Neighborly Advice

Research shows that the benefits of neighborhood schools are many. As the Board has learned, going back to the neighborhood school saves millions. Children attending elementary school in their neighborhood creates a connection between them and their school. There is also a family connection involved. Parents are more likely to be involved in their child’s education and school activities and are more likely to create a positive working relationship with the school and their child’s teacher.

The larger community also benefits from this concept. When the school becomes the hub of community activity people begin to relate to one another as members of a community. Once the school opens itself to events and activities in which students are involved a common bond is created between and among parents, teachers, and community members as all see the positive outcomes of those events and activities. As positive actions and attitudes grow within neighborhoods, they generate out to the larger community and begin to connect with one another making the entire city a more positive place to live.

The Board has come to realize the benefit of neighborhood schools now they must turn their attention to the benefit of smaller class sizes at the elementary level.

According to recent research by the American Educational Research Association, “Ideally, students should experience small classes of 13 to 17 students when entering school, in either kindergarten or first grade.” As well, “students who were in small classes for three or four years retain a greater advantage.”

Our educational dollars must be spent to their greatest advantage and the greatest advantage for our children is smaller class sizes at the elementary level. Spending millions to reconfigure schools in order to change their grade levels will do little to address our children’s educational success if we continue to pack students into classrooms like sardines in a can. Overcrowding elementary schools by adding 7th and 8th graders has not been proven to be successful in Rochester. We have a cohort. We have the means to collect the data. Let’s look before we leap!

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The Wheels On The Bus

By adopting the neighborhood school concept the district can save $10 million dollars for one year and $5 million dollars each year by redefining the distance parameters. With those savings money can be placed back into the community by hiring crossing guards for our students thereby making it safe for our children to walk to school. Employing crossing guards also builds the community concept within neighborhoods.

One important point that Commissioner White made when discussing the condom issue. Parents have responsibilities in raising their children. If we relieve them of these responsibilities we are enabling them thus creating a society of irresponsible parents.

If parents are unencumbered they should walk their children to and from school. This gives parents the opportunity to interact with their child’s teacher on a daily basis which creates a more solid, positive relationship between home and school. This should not be an ask, but a requirement.

Another problem solved with the neighborhood school concept would be the underutilized large bus. Each school day of each school year large school buses that seat fifty or more students move throughout the city with no more than ten to fifteen students. The reasoning behind this is unclear. With the neighborhood school concept, one bus can pick up students within a particular zone for a particular school to capacity before another bus is designated for the same zone/school thus saving transportation costs.

According to NYSED, “Expenditures for transportation services provided for field trips, athletic trips, excursions, and noon trips for lunch cannot be used to generate Transportation Aid. The expenses for such trips are pro-rated on the basis of route mileage.” Because the number of buses needed will be reduced greatly, over 100, these buses can be assigned to school zones to be used for field experiences for which parents will not have to pay and teachers will not have to hold fund raisers, ensuring every students attendance.

There are many advantages to moving back to the neighborhood school concept, transportation is one, others will be explored, all facilitate the educational excellence of our children.

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Just The Facts

There were three Board committee meetings last night, Board Governance and Development which is Chaired by Melisza Campos, Policy Development and Review, Chaired by Jose Cruz, and the Finance and Resource Allocation Committee, Willa Powell Chair. To the credit of the district, agendas were available for both the Policy and Finance committee meetings.

The first meeting began promptly at 5:00 PM with Commissioners Campos and Cruz present and Commissioner Williams absent. The charge of this committee is to oversee the workings of the Board, its members and the Superintendent. This meeting dealt primarily with the evaluation of Board staff and the tools used for that evaluation. There is no parent representation on this committee and when asked why Commissioner Campos responded, “The reason why there isn’t a parent rep is because this is the inner working of the Board.”

The next committee meeting, Policy Development and Review Committee. Commissioners Cruz, Campos, Powell, White, and Elliott were present for this meeting.

There were two major agenda items for this meeting, allowing schools to pass out condoms to students and transportation. Both items were held for further discussion.

With regards to transportation, Jerome Underwood reported that the district would save $10 million dollars for one year by requiring all elementary students to attend their neighborhood school and busing only those students who lived 1.5 miles from a school within their zone. Commissioner Elliott was adamant about the safety factor related to children walking through dangerous neighborhoods to get to school and wanted it to be a matter of record that she still wanted all elementary students bussed. By busing students who live three quarters of a mile within their zone the district could save $5 million dollars per year.

The last committee meeting, Finance, dealt with major contracts with text vendors, maintenance, and construction contractors of the district. During this meeting, Commissioner White was upset by the lack of minority contractors used by the district.

Unfortunately, information from this meeting was compromised when the recorder used in these meetings was turned off and taken by a district staff member.

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The Game of Life

In the game of chess it is the duty of every piece to defend the king. Each piece has special power, can move in a special way, provides a particular mode of defense. Of all the pieces, the king is the most powerless. The king can only move one square, in one direction, at one time. In this, even the pawn is more powerful. On its first move the pawn can move two squares. The only other defense of the pawn is its numbers. The king and queen are one, the rooks, bishops, and knights are two, but the pawn is eight. There are as many pawns as the total of all the other pieces.

All pieces must have one more important quality. They must believe that the king is worth defending at all cost, even their life. This means that the king, who is virtually powerless must be worthy of defense. The king, must be a true leader.

In game theory, Nash equilibrium is a solution concept of a game involving two or more players, in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only his own strategy unilaterally.

It is because we don’t understand the game that we are loosing it. We have yet to figure out that our numbers are our strength and that we are more powerful than the king. We know that the present king is not worthy of our devotion but we do not understand game theory enough to use it to win the game.

