ROCHESTER — The time for talk is long over.
So say organizers of a Latino education summit planned for April 26 at Nazareth College. Administrators and board members from the Rochester City School District will meet with representatives from local colleges, businesses and community organizations to map a better future for Hispanic students. Only 38 percent of Hispanic students graduated from high school in 2008, according to a report issued last fall that was commissioned by the Ibero-American Action League and the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education.
"We’re at a moment of desperation," said José Cruz, the school board’s vice president. "Everybody’s looking for that little bit that works."
One proposal to be discussed is having a group of community leaders focus their resources to "adopt" a city high school with a high concentration of Hispanic students, said Cruz who with fellow board member Melisza Campos has been leading the charge for the summit. About 59 percent of the students at James Monroe High School are Latino, according to www.greatschools.org/cgi-bin/ny/other/3384#students. And Monroe’s graduation rate is 42 percent, according to the school’s profile on the district website.
Determining how it would work to adopt a high school like Monroe is one of the things that could come out the April 26 meeting, added Cruz.
"We want to put key things in place … and turn achievement around," remarked Campos. "We’re so sick of talking. We’ve got the information. Now, we need to do something."
The expectation is that the 20 to 30 leaders attending the summit will be people who can make decisions right then and there on what their organizations can offer these students, added Cruz.
"We’re taking it further," he said. "We’re diving deeper on how to affect change with people who have some kind of connection."
The challenge in the concept of adopting a school, however, is that there is diversity within the Latino population, noted Edward Fergus, deputy director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University, who will facilitate the summit. So a model that is successful at one school may not be as successful at another school that attempts to replicate it, he remarked. Even within the same population, there are also different approaches to addressing the needs of a first-generation student vs. subsequent generations, Fergus said.
"If a kid is coming in at age 5, that’s different than a kid coming in at age 18," said Fergus. "They’re going to be vastly different in terms of the educational services they’re going to need. …We have to make sure we have (effective) programming for that target population."
Last winter, Fergus began meeting with Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard to discuss potential initiatives that could address the low achievement rates for black and Latino males in the district. Shortly thereafter, he began talking with Brizard and school board members about the Latino population and the Ibero-UR report, Fergus added.
The report pointed out some sensitive issues, such as cultural identity, and weighed how adequately schools are responding to such issues, which is useful information, Fergus said. The report also highlighted the variety of support — within schools and from outside groups — for students, but Fergus said more in-depth information is needed on who exactly constitutes the Latino population in city schools. Such questions are an area of expertise for Fergus, who is author of the book, Skin Color and Identity Formation: Perceptions of Opportunity and Academic Orientation among Mexican and Puerto Rican Youth.
"These issues are not uncommon to school districts across the country serving the Latino population," Fergus remarked, adding that he feels it will be important for the group to analyze policies during the summit. "If we go about changing them, we can help change the trajectory of this population."
The summit group will assess all the programs and services for Latino students that currently are offered by the various schools, he said.
"If kids participating in an ESL (English as a Second Language) program are not making sufficient progress, is ESL appropriate for that population?" noted Fergus. "Is there a mismatch there?"
If certain schools are achieving a higher degree of success, the group can analyze whether those schools’ approaches will work elsewhere, Fergus noted.
"We’re going to have to treat some schools as a case study," he added. "Doing that across the district will create more trust and understanding of what’s going on with Latino students and how do we improve their outcomes."
Such analysis will also enhance the district’s strategic plan, concurred Fergus and Campos.
"We want to make sure (these ideas) get infused into the strategy of the district so they don’t get lost," she said.