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Bolgen VargasBolgen Vargas was seen as the savior.

The district’s spirit was broken back in the spring of 2011. Outgoing Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard had created chaos and ill will. There was a massive budget deficit and threats of hundreds of layoffs and program cuts.
Vargas was brought in to heal the wounds.

Astoundingly, no one raised a stink that a suburban guidance counselor was picked behind closed doors to head the third-largest district in the state. Though Vargas got the job because of his political connections, everyone agreed he’s a “good man” and a “nice guy.” Vargas seemed to be what the district needed at that moment.
As interim superintendent, he healed the wounds and redirected focus to education.

But when he got the permanent job, there were signs of trouble. Vargas couldn’t retain key people in his cabinet. He lost the support of administrators, who complained his expectations were always changing. He began to lose the support of teachers, who saw the climate in their schools and classrooms continue to deteriorate.

A good leader has to have followers.

Vargas made a series of decisions that angered his board, starting with his immediate hire of Patricia Malgieri as his right hand. (She was pro-mayoral control under former Mayor Bob Duffy.) There were other questionable moves, including the shuffling of principals, the inexplicable downfall of Northeast/Northwest, the dismantling of the Boys Academy and the special education “consultation” model.

It turned out, Vargas, who had never served as an administrator, wasn’t a great manager. His style was more autocratic than inclusive. That angered just about everyone who worked under him. The internal strife remained below the radar until Vargas filed a lawsuit against the board after they checked his power. It was clear the end of his tenure was near.

None of this should be a surprise to those who remember Vargas from his days on the school board.

Vargas had a model for his perfect superintendent: Clifford Janey. When Vargas was on the school board, he was a huge champion of the district’s former leader. Janey believed in a very strong superintendent and hands-off board. Assemblyman David Gantt got a law passed giving Janey and his successors more power. (Vargas had that law in mind when he sued his board.)

Until the bitter end of Janey’s tenure, Vargas was a Janey apologist and supporter, despite Janey’s horrible financial management skills and lack of transparency. Vargas helped orchestrate Janey’s resignation and large contract buyout. The deal was meant to allow Janey to save face, but the opposite happened. The board announced Janey’s resignation at a packed board meeting, prompting cheers from the crowd.

Vargas’ desire for Janey-like power and his dislike of scrutiny led to his quiet downfall. His internal problems stayed mostly under the radar, thanks to a school board that kept its exasperation to itself. The public never knew how bad things were behind the scenes.

The tragedy of Bolgen Vargas came to an end Tuesday at an awkward press conference, in which no one wanted to admit what was really going on. Vargas did learn one lesson from the Janey ordeal: Get out before they push you out in a much less graceful manner.

Recess

 

 

This memo came to me from an elementary school teacher fed up with a perceived lack of discipline. Disruptive students and violent students can be removed from class, but they’re quickly returned. The bad behavior continues. This teacher has been assaulted by some of her young students, but there are no consequences, at least not any that change behavior.

Discipline is often cited as the number one complaint among Rochester City School District teachers. This letter from a retiring teacher describes a desperate situation.

The teacher who sent me this memo believes yet another enforcement tool has been taken away. Teachers can no longer deny recess to misbehaving students.

The memo cites a new policy manual on student discipline. You can read it here. The manual does not list denying recess as an appropriate punishment.

The manual is very detailed. It lists punishments that include verbal reprimands, denial of extra-curricular activities, in-school-suspensions, out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. (You have to be 17 or or older to be expelled.)

Schools are given a maximum punishment for each offense. If an out-of-school suspension is allowed for an offense, the principal can “sentence” the student to in-school-suspension.

The maximum punishments don’t appear to be out of whack with the offenses. That’s not what I think could end up being a thorny issue with this policy.

It’s very clear this policy strongly discourages out-of-school suspensions. Kids can’t learn if they’re not in class, so it’s logical to reduce the time away from school. Studies have shown minority and special education students get suspended far more than white students for similar offenses. High rates of suspensions are seen by many as a civil rights issue. The RCSD suspends thousands of children every year.

As a result of growing concern about suspensions, this policy makes it a giant pain in the you-know-what to suspend a child.

Here’s what has to happen for an in-school-suspension. As you can see, this is a very labor-intensive process.