When we place our children in the position of king and then, collectively change our strategy so that we are working together to defend our king at all cost, everyone in the game, including our children, will win.

It may be true that we are but pawns in the game but together our numbers equal theirs and they cannot/will not move until we do. That is a pretty powerful position in which to be.

It’s time to move!

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Then and Now

Willa Powell was first elected to the Board in 1997, left and was appointed again in 2003. NYSED did not begin to collect comprehensive district and school data until 2001. In 2001, student enrollment was 37,885, 6.5% were limited English proficient, 67.2% were eligible for free lunch, the dropout rate was 9.9%, 6.1% higher than the State average.

Board President Malik Evans was elected in 2003. Total enrollment was 34,526. 7.8% of the district was limited English proficient, 64.9% were eligible for free lunch. Of those graduating, 22% received Regents diplomas, 32% went on to a four year college, 47% to a two year college, 3% went to the military and 7% became employed. 10.1% dropped out.

Cynthia Elliott became a member of the Board in 2005. Total enrollment was 33,380. 7% were LEP with 66% eligible for free lunch. The graduation rate was 51% overall. Of those graduating, 24% attended a four year college, 54% a two year college, 3% military, and 9% became employed. 19% dropped out.

Van Henri White was appointed to the Board in 2007. Total enrollment was 32,586. 7% of students were LEP and 71% were eligible for free lunch. The graduation rate was 58% overall. Of those graduating, 5% attended a four year college, 52% a two year college, 2% military, and 18% became employed. 10% dropped out.

Melissa Campos, Allen Williams, were elected in 2008. Total enrollment, 32,132. 10% were LEP and 75% were eligible for free lunch. The graduation rate, 54% overall. Of those graduating, 3% attended a four year college, 40% a two year college, 3% military, 22% became employed. 11% dropped out.

Jose Cruz was elected in 2009. Total enrollment, 31,653. 10% were LEP and 79% eligible for free lunch. The graduation rate, 59%. Of those graduating, 8% attended a four year college, 48% a two year college, 0% military, 20% became employed. 12% dropped out.

This is the statistical report card of the current sitting School Board according to the New York State Department of Education.

Very little success has been achieved since 1997. Enrollment has decreased and the dropout rate has increased. The district is educating more LEP students and more students are eligible for free lunch. The number of students attending college has dropped 23% since 2003 while students becoming employed has increased only 15%.

This community cannot continue to ignore the data. Our district leaders have been unsuccessful in educating our children.

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Send A Letter For Change, Address It To The King

Education Law §306 allows the Commissioner of Education to remove a trustee, member of a board of education and certain other school officers for wilful misconduct or neglect of duty.

The July 7, 2011 post “Let’s Talk About Waste” asked readers to send the post to NYSED reporting the waste of the RCSD. Those that responded and did not wish to remain anonymous received a response from Jay O’Connor, Office of Educational Management Services which referenced the above Education Law.

We have gained the attention of the NYS Education Department and they are waiting to see if this community follows through with their intentions to change the system of education for our children by taking the steps necessary to remove from office those individuals who have neglected their duties. The current climate in education across the country has given this community the perfect opportunity to make our voice heard in Albany.

Parent and community members must begin a letter writing campaign to the Commissioner of Education outlining the “Neglect of duty” of Board members.

Board members have neglected their duty in meeting District Goals series, District Wide series, Schools, Financial Management, Facilities, Support Services, and Employees series of Board Policy.

It is necessary for all concerned parents and community members to recognize that this Board is in serious violation of their own policies and procedures and therefore must be held accountable.

It is also necessary that all concerned parents and community members make sure that any newly elected Board members and educational leaders in our community are not only aware of but are knowledgeable about and committed to upholding, the policies of the district and are willing to respectfully work with parents and community members to regularly update any and all policies that will directly enhance the education of our children.

Any elected or appointed leader can mis-lead followers who do not hold them accountable. In holding our current leaders accountable we will insure the accountability of future leaders.

Begin writing today!
Commissioner John King
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234

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Una Vita Una Occasio!

From July 28-31, 2011 a Save Our Schools march, rally, and congress will be held in Washington, DC. The goal, “We’re putting the Public back in public schools!” This national movement to remove the tentacles of big business from the bowels of public education expresses how dire the problem of the mis-education of our children has become.

In Rochester, we are faltering over the leadership of the movement. We are allowing adult agendas to derail the strong, intelligent, hard-working, passionate train of parents and community members from connecting with one another in an effort to move forward in our struggle to free our children from the bonds of institutional ignorance.

The RCSD 2011-12 school calendar brings teachers back into the classroom on August 31 and September 1, 2011 for two Superintendent’s Conference Days. The first day of school for all students is September 2, the Friday before Labor Day, cutting short the last long holiday weekend for families before the school year begins. The district calendar is supposed to be negotiated with parents. What representative group of parents were consulted and agreed to this? What representative group of parents were consulted and agreed to the report cards the district uses? What representative group of parents were consulted and agreed to any of the decisions that were made by this district. Yet, policy clearly states that parents must be consulted and provide decision making input on important issues.

The district is able to make these unilateral decisions because we, the Rochester community, continue to alienate ourselves from one another and from our children’s educational system. We align to save one or two schools, we align to save one or two programs but we cannot seem to come together to save the 32,000 children this district mis-educates.

We must put adult concerns aside and begin to form alliances to amass the power necessary to win the war against the ignorance that is destroying our society.

We must seize this day and rise up in unity to show our district and our children that we do care!

We must align to save our children.

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