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RCSD gets Elia's rewrite orders 

click to enlarge State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.
Rochester’s school district leaders have six weeks to assure state education officials that they know how to correct major problems in the district – and that they'll be able to follow through.

Late last year, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia ordered district officials to produce an improvement plan responding to a critical assessment by Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino. But in March, she rejected their first attempt, saying it didn't reflect a coherent vision and wasn't realistic in terms of timelines and the district's ability to implement the reforms.

At the time, Elia promised to send a more detailed list of her concerns, and today, she did that. In a 29-page report (available to the public here), she offered detailed comments on all aspects of the district's initial plan.

In her letter to district officials, which accompanies the report, Elia says that the timelines in the first plan
"appear aspirational," especially given the enormous leadership challenges facing the district. Among them: the search for a new superintendent. School board members have selected four finalists and they’ve scheduled public forums involving the four on May 4 and 5. But it’s unlikely that they’ll have a new superintendent in place before the end of this school year.

Adding to the instability in the district: Four of the seven school board seats will be on the ballot in the June 25 primary election. In addition, Board President Van White is seeking election to City Court. It's possible, then, that in January five of the seven board members will be brand new. Any new board members will not have been involved in the selection of the new superintendent, and none will have been involved in the creation of the district’s improvement plan. Leadership instability in the district and dysfunction on the school board are among Elia’s major concerns about the district.

What if the district's revised plan isn't satisfactory? At that point, it's possible that state officials would step in, perhaps putting a temporary monitor or appointed board in charge, or, perhaps discussing mayoral control. During a conference-call with the media today, Elia didn't mention any possibilities. "All options are on the table," she said. But, she added, "we’re in the middle of this process," and she plans to let that process continue.

The state legislature and the governor would have to approve any action changing the governance of the district, Elia noted.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and others have urged the state to act urgently, and  Warren repeated that call in her State of the City address Tuesday night. But the current session of the state legislature wraps up at the end of June, less than a month after the school district has to submit its revised reform plan to Elia. The chances are slim that the legislature would be able to act before the end of the current term. And the next term doesn't start until January.

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