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White reelected school board president amid serious tensions 

Rochester school board members reelected Van White as president yesterday in a 4 to 2 vote.  Cynthia Elliott replaces Willa Powell as vice president, marking her second partnership with White in leadership roles. 
click to enlarge Van White was reelected president of the Rochester school board. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Van White was reelected president of the Rochester school board.


New board member Beatriz LeBron nominated Natalie Sheppard, who is also serving her first term  on the board, but Sheppard received only two votes. 

New board member Judith Davis abstained from casting any votes at yesterday's meeting.

While White prevailed, the votes  revealed  long-simmering tensions and a split between newer board members and those who have served several terms. Sheppard spoke out strongly about the results at yesterday's school board meeting, and in a phone interview earlier today she said she was still frustrated.

 "But I'm glad that the community got a first-row seat to see that they keep recycling the same leadership," she said. "It's not the full board that is the barrier to improvements."

Some board members have good ideas, Sheppard said, but there is no follow-through.

"We make decisions and try to figure things out later," she said.

In a phone interview this morning, White said he sees things differently than Sheppard and LeBron.

"I think they feel that the present board has not been effective," he said, "and I understand why they may believe that, but they don't seem to understand that when some of us got started on the board, the district was failing much worse than it is now. They're seeing failure, but they're not seeing where we started."

Disagreements between board members is not unusual, White said,  and it takes time to find common ground. But the split between roughly half the board comes at a particularly challenging time for the Rochester school district. Board members are already under scrutiny after a scathing report from Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino pointed to their inability to work cohesively.

They will soon have to provide a report to State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia that addresses Aquino's recommendations for improving the district, and begin a search for a new permanent superintendent. 

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