ROCHESTER — Students were not shy about voicing their opinions on recommendations presented by members of four community advisory committees during a Feb. 26 student-only town hall.
A community town hall meeting followed on March 4.
"It was a good idea to get students’ opinions and suggestions and is what they should do," said Tori Roseborough, a junior at Charlotte High School, who said she especially liked the idea of creating more schools like School of the Arts and making connections between city and suburban schools.
Taariq Cleveland, a junior at World of Inquiry School No. 58, said he agreed the meeting was a good step toward building a better community. But Jyare Carter, a fellow junior at the school, worries the meeting was just a tactic.
"Something they can say, ‘Well, we asked the students,’" she said.
The students were among the more than two dozen pupils who attended the town hall meeting at the district to hear recommendations on the advisory committees’ focus areas: student achievement, student and community safety, parent engagement, and concentration of poverty.
The committees were created by Van White just after he was named the new school board president at the beginning of the year. Committee members included parents, university educators, community leaders, staff from the district, and other districts and students.
Before the meeting, he explained that the groups were given 45 days to develop their recommendations. That timeline allows for the board of education to hear those ideas during the budget process and decide which of them should be funded, he explained.
One additional idea Taariq recommended would be creation of a counselor evaluation system to allow for input from the students on the class selection process. He also agreed with students like Tori who said successful programs should be emulated in other schools.
"My school does a good job," Taariq said of the expeditionary learning model. "The teachers and principals do a wonderful job. … If other schools and teachers would do what we have, maybe they would see more increases in (testing) results as well."
Getting that kind of feedback is why the committees were running their ideas past the students first, as the recommendations affect them directly, White said.
"It’s really an opportunity to learn from our students and also to engage our students," he said.
Part of that engagement was the announcement of the board’s Twitter page, @RCSD_BOE.
Another avenue of input that the students supported was the creation of a youth council on instructional development, which was proposed by the student achievement committee.
Joanne Larson, a professor from the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education who presented the committee’s report, said that this youth council would report directly to the school board.
Taariq and Jyare said that they hoped such a council would question the need to follow the Common Core and hoped the district could step away from its "one-size-fits-all" model.
"I didn’t understand why we had to follow one curriculum when people prosper in different ways," Jyare said to applause from the audience.
Another area that garnered a lot of student feedback was the need to improve school safety, as many supported the idea of restoring Alternatives to Suspension (ATS).
Sophie Gallivan, president of the Student Leadership Congress who was part of the committee, explained that ATS would work differently than in-school suspension as teaching staff would be assigned to work with suspended students to address the behavioral problems while ensuring the students don’t fall behind in classes.
The discussion is an important one, said Jayre, as students need to feel protected in their schools in order to do well. During the time her school was located on another campus, there were many conflicts among students, she added.
"I need to know when I come to school that I will have my life when I leave," she said.
Carlos Garcia, executive director of Partners in Restorative Initiatives, said that the safety committee hopes students will alert school officials to conflicts before they create unsafe conditions. Sophie said that students can train teachers on code words and phrases used on social media to help identify precursors to conflict.
"The whole idea is to de-escalate the situation," Garcia said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The recommendations from the special committees can be found at rcsdk12.org. To comment, call 585-262-8525 or e-mail BoardofEducation@rcsdk12.org.