 

iss1

 

What’s more, many elementary schools don’t have ISS rooms. This requires more work on the part of school staff:

iss2

 

Any elementary student who is suspended must get one hour of instruction a day. High school students get two hours. This applies whether they are suspended in school our out of school. They are supposed to be given “equivalent instruction.”

Suspending students with disabilities requires another layer of paperwork.

It’s very important to protect students’ right to an education, as well as due process. It’s also very important to ensure a culture of discipline and respect in schools. With this in mind, the policy raises a number of questions. Are principals feeling pressure from Central Office to not suspend students and are inappropriate disciplinary decisions being made as a result? Are principals following this manual and doing all of these steps every time a kid is suspended? Are principals not suspending kids because it’s too much work? Are schools without ISS rooms suspending students at a lower rate, and is this affecting the school environment negatively? Are students being given in-school suspensions over out-of-school suspensions for serious offenses? Are students getting equivalent instruction when they’re suspended?

I’m not sure what an effective discipline policy looks like. Judging from the initial complaints, this may not be it.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Take a look back at Greece Towne Mall. It’s expansion contributed to the death of Irondequoit Mall.

– The City of Rochester destroyed a community garden, saying the grass was too high.

– Here’s why the property tax cap could be 0 percent next year.

– Saratoga Springs police chief wants officer fired after he pepper-sprayed man who flipped him off.

– Don’t say “wrong place, wrong time” when talking about killings.

– Why is U.S. women’s soccer still fighting to exist?

Mr. Ms. and Mx.

lombardoAn email from a retiring Rochester City School District teacher sent to the superintendent and other top officials received a lot of attention.

Alice Lombardo sent me her email a few days before her April 10 retirement. The longtime educator wanted people to know why she was leaving. The email described a chaotic, stressful and dangerous work environment. The tone was desperate and frustrated.

I found her story credible, as I’ve heard similar stories from other teachers. I had also recently done a story on the district’s infamous rubber room. (That story also featured a retired teacher; they are free to speak out.)

Finding the truth of what goes on in schools can be very difficult without micro-managed access and staff worried about retaliation. I shared Lombardo’s message on social media, because that was probably the only way her story would get out. We don’t always need to do stories wrapped in a bow for the web or broadcast. There’s more than one way to tell a story and find the truth.

When I shared the email on my Facebook page, I expected a lot of people to be critical of her letter. I expected some people to question her credibility or bring up skeletons in her closets. I expected some people to say she shouldn’t be teaching, with an email that didn’t have anything charitable to say about her school. I expected someone to defend the school.

But none of that happened. With the exception of some comments questioning my own decision to share the letter, every comment supported Lombardo. Many teachers from other schools shared similar stories. The comments from people who knew her, especially colleagues and parents, were especially valuable.

After nine years in 6th grade, I have seen and been victim to some of the exact situations that teacher mentioned. It is REAL and it is abuse. Our district must change for the sake of the children and the teachers! – Andrea Phillips Fricano

My story is much like Alice Lombardo’s. I too worked for the RCSD (#9 and #17). Mine also is a long story which resulted in such stress that I had a stroke in 2013. – Gladys Velazquez

This is totally the reality of where I teach though. Do you know how many times this week alone students cursed at me or around me and refused to follow my directions? The fifth and sixth graders are totally out of control. My class is wonderful and does great but the older kids are awful. I was pushed today twice. – Third Grade Teacher, RCSD

Unfortunately I know all too well what she’s talking about and I also thought she was a great teacher very saddened by her experience. – Sha’Ronda Lynette Jackson

I’m so saddened by this. It does not surprise me that it has gotten this bad, but still sad nonetheless. You were MY sixth grade teacher in a city school full of disrespectful kids even back then in the 90s…Back when we ASKED to eat lunch in your classroom during your own break so that WE weren’t harassed daily. Back when we had to have our parents pick us up from school after the bus kids were dismissed so that we didn’t get beat up. So THANK YOU for always standing up for your students who need it and deserve it! – Meredith Tedesco

It hurts to read this and how degraded the system has become. I think back fondly on my time spent with you Mrs Lombardo and the amazing teachers at Frederick Douglas school and think to all of the fun we had learning in your class. You taught us to think for ourselves and out of the box. You instilled the confidence that led us to become the people we are today…There aren’t enough words to thank you. I am so very sorry this is the way you end your career as a teacher. Please know that you truly made a difference in our world! – Liberty Lally

