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Still waiting for action on the Call to Action 

“There is a crisis in our community. We are failing our young people, failing to adequately prepare them to assume their roles, failing to prepare them to cope in the society we have created.

“Students are graduating from city high schools with little or no job skills or further education goals. Some graduate practically illiterate. Many more never graduate at all. There are great costs to this, and greater costs to come if nothing is done to change the situation. There will be increased expenses for public assistance, for crime prevention, for drug rehabilitation, for jails and prisons.

“But the costs in human life and human dignity will be even greater, as more and more of our young people will be consigned to an unproductive and unfulfilling existence.”

This is an unsettling time for anyone concerned about the Rochester City School District. The graduation rate has been slowly improving, but the district continues to be hit with one piece of bad news after another. And the challenges it faces right now are enormous: responding to Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino’s report, shaping a budget for next year, hiring a new superintendent, squaring off against a mayor who wants to be involved in deciding how some of its money will be spent.

The district is also heading toward a primary election that could change the composition of the majority of its school board. And over all of that is uncertainty about the future of the district’s governance. It’s possible that state officials will decide to try to put somebody else in charge of the district.

District leaders bear some of the blame for the problems, but not all. The community itself is at fault, and the community has to help solve the problems.

And so it may be worth reading a report titled “A Call to Action,” which is where the quotes at the beginning of this column came from. The report was the result of months of work by a broad group of community representatives, convened by the Center for Education Development and the Rochester Urban League. Here’s more:

“Be assured: the problem belongs to all of us – not just to the Board of Education – not just to the school administrators, principals, and teachers – not just to parents. The problem belongs to all of us: businesses, unions, social service agencies, churches and synagogues, governments at all levels, cultural institutions, our colleges and universities, and the students themselves. All of us share responsibility for the problem, and all of us can contribute to finding solutions.

“What is required is a radical adjustment to traditional ways of thinking about the responsibility for education. We need to come together and address the problem. We need to bring energy, determination, and boldness with us. We must act out of a sense of compassion, yes, but also out of a sense of justice, and out of a sense of enlightened self-interest.

“There is hope in this crisis: It lies in this community’s history of resourcefulness in solving problems....”

I remember being impressed when the report was released – and being hopeful. And maybe we should be hopeful now. State officials are intensely focused on the district. So is the mayor. And yet another broadly based group of people says it wants to help the district meet its challenges.

We’ll see. We don’t have a good record.

The Call to Action was published in March 1986.

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