Submitted For Consideration

It is impossible to consider our system of education without understanding the political nature of the machine. The School Board is an elected body and therefore is driven by a particular affiliation and attitude.

In Rochester, Malik Evans, President of the Board, Vice-President Jose Cruz, Commissioner Cynthia Elliott, and Interim Superintendent Bolgen Vargas all have a common political bond, Assemblyman David Gantt. And, while Assemblyman Gantt has done a great many positive things for this community, it is important to recognize the like-mindedness of those who make decisions for our district.

Assemblyman Gantt has advocated for and continues to be a proponent of mayoral control, a business based model of leadership whose goal is to achieve profitability through institutionalized coercion and control. It has been proven that mayoral control does not enhance the successful education of children but maintains a status of profit for those engaged in the business of education through the privatization of schools and the sale of educational and testing materials.

There is no question that Commissioner Elliott supports the idea of mayoral control and, as Gantt supporters, it is logical to assume that Evans, Cruz, and Vargas are similarly envisioned.

This commonality of purpose of our elected officials is, and has been, educationally destructive to our children. Running our educational system like a business has turned our children into non-thinking widgets who have nothing more to offer society than a work force mentality that has led to the destruction of the very humanity for which education was purposed.

When we consider the qualifications of those we elect to govern our school district we must take care to know and understand their belief systems in order to determine whether or not the decisions they make will be in the best interest of our children.

Currently, this community is seeking a new superintendent of schools. We have taken the time and made the effort to make our requisites for the position known. We must now make sure that our elected Board heeds our recommendations and does not fill the position with one who suits their political purposes.

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When The Lines Are Blurred You Must Read Between Them

During a recent WXXI conversation with Interim Superintendent Vargas the question was asked, “Opening and closing schools has been done here and all over the country and there has not been significant progress due to what critics describe as the “shell game” where schools are disrupted and students shuffled around. How can you execute such a plan to avoid making these criticisms a reality?”

The answer by Dr. Vargas is interesting, “I am looking to accelerate the closure of the phase out schools and am not looking to continue this approach in the future.” It suggests that in the next five months or by the end of the school year, several schools will be closed. It also suggests that Dr. Vargas has or is planning to apply for the position of permanent superintendent and that he fully intends to be hired for that position.

There is a great deal of question and controversy over the superintendent search process that has all but disappeared from the public eye. No more meetings have been held, no more information as to where we are in the process, no mention of how many candidates there are, what the pool of candidates looks like, nothing.

The district generated and garnered a great deal of public interest and engagement in the process of selecting our next superintendent only to come to a dead halt leaving the public in the wilderness wondering what, if anything, is happening now.

Has the decision already been made? Has Dr. Vargas tipped the district’s hand and let us know that he will be the next superintendent? If this is the case, why continue the ruse? President Evans has already stood firm on the premise that it is the Board who will determine the outcome of the search. And, if that decision has already been made then stop the subterfuge, pay the search firm, and let’s get on with the struggle.

Lest any man or woman be fooled, this process is far from transparent and even farther from publicly driven.

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To Know Them Is To Effect Them

At last night’s business meeting the Board passed the CAP policy resolution with a vote of 4-3. While the community spoke out against adoption of this resolution, community members must know that the decision to pass the resolution was made long before last night’s meeting.

Proponents of the program spent many months coming before the Board in support of the program. In fact, program proponents introduced to the program to the Board. They advocated for it at meetings and in public forums. They not only produced data, but a strong student community voice.

It is important for this community to understand that by the time a resolution comes to the business meeting on the third Thursday of the month, Board members have already decided on how to vote and speaking out at those meetings seems futile because it is.

The time to speak for or against a resolution is long before it reaches the full Board for a vote. We, as a community, now have the opportunity, through technology, to make a larger impact on the decisions made by Board members because we now have full access to all public information concerning Board business.

We must take full advantage of this opportunity by becoming knowledgeable about school board policies, decisions, and dealings before the monthly business meetings. We must make ourselves aware of what is happening in our district before the vote is called, realizing that by then it is too late.

Being present at the meetings and forums on the CAP matter you knew the result of the vote without attending the business meeting. Before the election each candidate made their position clear on the subject.

As a community, we cannot continue to jump on the train after it has arrived at the station but must stop it before it leaves. This means becoming actively involved in our district’s dealings, being strong advocates for our positions, and voting for candidates who support our views.

We must change our ways before we can expect them to change theirs.

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He Said – He Said

The power we hold as a people, in our government, depends upon our base of knowledge. To acquire this knowledge we must communicate with one another in order to glean the truth from what is said by juxtaposing it with corresponding actions.

Elected officials, especially during an election year, say what is necessary to win public favor. They read and discern hot topics and buzz terms in order to increase their favor in the polls.

President Obama said what he needed to say in order to receive favor amongst a large constituency group, teachers.

Interim Superintendent Vargas said what he needed to say in order to receive favor within the Rochester community.

We know what was said now it is up to the people to either call them on their word or hold them to their word. The only road we must not take is to become complacent because they said what we wanted to hear.

If we do not come together and discuss the nuances of what our elected and appointed officials say and promise, the onus is on the American people and the community. They only need to say what sounds good it is our job to make sure their actions coincide with their word.