Alice Lombardo, this breaks my heart. I never would’ve made it through middle school without you. You gave up your own time so we could all eat lunch with you in your classroom, where we all felt safe. You helped mold me into the respectful woman I am today. The world needs more teachers like you. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of this. I love you dearly and you will ALWAYS be my favorite teacher. Much love to you. – Michelle Travers

Thank you for speaking out. I, too am retiring this June after 33 years.
The disrespect and lack of consequences for unsafe and disruptive behaviors is the main reason. There are many great kids who are respectful but their learning environment has b
ecome a toxic arena of disrespectful peers. They are suffering as well as the teachers on a daily basis. I use to LOVE teaching but now I dread going to work. It is abusive everyday. – Robin Rudy

Wow! My heart goes out to this woman. Just this week I visited that same school and within 30 minutes knew that I would not be anle to accept a position offered to me. I simply did not feel safe and after hearing staff talk about incidents like race riots as the norm, I was in utter shock and disgust for what the children and adults have to endure. – JoVanna Jenkins

I resigned last year from the RCSD in May of 2014, after 14 years in the district, after being basically being told it was my fault for being assaulted in the classroom by a 4th grader. The district’s position on violence against teachers according to their response to my worker’s comp case was that it “is nothing more than work in the ordinary course of the claimant’s job as a teacher in an inner city school environment. – Chelsea Rowe

She was awesome. She had my son for many yrs and all my kids passed through 17 schools doors while she was there and all of them have graduated high school and on to higher learning now. It was Mrs . Alice who got my son the services he needed to be the young recently graduated working young man he is now and the rest of the staff there. It’s clear that she is tired of fighting with no army as times have changed. – Shareen Tanna

I am so glad I no longer work for the RCSD! What she wrote is so true and I wish I had the same courage to write it all in my resignation letter. I taught there for 9 years in different schools. By the time I resigned I was also under medical care and on antidepressants and antianxiety medications. – Kristen Bonn

I worked at School 17 with Alice during the 2012-2014 school years. We both taught 6th grade. She is one of the most courageous women I know. I am so proud of her. – Kellene Paul

I worked in Alice’s classroom a few years back. She is not one for exaggeration or outlandish overstatements. It does nor surprise me that the administration tried to make light of the situation. To admit she was right would be to admit that are negligent in their job (which they clearly are). But to be fair, teachers and administrators can only do so much. Parents are shirking their responsibility in raising polite, respectful children. They are allowed to act this way at home without any consequences, so when they get to school and are expected to behave appropriately, they rebel. It all begins and ends with parents. – Karen Nasella Melville

Lombardo is getting some rest and she’s on vacation. She emailed me that she is thinking about my request for a television interview.

“I shared my letter because I want things to change, especially for the students and the conditions under which they are schooled,” she said. “I want the RCSD to address issues instead of sweeping them under the rug.”

 

Links of the Day:

 

– An award-winning, outspoken New York City principal is retiring early to take on the test and punish system.

– An article in the Buffalo News quotes a Cuomo official saying the state is in talks with several mayors about mayoral control of schools. Since there are only five eligible cities and New York City already has mayoral control, one can surmise Rochester is in these talks.

– Look up the obesity rates in your school district with this interactive map.

– Emails reveal Hollywood effort to give Cuomo donations because he helped with film tax credits.

– “They think, ‘Oh my God, there are kids outside. We have to call the police.'”

– Black families have traditional used black funeral homes. In Buffalo, that’s changing.

Go ahead, swim in Onondaga Lake.

Bolgen VargasRochester Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has a short memory.

He plans to sue the school board over its vote to strip him of some hiring and firing powers related to the Superintendent Employee Group. This group is made up of highly-paid at will managers, including deputy superintendents, numerous chiefs and a few confidential secretaries. The SEG is also known as the “cabinet.”

