Buffalo Bills linebacker Preston Brown talks with fourth and fifth grade students at Nathaniel Rochester Community School #3 during a  Hometown Huddle event on Nov. 7. EMC Photo by John Haeger Buffalo Bills linebacker Preston Brown talks with fourth and fifth grade students at Nathaniel Rochester Community School #3 during a Hometown Huddle event on Nov. 7. EMC Photo by John Haeger

Rochester City School District seeks ideas to improve schools

ROCHESTER — The Rochester City School District is looking for a “Path Forward” to improve city schools and increase student achievement.

To collect ideas of what should be included in that path, administration officials are holding a series of community meetings throughout the city this fall, as well as asking for input from students and teachers. The series is called “30,000 Voices/Building the Path Forward,” district officials said.

Once the district completes its community meetings sometime in December, the Path Forward planning team will put together a report with analysis and recommendations for the school board later that month, district officials said.

The Path Forward’s community input process is an extension of the approach Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams implemented when she arrived in Rochester in 2016, said Carlos Garcia, assistant to the superintendent for communications and community outreach. She spent the first several months of her tenure touring schools and getting a feel for what’s going on in the district, he said. From there, her administrative team developed core ideals for school interactions, called ERICA: Equity, Relationship Capacity, Innovation, Coherence and Accountability.

For example, Garcia explained, equity revolves around knowing what students’ needs are so the district can address them based on the individual needs for each school building. From there, principals are held accountable for meeting those needs, and central office is held accountable for ensuring resources are available, he added.

“We want to make sure our kids are getting what the kids in Brighton are getting,” Garcia said. “Hence, the concept know every child by face and name to and through graduation.”

Getting to know the students and gathering community input for the Path Forward is key to relationship building throughout the district, he noted. Having those relationships shows the investment on the part of school officials and families, he said.

“Many times we don’t have the relationships we should have with the kids we are teaching,” Garcia said. “If we don’t have a relationship with a child, we don’t have a relationship with the family of that child.”

Gathering ideas from those families and other community members on how they would reimagine schools and classrooms is valuable information to have as the Path Forward team prepares its report to the school board, said Deputy Superintendent Lawrence Bo Wright. Formerly superintendent of the Solvay Union Free School District near Syracuse, Wright joined the Rochester district in August.

“We’re going to recommend ultimately three paths forward,” he said. “The board of education will decide which path we’re going to pursue.”

Implementation of the plan would then begin by spring of 2018, he said.

The core elements of any plan will factor in analysis that has been completed on enrollment trends, demographics and student placement, explained Mike Schmidt, the district’s director of operations.

“Lots of structures in place (in schools) are not working and we need to do something about it,” he said. “We’re having conversations with students and teachers (too) to fully understand issues in buildings. So we’re able to respond accordingly. … The community has to have a voice in this conversation if we’re going to do this right.”

City residents offered their ideas during an Oct. 17 community session at the David F. Gantt Recreation Center on North Street. Suggestions included developing homegrown teachers who are of color and culturally competent, creating schools that serve as community hubs and expanding the number of neighborhood schools.

In a few areas of the city, the district has begun a return to neighborhood schools — reversing an earlier trend of busing students to schools that were not near their homes — and is already looking at offering community schools, noted Schmidt. A community school would offer such services as GED classes or fitness programs to neighborhood residents after school and in the evening, he said.

Richard Codding, a retired city resident, said opening up buildings for community use makes sense, since schools should be a place for lifetime learning, adult education, employment opportunities, training and referrals.

He applauds the district’s effort to hear what the community thinks about the city’s great need to improve its schools.

“We have to do it (as a community) if we’re going to build a school system that works,” Codding said. “We have to invite all parties (to the table.) It takes a village.”

Carlos Santana, father of a special-needs child, said students in city schools need to see more African-American and Hispanic faces like theirs at the head of the classroom.

“They will feel more attached and will want to improve and do better,” he said.

Following the Oct. 17 meeting, Santana said district officials need to do more outreach — using all forms of media available and not just sending home fliers that may not reach families — to ensure they are getting enough input on the Path Forward process.

“I think it’s a great idea if you get residents and parents in, even high-school students,” he said. “But it’s always the same game. They (administrators) come and do their thing, say they want input. People don’t show up, and they (administrators) do it their way.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information and a list of upcoming community sessions, visit http://bit.ly/2ydDq0N.

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