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Integrated metro schools can be a reality in Rochester 

What will it take to address the challenges facing the Rochester City School District? The district and its leadership are under fire as students struggle in school and state officials, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, and others demand action.

In a recent Urban Journal column, "Rochester's School District and the Push for Change," CITY editor Mary Anna Towler urged a community-wide effort to address the district's challenges and the needs of its children. This week, two members of the Leadership Group of Great Schools for All – former journalist Mark Hare and Don Pryor of the Center for Governmental Research – offer a response.

In her March 13 column on the challenges facing the Rochester City School District, Mary Anna Towler appropriately raised the critical issue of the concentration of poverty and the potential role of desegregation and metro schools as part of the needed response.

The column also said “It will take the entire community” to address this and related problems facing city students. And yet the column then lets the community off the hook by concluding that the development of integrated metro schools is “not going to happen” in any of our lifetimes.

That’s true if you define metro schools as a countywide school district. But no one is proposing that solution. Fortunately, there are communitywide solutions that do not require school district consolidations. For instance, there is every reason to believe that we can create an array of voluntary inter-district magnet schools along the lines of Raleigh and Hartford and other communities across the country as part of the response to the current crisis.

Given local demographics and finite available resources, desegregating schools and reversing the insidious effects of concentrated poverty in Rochester schools require a broad-based, community-wide response. For example, collaborations between city and suburban school districts can lead to a network of evidence-based, cross-district, socioeconomically-diverse magnet schools.

Great Schools for All calls for a two-track solution. Clearly there are many crucial internal, restructuring, and cultural issues affecting the Rochester school district that must be addressed immediately, as outlined in the Distinguished Educator report and the district’s response.

At the same time, we propose a second track that would bring the larger community, including willing suburban districts, together in partnership with RCSD. Such partnerships could develop and implement pilot magnet schools consistent with national models that research across the country shows consistently and significantly improve student outcomes, including graduation rates, for low-income students – while strengthening a variety of related skills for all students that will improve their readiness for the changing workforce demands of the future. Such schools would be designed to efficiently use existing space and shared resources and staff.

We have had discussions with several suburban superintendents who have indicated a willingness to enter into conversations with the Rochester City School District to consider partnerships to address this crisis. Professional polling commissioned by Great Schools for All three years ago indicated a strong willingness of parents in both city and suburbs, across racial and economic lines, to consider diverse cross-district options that would offer opportunities not otherwise available. The opportunity and the willingness to explore such approaches are clear, and the timing and urgency of such bold community-wide responses call for leadership and incentives.

Want to comment? Add your thoughts to the community discussion about the Rochester City School District:
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