Here’s why we care about SEG. These are the folks running the district. The payroll for this group exceeds $3 million, not including benefits. There have been numerous abuses by superintendents of this classification.  Under former superintendent Clifford Janey, SEG members were given golden parachutes. Under former superintendent Manny Rivera, SEG members got secret side deals in which taxpayers paid for their PhD’s, with no requirement they continue to work for the district. Under Brizard, the SEG had a record payroll and open records showed he gave SEG members large raises, including a $10,000 one for his secretary. Under Vargas, some SEG members were given secret contracts guaranteeing salary, no matter the performance.

Under a state law championed by Assemblyman David Gantt to shield Janey from a meddling school board, superintendents have the right to choose their cabinets. This law had an unintended consequence. It’s been used by RCSD superintendents to making quiet and dubious decisions. The board only has the power over the budget line and job titles – and history shows the media often has to tell the board what’s going on with SEG.

Right now, there are 32 members of this group. That’s down from the days when it exceeded 50. Former interim superintendent Bill Cala got it under 30, but his successor, Jean-Claude Brizard increased the ranks to more than 40.

Board member Willa Powell said the major reason the board has concerns with Vargas and his cabinet is turnover. Vargas fires people and other people leave. It’s a revolving door. Here’s the short list of people who have left in the past few years: Beth Mascitti-Miller, Shaun Nelms, Anita Murphy, Tom Petronio, Kim Dyce, Jeanette Silvers, Anne Brown, Jamie Warren, Jim Fenton, John Scanlon, Laura Kelley, Leslie Boozer, Bethany Centrone, Jackie Polito and Gladys Pedraza.

Fights between the board and the superintendent over the size and makeup of SEG are not new. This comes up every few years. But Vargas’ decision to sue the board is shocking for one reason. The board easily kick him to the curb and buy out his contract tomorrow.

Vargas should know. He was on the school board that bought out Janey.

 

CLEAR THE SIDEWALKS:

 

The City of Rochester does zero enforcement of the code saying property owners have to clear their own sidewalks. Meanwhile, New York City issues thousands of tickets.

 

 

 

November 3 memo to teachers

November 3 memo to teachers

 

Once again, the Rochester City School District has instructed teachers not to give any grades below 50 percent.

Some teachers are outraged by this practice. Students who score below 50 percent likely don’t come to class, don’t do the work and don’t know the material. These teachers feel insulted that cannot give a true grade. They call this grade inflation.

November 3 memo to teachers

November 3 memo to teachers

But here’s the rationale. If a student gets a terribly low score, he may not be able to recover and the entire year is lost. Even if that student scores an 85 on the final exam, one or two semesters with scores below 50 percent could mean he gets no credit for the class. And let’s face it – 50 percent is still failing.

If there’s a problem with grade inflation, the more likely scenario is that teachers give the students who show up to class and do the work passing grades each semester. But when final exam time rolls around, the student fails the test. That means the grades throughout the year were likely not a true a reflection of the student’s knowledge.

My dad was my Course I math teacher at Marshall. He said on the first day of class that we would be graded on what we know. If we skipped class and didn’t do homework, we probably wouldn’t know anything. But his message was clear. He wasn’t going to be punitive to students who demonstrated mastery of the material.

Telling teachers to change grades certainly presents an ethical issue. In a district where fewer than half of students graduate on time, this is clearly an effort to make sure as many as possible get class credits. But even with the class credits, they cannot graduate without passing the required Regents exams. Those grades are the ones that matter the most.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– President Obama says the FCC should reclassify the Internet as a utility.

– There are multiple problems with Rochester’s study of red light cameras, according to an anti-camera advocacy group. Here’s another takedown of studies like the one the city commissioned.

– A D&C columnist was criticized for his use of the word “buffonery.”

– “What the world apparently sees is a woman lugging around a giant umbilical cord.”

– The Susan B. Anthony House is not happy with the use of Anthony’s name.

– Check out this awesome interactive map of Rochester’s trading partners.

Kodak has a role in “Interstellar.”

Sexy Syracuse University?

 

Tweet of the Day:

 

Bills tweet

Credit: University of Rochester

Credit: University of Rochester

Guidance counselors and principals in the Rochester City School District no longer have the power to change student schedules. They first have to get permission from Central Office.

The rule was spelled out in two memos, one to principals and one to principals, registrars and guidance counselors. The goal is to maximize efficiency and make sure there are not classes with too few students. The district is also trying to weed out no-shows, which impacts its graduation rate.

