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RCSD gets low grades from Distinguished Educator 

The Rochester School District is plagued by high leadership turnover and instability, operates with little accountability, and "seems driven more by the needs of administrators, teachers, and parents, with student concerns often taking a back seat to adult interests."

That's part of a scathing assessment of the district by the state-appointed Distinguished Ed
click to enlarge The Rochester school district is dysfunctional New York State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said at a press conference today. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • The Rochester school district is dysfunctional New York State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said at a press conference today.
ucator, Jaime Aquino, which was released this afternoon. The problems are widespread, severe, and have gone on for many years, his report says. "One can only conclude,"  Aquino wrote, "that the District leaves supervision, school direction, and learning to chance."

Aquino, a former administrator in the Los Angeles and Denver school districts,  was sent to Rochester late last summer by state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia as a result of the persistently poor performance by the city's public schools. Since then, he has studied the district's operations and talked with district administrators, staff, parents, and community representatives.

His report contains 106 specific "findings" and 84 recommendations, covering areas of school board governance, district leadership, teaching and learning, special education, the district's program for children with limited English ability, organizational structure, accountability, human resources, finances, parent and community engagement, school climate, and operations.

Among the findings:
The district has had a high level of change among its key leaders – not only in superintendents but in other senior administrators as well.
  • The district develops strategic plans but "they have varied in quality and failed to guide meaningful progress."
  • The district doesn't have a system to hold staff accountable for meeting goals. There are no clear systems for monitoring and reporting progress.
  • There is no district-wide professional development plan or program.
  • Although the district is facing a serious structural deficit, "most stakeholders (Board, administrators, teachers, parents, and community members) don't understand that and assume "that funding will always be available." And the district hasn't faced this challenge "with a sense of urgency."
  • The current superintendent is not visible enough in city schools. "When she does visit," Aquino wrote, "it is usually to attend Board Leadership meetings or special events."
  • A "long-term culture of fear" exists in the district.
  • Significant tension exists among board members and between the board and the superintendent.
  • The board doesn't act as a unified body. "As a result, superintendents have had to manage seven individual Board Commissioners, rather than work with a unified board to support student achievement."
  • The board doesn't have a clear understanding of its role, and sometimes seeing its role as one of managing the district.The school board sometimes creates advisory committees to study and make recommendations on important district issues. That "might be seen as a strategy to bypass the Superintendent and assume management functions," Aquino wrote, "or the Board's frustration with the administration's inability to adequately address the challenges affecting the District."
  • The Board puts pressure on staff hiring and promotion when decisions should be left to district administrators.
  • The district's instructional program is weak and disjointed. Curriculum varies from school to school.
  • Almost 90 percent of students in third through eighth grade need academic intervention services, apparently because of weak programs in the lower grades.
  • The district has no system of assessing program effectiveness.

    Aquino's report includes his recommendations for each finding, and it notes the support he can provide. By February 8, 2019, the district is to submit a plan to Elia responding to his recommendations, and Aquino will then submit quarterly progress reports to Elia. No deadline has been set for the conclusion of his work in Rochester.

    In a statement released this afternoon, school board members said they had just received the report and would issue a statement in response after taking time to review it.

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