Willa Powell 
Member since Jan 3, 2013

Recent Articles

  • GUEST COMMENTARY: Wealth disparity and our graduation rate

    • Oct 10, 2012
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  • School board member on the state of education in New York

    • Jan 9, 2013
  • Recent Comments

    Re: “High school teacher cautions college profs

    Response to "cantwritegoodly", who asks "why would such a student be accepted to college?" That is an excellent question, and it has two distinct answers. If the college in question is a community college, and the student has a high school diploma, they have to accept him/her, and taxpayers are subsidizing the tuition for those remediation courses. If the college in question is a private school, the answer is simply business: they charge the same for a remedial English or Math course as they do a 4th year Engineering or Physics course.

    Given that it used to be difficult to get into a private college, these schools run a risk of watering down their "brand" if they take on students that aren't ready and, as a result, can't complete a degree program in 4 years. It is conceivable, though, that that same college is evaluation potential Engineering or Technology students on their SAT Math scores, and find the student lacking only in areas they deem less relevant to the degree, such as English. I'm not sure I would hire and engineer with weak technical writing skills, but then again, they aren't asking you or me who they should accept. If their parents have money, or the student can get a grant or a loan, then that student represents revenue.

    1 like, 0 dislikes
    Posted by Willa Powell on 02/15/2013 at 3:37 PM

    Re: “[UPDATED] Richards says he'll run again

    This discussion has evolved to be as much about taxes as about candidates and their policies, and I'm afraid my questions and comments are only going to perpetuate that, but here goes.

    "Sane politics" writes that poor people use a disproportionate percentage of city resources. Can you explain that further? I'm not sure that is entirely true. If they are on public assistance, then they may be using a disproportionate percentage of COUNTY resources, but that is the role of county government : not so much about police, fire and public works as city and town government is.

    "Chaim DeLoye" writes "we can conclude that taxes in general are designed to benefit renters at the expense of property owners. Agreed?" perhaps that was intended a satyrical, but I will answer as if it were sincere: no, property taxes don't benefit renters over owners. Ultimately, renters are paying the property taxes through their rent, along with every other legitimate expense the property owner incurs by owning and renting out his property. The property owner, in turn is able to write off property taxes as a business expense. I call that a zero-sum game.

    0 likes, 8 dislikes
    Posted by Willa Powell on 02/11/2013 at 7:49 AM

    Re: “The neighborhood schools tightrope

    Where is the evidence that this policy has "unintentionally lowered home values"? I sure haven't seen a drop in my assessed value, nor any loss of market value not directly related to the Great Recession. The city hasn't experienced an overall loss of assessed value from residential property. In fact, assessed values in high demand neighborhoods have continued to rise, offsetting losses in areas where demand for neighborhood schools was not a priority. Likewise the question of transience. Where is the evidence that there has been an increase (it has always been high in areas with a high concentration of rental property) and where is the evidence that School Choice has had anything to do with it? In fact, the Choice policy is in part a response to existing transience, allowing children to remain in the school even if they move (so long as they don't move out of zone).

    I've heard since the beginning of people who used the "lack of guarantee" as their rationale for leaving (in one prominent example the family lived inside the .5 mile radius, and would unquestionably have gotten their children in at kindergarten - and then their younger children would have had the added benefit of "sibling preference" - as it turns out that was just the pretext for leaving the city). I also know of examples where families trusted that the system would work (a large family moved over the summer and not all the children could be placed at the new school at first, but after a short stint on a waiting list, and before the school year started, every child in the family had a seat in their new neighborhood school). As "rocparent" points out, the history of the Choice process supports some measure of trust that a choice for one's home school will be honored.

    Posted by Willa Powell on 01/25/2013 at 2:39 PM

    Re: “Parent trigger law debate heats up

    So, if I am reading your response correctly, you, Carrie Remis, unequivocally support Parent Report Cards. Are you speaking for the coalition, or only for yourself?

    If you read the link that you posted, you will see that Van's proposal links trigger laws to parent report cards that aggregate the parent involvement of the school. It does not rate individual parents, and therefore, is not "cherry picking" parents to determine whether individual parents have the right to participate in a petition drive.

    Van's proposal prevents outside groups, supported by corporate and/or quasi-philanthropic money, to swoop into a community and convince the requisite number of parents to sign a petition that they may or may not have been given the opportunity to read and understand before signing.

    Supposing for a moment, though, that we COULD "cherry pick" parent eligibility to sign a trigger petition. Most schools that have poor outcomes also have poor attendance rates. Taking into account normal childhood illness, much of that absenteeism is the result of parents not placing a premium on getting their kids to school everyday. Does it make sense to put the decision to totally revamp a school into the hands of parents who haven't lived up to a minimum parental obligation (under the law), and whose child's absence helped create the problem? (Kids can't learn if they aren't in school.).

    Doesn't it make more sense to (further) empower parents who have already done everything in their power to support the success of their children, by getting their kids to school everyday, and by using the existing systems of parent input into the school improvement plans (SIPs) at the School Based Planning Team table? To do otherwise really is like putting a loaded gun into the hands of someone who doesn't know how to use it.

    Willa Powell

    2 likes, 2 dislikes
    Posted by Willa Powell on 01/18/2013 at 10:57 AM

    Re: “Parent trigger law debate heats up

    "The coalition says that White's proposal amounts to "cherry picking" parents who can petition the board for trigger reforms."

