The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council has published its draft list of priority projects for 2014, and is looking for public input on the document. But it wants the comments before Friday since the members plan to approve the final document at their August 6 meeting; details for commenting are available here.

The priority projects are part of the council's proposed 2014 Progress Report. The council produces a progress report each year laying out the status of previous state-funded projects and explains the projects it wants funded in the current year.

As it has for the past few years, the council lists the Eastman Business Park as its top priority; in particular, the council wants additional funding to develop and build a biomass fermentation cluster at the park.

Continue reading »

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Seeing the world through rainbow-colored glasses

Posted By on Tue, Jul 22, 2014 at 9:56 AM

I say this every year, and every year I mean it. But last Saturday’s Pride Parade really was one of Rochester’s best. There could have been more floats. And sure, there could have been a few more bare-chested male dancers. But what made this year’s parade so interesting was the huge number of straight families, friends, and allies who lined the street to watch and share in the fun. 

There were dads lugging the outdoor folding chairs and coolers, mothers toting newborns, and grannies and grandpas waving their gay flags. A family with four kids camped next to me. Mom and some of the kids were sporting rainbow-colored wigs and socks, and having a great time.

The first gay parade I went to was in New York City during the late 1970’s, and it was huge. Thousands of marchers went on for blocks. But it was much more of a protest than a parade — a confrontation instead of a celebration. And looking back, it was missing a key ingredient: pride.

That’s not meant to disparage those early efforts; the country was indeed rife with discrimination and injustice toward the LGBT community, and there was plenty to be angry about. But Saturday’s parade in Rochester, a mid-size city with some Midwestern values, was proof that the world has changed a lot since the ‘70’s when the gay movement began.

Instead of heterosexual parents thinking they need to protect their children from the LGBT community, they’re teaching them about diversity. Instead of local businesses ignoring the LGBT community, they’re developing marketing campaigns to increase LGBT customers and to sell products and services. Instead of politicians reflexively condemning the community, more are marching in the parades and soliciting the LGBT community’s support.

City Council members Elaine Spaull and Matt Haag, and State Assembly member Harry Bronson were among the pols in this year’s Pride Parade.

Yes, discrimination still haunts the LGBT community. Our youth are often bullied, beaten, and traumatized. Trans people especially face housing, health care, and employment discrimination. And many states are still blocking marriage equality. But look how far we've come.

Maybe I’m seeing the world through rainbow-colored glasses, but at this rate, Pride celebrations could someday be more like St. Patrick’s Day when just about everyone is happy to be a little bit Irish. I’m looking forward to the day when everyone is just as happy to be a little bit gay. 

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Week Ahead: School board meeting; events mark anniversary of riots

Posted By on Mon, Jul 21, 2014 at 9:28 AM

The Rochester school board will hold its monthly meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 24. Some questions about the effectiveness of the district’s summer supplemental learning and extended learning programs could be discussed.

The board will also vote on agreements involving architects for phase two of the district’s facilities modernization project.

The meeting will be held at the district’s central office, 131 West Broad Street. BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO

The City of Rochester continues its observance of the anniversary of the 1964 race riots. A number of activities and events are taking place:

• Through July 31: Now and Then - Remembering the Race Riots/Rebellion of 1964 - An exhibit, created by St. John Fisher College students and funded by the New York Council for the Humanities, that chronicles the local, national, and global impact of the July 1964 riots and rebellion. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Local History and Genealogy Division of the Rundel Memorial Library, 115 South Ave.

• July 7, 14, 21 and 28: Retrofitting Rochester - Remembering the Race Riots/Rebellion of 1964 - Staff from the Office of the City Historian will explore the July 1964 rebellion in a four-part series of articles in the Democrat & Chronicle's weekly "Retrofitting Rochester" column throughout the month of July 2014.

• July 11 through Aug. 1: July 64 Rochester Remembers - An exhibit of photographs from the archives of the City of Rochester and Gannett Rochester to commemorate the events before, during and immediately after the rebellion of July 1964. Presented in association with the Democrat and Chronicle UNITE Rochester. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. City Hall Link Gallery, 30 Church St. A Curator's Reception hosted by Mayor Warren, the City Council and UNITE Rochester will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 22 in the Link Gallery.

• July 15, 17, 29 and 31: Walking Tours of Joseph Avenue. The Lincoln Branch Library will host a walking tour with Monroe Community College Professor Verdis Robinson. He will highlight significant points of interest in the northeast neighborhood. Tours start at 4 p.m. Meet at the Lincoln Branch Library, 851 Joseph Ave.

• July 15: "Race, Riots and Roller Coasters: The Struggle for Integrated Recreation in America" - Victoria W. Wolcott, author and Professor of History at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, will speak on the history of segregated recreation in America, exploring how spaces of public leisure - parks, pools, and playgrounds - were important, if overlooked, battlefields in the wider struggle for racial equality during the civil rights era. Wolcott will follow her talk with a Q&A session. Noon in Kate Gleason Auditorium of the Central Library, 115 South Ave.

• Monday, July 21: "There's a Riot Going On: The Current of Race Relations Since the 1964 Riots" - Rochester native and national author Bruce A. Jacobs, whose latest book is "Race Manners for the 21st Century," returns to his home town to discuss how racial dynamics have changed since the riots of 1964 and how they have not. He will follow his talk with a Q&A session. Jacobs has appeared on NPR, C-SPAN and elsewhere. He and writes, travels and speaks about race and social justice. 1:30 Kate Gleason Auditorium of the Central Library, 115 South Ave.

• July 22: Screening of July '64 and Teen Discussion with Darryl Porter - July '64 tells the story of three historic days in two African American neighborhoods of Rochester. Darryl Porter, former president of the Rochester City School Board and gang leader in his youth, will lead a discussion with teens after the screening. 2 to 4 p.m. in the Teen Central area of the Central Library, 115 South Ave.

• July 23: Screening of July '64 and Panel Discussion. Documentary Producer Christine Christopher and Director Carvin Eison will join a panel discussion with Darryl Porter and media professor Tom Proietti on insights and experiences to be gleaned from the documentary. 2 to 4 p.m. in Kate Gleason Auditorium of the Central Library, 115 South Ave.

• July 23: City Proclamation of Days of Remembrance and Recommitment: Mayor Warren and City Council President Loretta Scott will issue a proclamation to remember the events of 1964 in hopes that the work that was started during those events will soon be complete. The reading of the proclamation will coincide with a ceremonial lighting of the High Falls to commemorate the Rebellion of 1964. 8:30 p.m. on the Pont de Rennes Bridge. Details to be announced.

• July 24: Civil Rights Talk with Ruth Holland Scott - Activist, author, politician and teacher, Ruth Holland Scott was the first African American woman elected to the Rochester City Council. She will discuss civil rights in Rochester in the years following the events of July 1964. Her book will be available for purchase. Noon in Kate Gleason Auditorium of the Central Library, 115 South Ave.

• July 24: City 12 TV Broadcast of the Documentary July '64. - 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Visit for viewing information.

• July 25: July '64 Revisited: Rochester and Race Relations with the Black Storytelling League of Rochester - Hear accounts of local storytellers about what happened in Rochester during the race riots of 1964. 11:30 a.m. in the Kate Gleason Auditorium of the Central Library, 115 South Ave. 

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