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Deane-Williams is first woman leader of Rochester schools 

The Rochester school board has selected Barbara Deane-Williams as the district’s new permanent superintendent. 
click to enlarge Cynthia Elliott (left), Barbara Deane-Williams, and Van White - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • Cynthia Elliott (left), Barbara Deane-Williams, and Van White

She is district’s first permanent female superintendent and begins her three-year term on Monday, August 8. Her starting annual salary is $225,000.

Deane-Williams has over 30 years of administrative experience, including 10 years as a superintendent. She is currently senior deputy superintendent of the Boston city school district, a system with 125 schools and more than 56,000 students.

And she was superintendent of the Greece school district from 2011 to 2015, which has about 14,000 students and 3,700 employees.

Cynthia Elliott, vice president of the Rochester school board, said at a board meeting on Monday that she supports the selection because of Deane-Williams’s strong operational and data-driven experience at running a school district.

“Ms. Williams understands what’s prevented us from higher achievement,” Elliott said. “It’s our systems.”

Deane-Williams will take control of a complex organization with a nearly $1 billion annual budget and a lengthy list of critical issues. The Rochester school district has the lowest graduation rate of large urban districts in the state, and many of its schools have been identified by the state as low-achieving.

The school board has also committed to an effort to improve school culture and sharply reduce suspensions, which has many city teachers concerned about discipline.

The demographics of the students in Greece and Boston provided Deane-Williams experience with a diverse population. And Boston’s public school system is often hailed as one of the most innovative in the country.

The board’s selection of Deane-Williams followed a protracted and complicated search that started following a power struggle between the board and then superintendent Bolgen Vargas. The squabble led to Vargas threatening to sue the board, though it never came to that.

Vargas left the superintendent job, but stayed on as a consultant with the district until his contract ended in June 2016.

Vargas was followed by Interim Superintendent Daniel Lowengard, who had to leave almost immediately due to health issues. Lowengard’s associate Linda Cimusz assumed the role and agreed to a short-term stay. Then the board and its first candidate for the permanent job couldn’t reach an agreement on the terms of a contract.

When questioned about the respective roles of the superintendent and the board — one of the main factors in Vargas’s departure — board president Van White said that the members are looking for a partnership with the superintendent, and that they don’t want to always find themselves reacting to a crisis. They want to be more involved upfront, White said.
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