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Our school-reform quest 

I stew so often in this space about education problems that it's good to be able to focus on more positive news.

In a unique partnership with the Rochester school district, the UR is about to take charge of East High School, which prevents the school from being closed due to its poor academic record. And I'm encouraged by comments that Steve Uebbing, the University of Rochester professor leading the East reform efforts, made in a recent interview with City's Tim Macaluso.

Rochester has had failing schools before, and it has launched several reforms to turn them around. But nothing has worked. Now East is under the UR's wing.

I'm not naïve about East's chances; East is failing because so many of its students are failing. And they didn't arrive at East academically up to speed. They had been falling behind for years. I don't know how much success teachers can have intervening this late in the students' education.

But if Uebbing and the East staff pull this off, we'll learn a lot. Best I can tell, the UR was tough in the negotiations about its involvement, insisting, for instance, that it be able to hire all of the staff. Maybe this staff can do what others haven't been able to.

Gratifyingly, there were far more applicants for positions at East than jobs. The majority of teacher applicants, Uebbing said, were "very competent and confident." Eighty of the 195 teaching positions went to current East teachers.

And Uebbing had words that I hope critics of teachers will take to heart: "We don't blame teachers or anybody for the current situation. We do blame longstanding systematic, social, and economic issues."

While a school "can't fix all that stuff," he added, it can work on "education and social-emotional issues."

Significantly, Uebbing said he asked state education officials to point to "exemplar" models of school turnarounds. The officials didn't have any. "Then," he said, "I asked them for a list of schools that had at least 75 percent graduation rate and at least 75 percent free and reduced lunch rate that were urban schools."

The state officials managed to come up with one.

That's the reality of urban education.

This is a grand experiment, the latest among many in our quest to provide a strong education in a high-poverty school district. In the past, we've blamed the usual people for our lack of success: teachers, principals, school boards, superintendents, the Central Office bureaucracy. But placing blame is easy. Documenting cause and effect is hard.

I hope the UR turnaround initiative will succeed. And if it does, or if, in spite of everybody's hopes, East's academic record doesn't improve dramatically, I hope the UR will tell us why and put us on the path to real reform.

'City cousins'

"Appalling" barely begins to describe the attitude of Henrietta Supervisor Jack Moore.

Caught on tape during what he thought was a private conversation with a Town of Henrietta employee, Moore jokes about the employee's "city cousins."

The Affordable Care Act, Moore says, is "how we're going to pay for your cousins in the city." And then: "You don't know about city cousins?" he says, laughing. "We get all kinds of them. They bus them out here, OK?"

Asked if a black man walking nearby is one of the "city cousins," Moore says, "Yes, that's one of your cousins."

Moore has insisted that there was no racist intent in his comments. He "misspoke," he told the Democrat and Chronicle. He "made a big mistake." And he has since taken "sensitivity training." But as City's Jeremy Moule noted after the news broke, Moore's problem isn't insensitivity, it's disrespect.

The Henrietta news comes at a time when there are community-wide efforts to combat racism. But we still have a very long way to go. And Jack Moore just showed us how big our job is.

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