The district calls this process ‘True-Up.” It has already reduced three teaching positions in elementary schools. But high schools are more complicated. Students take multiple classes and each has unique needs. But the district locked all schedules after September 16.

Here’s an excerpt from a memo:

Starting September 17th, student schedule changes can only be made by  registrars, with approval from the Acting Executive Director of Student Placement. To change schedules after Sept. 16th, counselors or principals should send the student’s name, ID number, schedule change needed and reason for the change. Reasons that will be considered are:

  • New students who are placed incorrectly (provide a full explanation of the placement issues)

  • IEP changes

  • Safety concerns

The district admits in its memo it does not expect major staffing reductions because of this process. If that’s the case, why alienate principals and guidance counselors, who feel incredibly disrespected? Assuming there’s a lag time in approving schedule changes, why force students to wait for approval, instead of granting immediate changes when necessary? Why make students and teachers who may fear for their safety wait?  Why must students spend even one more day in a class that may not be appropriate?

Most importantly, why doesn’t Central Office trust the principals, registrars and guidance counselors – the people trained on schedules at their school and the people who know their students best – to make these fundamental decisions?

Ironically, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas is a former guidance counselor.

(Full disclosure: My mother is a retired RCSD guidance counselor.)

Links of the Day:

 

– More evidence the teacher evaluation system is ridiculously flawed: Rochester’s highest-rated high school has no highly-rated teachers.

– What a mess. Cuomo hasn’t signed teacher evaluation modification bill, so districts don’t know which rules to follow.

The Cuomo administration edited and delayed a key fracking study.

– The Seneca County Amish do not want a casino nearby.

– A DEA agent created a fake Facebook page using an Upstate woman’s photos. And the feds this is totally okay.

– Here’s why you might want to vote no in November on school technology bonding.

Two Western New York bikers were shot in the back of the head and their gang won’t help police.

– Upstate New York is getting into bikeshares.

– Key line: ‘This study does not link any of these hands-free systems to an increase in car accidents —  the science is not there yet.”

 

Help Fight Poverty

 

I’m the honorary chair of the Women’s Foundation of Genesee Valley 5k and Walk. This organization helps women and girls in poverty. Please consider signing up to join my team or donating!

RCSD high school teacher's APPR rating.

RCSD high school teacher’s APPR rating.

 

First came the news Rochester City School District teachers fared horribly on state-mandated evaluations. In the first school year they were implemented 2012-2013, very few teachers got the highest rating. The Rochester Teachers Association is suing the state, saying teachers in poor districts are far more likely to get lower ratings compared to teachers in affluent districts.

The state has not released the ratings for the 2013-2014 school year yet. But in a letter to teachers, RTA President Adam Urbanski reveals the RCSD’s breakdown. The ratings dramatically improved in one year. Urbanski has no idea how this happened. He’s also not celebrating:

Each year, we re-negotiate our APPR agreement with the District to do all we can to make it less damaging to our student and more fair to teachers. We are making progress in reducing the number of Rochester teachers (be)rated as Developing or Ineffective (40% in 2012-2013 but 11% in 2013-2014) and increasing the number rated as Effective or Highly Effective (60% in 2012-2013 but 89% in 2013-2014). Just one year ago, only 2% of Rochester teachers were rated as Highly Effective. This year, that number increased to 46%. Why such a huge fluctuation? Maybe it’s because we re-negotiated the agreement; or because teachers set more realistic SLO targets; or because the NYS Education Department adjusted the cut scores in ELA and Math; or because huge fluctuations are typical of invalid and unreliable evaluation schemes; or because it was a miracle. Who knows? In any event, we continue to press for the total abolishments of APPR. Meanwhile, we are negotiating a successor agreement that would further diminish excessive testing of students and wrongful rating of teachers.

Even if you’re a supporter of complicated teacher evaluations, it’s impossible to have faith in this kind of data. Check out this article, noting that in Scarsdale, among the best school districts in the country, not one teacher was rated highly effective.

Please remember that millions of dollars and countless hours have been spent implementing this system.

 

Links of the Day:

 

I don’t care for the sensational way this story on a parolee losing his city job was presented. I do think it’s newsworthy, but there’s nothing to suggest anyone dropped the ball here. But this is the same station that made a big deal about a bus stop in front of a sex offender’s house, as if a group of children waiting together are in any danger.

