School board candidates share views

La Cumbre’s education committee developed questions that El Mensajero Católico posed to the six Rochester City School District Board of Education candidates running for three seats in the Sept. 12 primary. La Cumbre is an ad-hoc committee that focuses on several key issues for the Latino community, including economic development.

The six candidates responded in writing to the following questions.

The Facilities Modernization Plan being overseen by the RCSD and City of Rochester is a multibillion-dollar project that is tasked with rebuilding and remodeling out-of-date schools. These changes will dramatically affect all students, but especially Latino students with the revitalization of Monroe High School. How will you hold the facilities modernization board accountable to ensure on-time and transparency-based decision-making and progress?

Cynthia Elliott (current board of education vice president)

The Facilities Modernization Board is an independent board and is the decision-making body. While I am not a member, I do attend meetings regularly and provide input to ensure every school is designed and constructed for the benefit of students and staff. Unfortunately, with construction it can never be guaranteed that the project will come in on time due to unforeseen construction issues. The FMP board meets monthly and the meetings are open to the public.

Cecilia Griffen Golden

The Facilities Modernization Program is managed by a collaborative board with representatives from the City and School District. The school board ensures that bidding is done, as outlined in its policies; that contracts are developed by an approved law firm, with conditions explicitly written regarding costs and timelines; and that progress is reported regularly to the community and to the board of education. Failure to complete the project, by agreed upon time, would result in financial penalties for the construction company.

Sabrina LaMar

The Superintendent of Schools appoints three members of the Rochester Joint School Construction Board (RJSCB) and one member is a joint appointment of the Mayor and Superintendent. The Rochester School Board hires the Superintendent of schools and is to evaluate and hold the superintendent accountable for his or her responsibilities. In the first phase, the school board did not hold the Superintendent of schools accountable so much so that the Democrat & Chronicle reported that Van White, the school board president, did not even know that modernization work had been cancelled at Jefferson. In order to make the facilities modernization process more transparent, hold the RJSCB accountable, and end shifting priorities, I will push the superintendent of schools to report on the facilities modernization at each board meeting and prod the superintendent, who appoints members of the board, to hold community forums about the facilities modernization.

Beatriz Lebron

We can all hold the Mayor and Superintendent accountable right now by demanding that the community representative seat be a city of Rochester resident, not a Greece resident and has or has had a student in the Rochester City School District. Families need to start asking questions and demand answers. We can start by asking for easy clear communications in both English and Spanish and attending the public meetings that are held. Those meetings can be found here:

Natalie Sheppard

There needs to be a sense of urgency when it comes to accountability. I would create school climate that provides students, families, and staff with consistency, stability, and nurture. Displacement perpetuates disconnection, which can negatively impact student engagement. That then creates a ripple effect in other areas like staff moral, family input, and community growth. I would hold open meetings consistently that includes updates on set deadlines, progress, and allows others to give input. In addition, I would enforce appropriate penalties when deadlines aren’t met.

Van Henri White (current board of education president)

Unfortunately, the reality is that the laws that govern the Facilities Modernization Program (FMP), give NO control to the RCSD Board of Education (BOE). The legislation gives exclusive authority to the, wholly independent, FMP Board. The BOE has no authority to appoint any of the FMP Board Members and we have absolutely no control over the FMP budget. However, to make certain that the BOE was, at least, informed as to what the FMP Board was doing, … I asked Vice President Elliott (and she agreed) to regularly attend FMP meetings. In addition, the BOE gets regular updates (via public presentations) from the FMP Board and its designated representatives regarding its "master plan". Sometimes during these presentations, the BOE has offered its suggestions and lobbied FMP planners and architects for significant changes to their plans. For example, recent improvement to the School Without Walls were added to the FMP master plan as a result of the BOE lobbying FMP leaders for those changes.

How will you work to create and promote increased access to jobs for our RCSD students that provide the right training and opportunities for them to develop as professionals?

Cynthia Elliott

Ensuring that our students graduate from the Rochester City School District, career- and college-ready is my strongest attribute as a member of the Rochester Board of Education. I have developed a reputation for advocating and supporting students and families ensuring that every student is prepared for a 21st century global marketplace. As such, I support policies that ensure that our children are strong in literacy, math, science, technology and have the skills to work as a team.

Cecilia Griffen Golden

Preparing students for the world of work begins at early grade levels through explicit instruction, and continues through experiential learning opportunities, work based learning credits and internships. Emphases are placed on job-related skills, including soft skills essential to success in the work place. Mentors and on-the-job training are invaluable to first time workers. Equally important is for the District to engage in formal alliances with the Chamber and various industries. Students must understand what is required of them, beforehand.

Sabrina LaMar

In addition to investments in early education and coordinated services for students and their parents, RCSD must expand access and support to programs that increase student’s pathways to success such as P-TECH (pathways to success). P-TECH is an academic and career program that matches students with a business mentor, allows students to receive a regent’s diploma and associate’s degree from MCC. Increased support to programs that provide mentors, teach skilled trades and entrepreneurship, and have partnerships with area businesses will provide the needed access to jobs for our RCSD students and provide them opportunities to develop as professionals.

Beatriz Lebron

I will work on strategic partnerships that bring real businesses, educators and non-profits to the forefront to provide real experience to students. I will explore ways to expand programs like Summer of Opportunities year round and look to create a comprehensive career counseling center for students. This will help ensure that outcomes equate to a student who is prepared with the necessary skills and education to continue in a career path or continue with higher education.

Natalie Sheppard

It is critical that we take an approach of early exposure. As a RCSD Commissioner of Schools, I would promote access to jobs for our students by establishing partnerships with companies that are willing to start interacting with students at lower grades so that there is enough time for a student to be exposed to different career paths and be able to make a solid decision by the time they are in the 11th grade. Once they enter the 12th grade there should be internship opportunities for students in their desired career area.

Van Henri White

The District has recently redoubled its efforts to increase the number of Career Technical Education (CTE) programs which are certified by the NYS Department of Education. When a student graduates from one of these programs, it tells prospective employers that the graduate possesses the skills to successfully enter that particular profession. I will continue to push for the creation of additional CTE programs within our District. Additionally, participation in the RCSD Public Safety Training Center (at the REOC) has proven to be a successful gateway into a variety of careers. I will continue to support that successful jobs preparation program. I am proud to have witnessed the resurgence of Edison Career and Technology High School. … The EPO (Educational Partnership Organization) at East, offers career training opportunities in the culinary, optics, and teaching professions. Given the fact that the BOE arranged to have the University of Rochester (this region’s largest employer) serve as Superintendent of East High, we can expect that East will eventually become a job training mecca for everything from the health care to teaching professions.

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