Democrat & Chronicle writer Tiffany Lankes reported that Interim Superintendent Vargas received a standing ovation for his words. She also stated that members of the audience, “were local political leaders, education activists and school officials.”

Without actually listening to or reading Dr. Vargas’ comments, the Rochester community can assume that he said and is therefore going to do all the right things.

Taking responsibility for our community, our nation, means becoming actively involved in the planning of those environments. We are a nation at risk because we have left the planning to those who have their own interests at heart, believing their encouraging words and doing nothing.

It is not up to them to change, it is up to us, the public, to hold them to their word or remove them from office.

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New (Wo)Man – New Plan

Status quo: The state of things; the way things are, as opposed to the way they could be.

During the State of the Nation address President Obama came out publicly against standardized testing and in favor or more local control of education policies, contrary to the current idealism of education leaders.

During the State of our Schools address Interim Superintendent Vargas made it clear that the existing plan for our schools would not change.

During the Excellence in Student Achievement meeting it was announced that the projected graduation rate for the 2012 senior class is 49.4% with next year’s senior class not fairing much better.

This community has heard a great deal about the status quo. It was mentioned as something we must turn away from in order to turn towards a better system of education for our children. However we were given a false impression of what the status quo really is.

Our children have been failing for more than 30 years. This is the status quo. Our Board has been hiring the same ineffective superintendents that have been making the same ineffective decisions and creating the same ineffective plans, producing the same ineffective results for all of those years. This is the status quo.

This district continues to place emphasis on “Phase-in – Phase-out” programs, grade level changes, school name changes, professional development for adults, ineffective extended day programs, and less than effective summer school programs. All status quo.

What district leaders won’t do is actually acknowledge and address the problems in our district with innovative and effective plans that promote success.

Smaller class size at the elementary level, counseling at the elementary level, teaching self-control, self-confidence, and self-respect, at the elementary level in order to recognize the individual talents, strengths, and abilities of our children so that they may use those talents, strengths, and abilities to realize personal success and become successful adults; this is what education should be.

Teaching to the test is status quo, teaching to the child is innovation! Our new superintendent must know the difference and change the status quo.

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The Truth and Nothing But The Truth

At the Excellence in Student Achievement meeting school principals were asked to explain their school’s failing status. Commissioner Mary Adams urged principals to be forthright and honest about the reasons why our children are not achieving.

The first principal emboldened to tell the truth reiterated what this community has been telling the Board for years, class size does matter at the early childhood stage of learning. With a population of children coming to school without the necessary skills to succeed, placing those students in a class of twenty or more with one teacher is a recipe for failure. Also, kindergarten attendance must be made mandatory.

The next principal added to this situation the problem of placing unrealistic expectations on these students by making them learn in a way that is contrary to their level of maturity. Forcing these children to read and write and do math removes the joy of learning and creates a disconnect between the child and the desire to learn. The child “drops out” while still in elementary school.

With the flood gates open, the next principal explained that the best indicator of educational success in young children is the development of fine motor skills, the ability to run, jump, hold and manipulate small items. Early childhood education has become standardized and rote. The importance of music in early education is documented yet Equitable Student Funding has forced some buildings to drop or diminish this essential program.

The final principal to speak brought a reality to the Board to which neither they nor our state or federal education leaders have been receptive. Children are unique, with unique situations and unique learning styles. Our current cookie cutter, standardized approach to education is counterproductive to student success.

These things are not new. The Board has been receiving this information from parents, teachers, and the community for years. Now administrators have stepped up. The question is, “What is the Board going to do, embrace the truth and begin to create a successful system of education or continue to support the lies that promote failure?”

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And The Winner Is

According to the attributes stated for applicants to the position of RCSD superintendent of schools, if Jesus and Heinrich Himmler applied, Himmler would most assuredly get the job.

Their resumes would look something like this:

Jesus –
Education: Skilled carpenter, no formal education
Strengths: Love of children, respect for all mankind, successful public speaker, little interest in financial gain
Weaknesses: Somewhat introverted, penchant for fine wine
Qualifications for position: I believe that no child should suffer and that unless you are childlike in your heart you cannot achieve true success as a human being. Also, if you properly train a child that training will serve them as an adult. I would work to my death to bring the truth to all mankind by educating them to the power of righteousness and to the understanding that they hold, within them, the strength to overcome life’s burdens.

Education: Completed secondary school, studied agriculture and was elected to Parliament at the age of 30
Strengths: Community organizer, successful administrator, outstanding military leader, strong business and work ethic
Weaknesses: Somewhat controlling
Qualifications for position: Because my father was a Roman Catholic secondary-school master, I am well versed in the system of education. In just three years, as head of my organization, I was able to increase my unit by 50,000 members. I was appointed Assistant Chief of operations and was able to unite several territories under local control. I also created an “in house” suspension system for individuals who exhibited special needs and attention within the system.

There is no doubt as to whom the Board would hire.

This parody speaks to the importance being placed on criteria that have nothing to do with educating children. It speaks to the inability of the Board to recruit and hire a superintendent for our district that has actually created widespread systemic change throughout the district resulting in the successful education of our children.

Could it be the Board’s sights are set on an ineffective leadership model? This community knows what it wants, it’s up to us to get it.

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