– Charter school principal gets job in RCSD to help teachers. Has anyone looked at the scores of her school? They’re pretty bad.

– A Western New York school superintendent lies, steals and still gets paid $100,000 to leave job.

– “The King” and his gypsy family take on Syracuse, robbing elderly people.

– There could be a huge downside to police body cameras. Police often encounter crime victims and have to go into people’s homes. Privacy issues abound.

– Should we continue to link health coverage to our employment?

– The Secret Service fumbled the response to a gunman shooting at the White House residence in 2011. Sasha Obama and the First Lady’s mother were inside at the time.

– Drivers, YOUR GAS TAX DOES NOT COVER THE COST OF ROADS.

– Derek Jeter was always a class act with his words and deeds.

 

Help Fight Poverty:

 

I am honorary chair of the Women’s Foundation of Genesee Valley’s first annual 5k and Walk on October 26. There is no entry fee to walk. Please consider walking with me and/or making a donation to my team, no matter how small. This little-known group helps women in our area – urban. suburban and rural – become economically self-sufficient. With nearly half of single mothers in Monroe County living in poverty, this is such an important cause. Hope to see you and thanks for your support!

School 50 ClassroomAn article on the Dropout Nation website highlights terrible statistics about the Rochester City School District. The Democrat and Chronicle editorial board linked to the piece by Michael Holzman, which has been making the rounds on social media.

The article is called, “Rochester, Good Lord.”

There are some big problems with this article.

After discussing low test scores, low college readiness rates, and high dropout rates, the article concludes:

At the end of the day, the only thing Rochester does well is reinforce a socioeconomic caste system that keeps young black men and women at the bottom. Thanks to the district, they will have a good chance of being known to the criminal justice system.

The first sentence may be correct. But Holzman is wrong to place the blame solely on the RCSD.  He points out 85 percent of RCSD students are poor. He also says about two-thirds of the city’s white children don’t attend city schools. That does indeed look like a caste system, but the district didn’t create it by itself. The “caste system” comes from decades of middle class people fleeing the city, housing policies that segregate the poor and inflexible school district boundaries. The “caste system” also comes from broader government policies and social ills.

Holzman compares the RCSD to Greece, saying Greece does a much better job educating black students. This is an apples to oranges comparison. Greece is a racially and economically integrated school system. Compared to the RCSD, Greece has half the rate of poverty, and far fewer special education and English language learners. There is no “caste system” in Greece. Studies support the idea that poor students at economically integrated schools perform better.

Holzman also criticizes RCSD teachers:

In the 2011-12 school year, the turnover rate of teachers with fewer than five years of experience was 51 percent. The turnover rate of all teachers was 28 percent, double the state-wide average. In a typical Rochester school, comparatively few teachers are highly educated, few teachers new to teaching are in the classroom after their second year, few of any teachers after their fourth year.

I would love to know what he means by “comparatively few teachers are highly educated.” The requirements to teach in New York State are the same in all districts. Teachers have five years to get their master’s degrees. If he’s suggesting RCSD has so many novice teachers that they do not yet have their master’s degrees, he should provide that data. Salary data doesn’t appear to support the notion the RCSD is teeming with young teachers. The average salary for RCSD teachers is $56,570, which is higher than the Pittsford average. Yet Pittsford pays teachers more. That suggests the RCSD has more veterans.

As for teacher turnover, Holzman’s data tells us very little. How many teachers retired? How many left for the suburbs? How many left the teaching profession? Teacher job cuts in the RCSD have been real, with young teachers often getting laid off every summer. This could impact turnover data.

Among the non-retirees, we also have to know WHY they left. I know of one teacher – not a novice – who left an RCSD elementary for a western suburb because of a high stress level. It’s alarming if the district is losing talented educators who feel overwhelmed by chaotic school environments. The RCSD should take ownership of this issue. But the “caste system” is also at play – the system that loads up schools and classrooms with a high-needs population. This doesn’t serve teachers or students.

The bottom line is this article takes a lot of shots and offers few solutions. There’s no question the RCSD is responsible for some of its failures and could do more to fix them. But holding the RCSD responsible for the “caste system” is grossly unfair. The district didn’t create this mess. We all did.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– New York’s casino developers admit locals will drive business. That runs counter to the governor’s argument they will bring tourists.

