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Reader feedback 3.30.05 


It was very upsetting to read your recent piece on charter schools ("So Tell Me Again: Why Are We Doing This?" March 9). There are so many places in which I disagree with you, I hardly know where to begin.

            I have three children who attend the GeneseeCommunityCharterSchool. You dismiss its success with a wave of your pen, yet in many ways this school is an example of the kinds of changes you advocate. GCCS --- which is open to all city residents --- is so good that suburban families also seek to get their children in. Thus it has a mixed student body that contributes to the success of the school.

            While I agree that a county-wide system is worth exploring, the chances of achieving such a system are slim. What we can do is build more schools like GCCS and Eugenio Maria de Hosta so that more children, city and suburban, can derive the benefits. That is what charter schools can do.

            By freeing schools from the bureaucracy of the CitySchool District, we open up the possibilities of what they can be. This gives us the opportunity to provide different models of schools to address the needs of different kinds of children and families.

            The other major point you make that I disagree with --- and this seems to be a prevalent media opinion this season --- is that two failed schools equals a failed movement. We have two successful schools. Does that not equal a successful movement?

            Charter schools are given flexibility and autonomy in exchange for accountability. The idea is that if a school is not successfully educating its students, it should close. Whether or not we agree that these schools were not working, it was responsibility of the Board of Regents to close the schools if they determined them to be failing. Public schools face no such consequences.

            There are, of course, many debates about how one determines the success of a school and whether test scores are truly the diagnostic tools they are purported to be. However, the bottom line is that the closing of underperforming schools proves the success of the charter school movement, not its failure.

            The majority of the charter schools statewide are succeeding. We have two good charter school choices in Rochester and a third opening this fall that will have the chance to prove itself. Let us support a movement that is trying to offer urban students more, different, and better choices.

            Marcy Berger, 293 Mulberry Street, Rochester


In response to Mary Anna Towler's report on charter schools: Although I agree with her regarding the struggles facing city school districts --- and even agree that integrating the county's schools is a solution --- I do not agree that charter schools are not a worthwhile alternative for city school students.

            She writes that Eugenio Maria de Hostos School has a higher percentage of students coming from poor families (75 percent) than the LeadershipAcademy (67 percent) or the School of Science and Technology (70 percent), yet Eugenio Maria de Hostos was able to show progress and get its charter renewed. There are obviously differences among the charter schools as well as between the charter schools and the public schools. Perhaps we could look at what is being done at Eugenio Maria de Hostos and incorporate the successful techniques into the city public schools.

            Ms. Towler reports that test scores at Genesee Community are impressive and that only 16 percent of the students come from poor families. Student enrollment at Genesee Community is determined by application and then lottery, so perhaps as more articles are written on GeneseeCommunitySchool more people will become aware of it and the student population will change to better reflect the district's overall population. Then we will know if the success there is based on student population, teaching style, or a combination of both.

            In the meantime, as a city parent of an incoming kindergarten student in the 2005-2006 school year, I was happy for the choice of a charter school for my child, and think all parents deserve that option.

            Darla Spafford-Davis, Yarmouth Road, Rochester


Showing now at the High Falls Gallery (through May 1) is a photo exhibit entitled "Front Porch." Created jointly by Neighborhood Housing Services and South East Arts Development, it is a celebration of those most fabulous features of our community's wonderful old homes.

            Front porches have always been the best places to while away a summer afternoon, the best places to congregate with family and friends, to greet the neighbors. The front porch is the place to relax, to rejuvenate, and to build bonds with all the people in your life. But like the plot of a bad horror movie, lurking literally beneath all this front-porch goodness is an invisible danger so insidious that it can cause permanent neurological damage in our children. This damage, caused from lead-based paint, often leads to severe and irreversible learning disabilities and even impulse-control problems that can lead to crime and violence.

            Of all the places in a home that endanger children because they contain lead-based paint, the front porch is one of the worst. This is because lead-based paint dust and chips are most likely to be stirred up in the high-traffic areas of the house. Any house built before 1978 can harbor this danger. And almost all houses built before 1950 --- meaning the overwhelming majority of homes in the City of Rochester --- have it. Many of the homes that have it the worst house low-income children under the age of 6, the population most vulnerable to lead poisoning.