    The problem with most reporting, even the lengthier, more detailed reporting found at City Newspaper, is demonstrated in this excerpt. I know Commissioner White's proposal very well, yet I can't see how anyone - with or without that knowledge - can come to the above conclusion. Unless the coalition articulated a string of hypotheticals too long to be included in this report, I can only respond by calling it (the coalition's response) utter nonsense. Is there more than meets the eye here?

    Furthermore, this coalition does support parent report cards, according to the article above. But they disparage Commisioner White's articulation of parent report cards in the form of self-assessments. If folks have better ideas how to meaningfully measure parent involvement, this Board of Education is anxious to hear those ideas. White's proposal is very much "a work n progress". We all benefit from the dialogue these ideas engender, and the proposal morphs and grows with the dialogue. If you ask me, the only "cherry picking" going on is that the Board is picking the most fruitful ideas from the public dialogue!

    Willa Powell
    Rochester City School Board member

    2 likes, 1 dislike
    Posted by Willa Powell on 01/17/2013 at 3:23 PM

    Re: “Parent trigger law invoked in California


    Thank you for posting. Your closing note about provisions in NCLB Section 1116 are very interesting, and I assure you that it is not lack of interest in this option that prevents Boards like RCSD from using it: it is lack of information. We are not hearing recommendations from our Superintendent, nor has his administration offered reasons why we should not be pursuing "cooperative agreements" with our suburban neighbors to support students in failed/failing schools. I suspect there is a down-side that has not yet been disclosed, but the RCSD Board of Ed is very interested in regional schools, where our children can learn side-by-side with children from better economic circumstances (suburban students), so I assure you we will look into it.

    Regarding your other comments, they are an admission that the Parent Trigger concept is really an end-run around unions. That isn't a parent priority, especially considering many of our parents are union members themselves, or wish they were. Union busting is a corporate agenda, and this is a blunt-instrument designed to kill or disable unions. If poor quality teachers is this issue, then the NY legislature should be looking at more legislation along the lines of 3020a reform, that will make the process (and cost) of removing downright harmful teachers from the teaching ranks. A small effort in that direction went into affect last year, and in theory, the new APPR process will identify the weakest teachers. Whether APPR has the regulatory teeth to get ride of ineffective teachers remains to be seen. Since we don't know what the effect will be of changes already enacted, it is prudent to adopt a "wait and see" posture rather than charging full-bore into more radical action.

    As for you comments about dysfunctional School Based Planning Teams (SBPTs), I acknowledge that there are some of those. But the answer isn't to do an end-run around them, any more than the answer is to do an end-run around unions. The answer is to work with SBPTs to help them overcome their obstacles. Nobody builds community, education communities or any other type of community, by fiat. If a parent community is looking to a Parent Trigger law to circumvent SBPTs, then they are overlooking many obvious and less drastic intermediate steps. SBPTs have a parent component. Are parents being adequately represented, or are they just rubberstamps for the administration. If the parent representatives are witnessing dysfunctional behavior on the part of other constituent groups, they need to bring this to the attention of their School Board Liaison, the Parent Advisory Council, and the Superintendent.

    Generally, though, reform efforts aren't failing because of dysfunctional SBPTs. They are failing because there are some genuinely bad reform ideas out there being tried, and there are some genuinely good ideas that are woefully under-resourced. What this district could do with another $100 million a year, as Contract for Excellence promised, I can't begin to tell you!

    Respectfully Submitted,

    Willa Powell
    School Board Member

    1 like, 0 dislikes
    Posted by Willa Powell on 01/15/2013 at 11:25 AM

    Re: “Parent trigger law invoked in California

    It is important to note the New York State already has the functional equivalent of a parent trigger law,; therefore, new legislation is unjustified.

    When the NY State legislature enabled Charter Schools in the late 1990s, they included a provision for Conversion Charters. Any school in any district could apply to their "host" School Board for conversion to Charter School status. Like the California trigger law, a majority of the parents of the currently enrolled students had to demonstrate their support by signing a petition. No trigger event, such as academic failure, is needed to initiate application for Charter School status: only the commitment of individuals to form the necessary organization and prepare a proposal that meets the requirements.

    Buffalo alraedy has already tried and tested the conversion charter process, and has one of the only conversion charters in the state., so one does have to wonder why the Parent Trigger Law movement started in Buffalo. Perhaps they don't know their own history.

    One reason I would not expect genuine parent movement toward seeking a conversion charter school, or any other Charter School in the event of successful passage of Parent Trigger legislation, can be found in the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) laws. If a parent is enrolled in a school that fails to make "adequate yearly progress" has the right under NCLB, to voluntarily transfer to a successful school elsewhere in the district, or to receive Supplimental Academic Setvices (SAS) in their current school. More often than not, parents chose another school. (Nevermind that doing so might mean their child will not receive the extra support they might need to catch up with his/her peers once he/she is transferred.). Why would a parent go to the trouble of organizing with his/her fellow parent, when NCLB offers a much lower-effort alternative?

    What I did expect, but never happened, was to see that schools that had special programs, such as SOTA, Wilson IB, or World of Inquiry to spin off, rather than face the possibility of sharing the pain of budget cuts that would be inevitable in the face of the State's broken promises regarding Contract for Excellence funding. I guess it has always been easier to lobby a few School Board members and create pressure for more funding under the argument that the District needs a handful of "showcase" schools to prove that we aren't universally incapable of producing successful students.

    Respectfully Submitted,

    Willa Powell
    Member, Rochester City School Board

    0 likes, 1 dislike
    Posted by Willa Powell on 01/13/2013 at 6:20 PM

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