            But while every day more children are poisoned, the good news is that we know how to solve the problem. The challenge is not technical. Rather, it is a challenge of education, of policy, and of resources directed expeditiously to the problem. What we still lack, despite great strides in recent years, is the policy, the money, and the people-power to end this scourge.

            If we are really serious about protecting and investing in our children, and if we are serious about growing our economy, we must dedicate enough resources to educating homeowners, tenants, and landlords about lead poisoning. We need more funding to train and hire the additional workers needed to fix the tens of thousands of homes in our community where kids are being and will be poisoned.

            We can draw those new workers from neighborhoods where people most need good jobs and whose children are most bedeviled by the lead problem. This is not only creative and equitable but sensible economic development. It creates jobs and also makes the best possible preventive investment in our community's future.

            When we solve the lead paint problem, we can celebrate our front porches in a spectacular new way --- because they'll no longer be places that poison our children.

            Information about this issue and the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning is available at

            Evan Lowenstein, Arlington Street, Rochester (Lowenstein is a volunteer with the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning.)


In response to Adam Wilcox's review of the Bay Tree ("The Mysteries of Mr. Hun," March 9): Our dining experience there was one of the most pleasurable we have had in Rochester. The restaurant is intimate and elegant. I cannot overstate how beautifully the food was presented and how absolutely delicious it was.

            The option of bringing your own wine was a delight for us, as not enough restaurants carry our award-winning New YorkState wines even though we are a stone's throw from the Finger Lakes wine region. I felt our dinner was easily worth the price and could hold its own with many of the so-called "fine dining" restaurants in town. The lighting could be toned down some, making the restaurant a little softer. As for parking, we were told they have a few parking spaces at several generous neighborhood businesses. Don't let parking keep you from trying this really wonderful restaurant.

            Candice Rogers, Harper Street, Rochester


Having emigrated to Rochester in the late 1940s, I am indeed blessed to have lived in this fine community.

            A Rochester characterized by a superior system of public education; beautiful nearby parks; public and corporate-sponsored programs, from the KodakPark athletic association to the VFW; benevolent and public-minded employers who made possible a middle-class lifestyle for most, and a vibrant downtown accessible by a 15-minute bus or subway ride....

            Contrast this with contemporary Rochester: a moribund downtown, decaying public schools, a pit-bull politician concerned only with winning elections, gerrymandered state politicians with sinecures, and a Gannett press totally devoid of historical memory editorially espousing positions it refuses to follow.

            While critical in the past of City's reflexive PC liberalism, I honestly feel that a single issue of your publication contains more newsworthy items than are to be found in months of the Democrat and Chronicle. Specifically, in the March 9 issue sports columnist Mike Doser deals with Bills quarterback JP Losman. Contrast this with desk-bound Gannett columnists commenting on baseball-football-basketball statistics and the "athletes" who bowl, golf, and wrestle professionally.

            On the same page, editor Mary Anna Towler cuts to the chase regarding public education. To wit: What makes Harvard great is not its faculty but its students. She echoes what Andy Rooney said some years back on "60 Minutes": "What makes good schools is good kids."

            Or, as a former CitySchool District administrator told me, in an unguarded moment some 20 years ago: "All we are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." Increased spending on urban education without unpalatable systemic change only serves to fatten the pockets of suburbaniteCitySchool District employees and administrators.

            City has become a lone "candle in the wilderness."

            Ian Lennon, Beresford Road, Rochester


We welcome and encourage readers' letters for publication. Send them to: or The Mail, City Newspaper, 250 North Goodman Street, Rochester14607.

            Our guidelines: We don't publish anonymous letters --- and we ask that you include your street name and city/town/village. We don't publish letters that have been sent to other media --- and we don't publish form letters generated by activist groups. While we don't restrict length, letters of under 350 words have a greater chance of being published. We do edit letters for clarity and brevity. And in general we don't publish letters (or longer "op-ed" pieces) from the same writer more often than about once every two months.

More mail on page 4: the charter-school issue.

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