– The postage to mail out rebate checks to families will cost New York $1.6 million. I’m burned this is not targeted to low-income families. I may not have children, but I could use free money a lot more than a household earning $150,000.

– The L.A. Times takes a hard look at film tax credits. (They don’t pay for themselves.) Meanwhile, is New York’s deal with Colbert’s new show illegal?

– “Dawn Nguyen is being held responsible for her role. Will Gander Mountain be held responsible for its part as well?”

– The U.S. has banned imports of Russian AK-47s. Gun dealers are selling out.

– Tops is rolling out new packaging for its private label to make products look “less cheap.”

– Schumer tried to shake 10,000 hands at the New York State Fair. As for Governor Cuomo, he avoids shaking hands and kissing babies.

 

Stat of the Day:

 

According to UnionStats.com, Rochester union membership has held steady. In 1993, 17 percent of workers were in a union, with 7 percent of private sector workers being unionized. In 2013, 18 percent of the workforce is unionized, including 8 percent of private sector workers.

 

Tweets of the Day:

 

 

 

The state finally released 2012-2013 teacher evaluation data for individual districts and schools. We already knew by surveying districts that urban teachers fared much worse, but now we have proof.

In the Rochester City School District, only 2 percent of teachers were rated “highly effective,” while 40 percent were rated “ineffective” or developing.” Teachers found in need of improvement are monitored closely and could be subject to termination.

 

RCSD Teacher Evaluation Results

RCSD Teacher Evaluation Results

 

Meanwhile, in Pittsford, 62 percent of teachers were rated “highly effective.” Only 3 percent were rated “ineffective” or “developing.”

 

Teacher Evaluation Results for Pittsford

Pittsford Teacher Evaluation Results

 

What’s going on here? Either you believe Pittsford has way better teachers than Rochester or the methodology is flawed. What’s the biggest difference between Pittsford and Rochester? Wealth.

The data shows the poorer the school, the fewer the “highly effective” teachers. At Rochester’s School #23 in the Park Ave. neighborhood, 27 percent of teachers are “highly effective.” At School #22 off Joseph Ave., no teachers were rated “highly effective.”

The Syracuse and Rochester teachers unions are suing the state over the teacher evaluation methodology, which they say harms teachers in poor schools. Test scores account for 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. (See this story about a nationally-certified teacher, mentor and college instructor who was rated “developing.”)

As you consider these numbers, remember the enormous amount of time and money districts spending to evaluate teachers under this system.

Click here to look up teacher evaluation data. Go to “districts” or “schools.” Make your selection and click on 2012-13 to see the data.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– There’s growing support in Buffalo to return to neighborhood schools.

– A Central New York congressional candidate had his gun stolen while he was a prosecutor. That gun was later used during a deadly robbery.

If you live in Rochester or Buffalo, consider taking the train to the New York State Fair.

– Traffic is down, but wait times are up at Western New York border crossings to Canada.

– Heroin overdoses have spiked in New York City, with 420 people killed last year.

– University news departments are not held to same standards as traditional news outlets.

– Jon Stewart’s take on Ferguson, Fox News and white privilege is brilliant.

Chicken wing-flavored donut anyone?

Artificial TurfThe Rochester City School District school board will vote this week on spending $5.4 million on installing artificial turf and making other athletic field improvements at the Franklin and Wilson Foundation campuses. Two more unidentified schools are in the pipeline. East High School’s artificial turf, which is costing $1.8 million and funded through the Facilities Modernization Plan is already under construction.

There are a lot of questions about this expenditure. But one of them should not be about priorities. Yes, many city children are failing academically, but does that mean they can’t have nice things? A singular focus on academics led to the decimation of art, music and physical education in the district. This focus even led to the Common Core and intense focus on testing. City children deserve the same amenities and cultural enrichment as their suburban peers.

Now that we got that out of the away, let’s talk about other issues with this proposal. There’s a giant lack of transparency. When I saw the item on the board agenda, the district refused to make the athletic director available for an interview and had precious few details. That’s unacceptable when millions of dollars are at stake.

Here’s what I want to know:

1. How will football participation be increased? Assuming football programs would be a primary user of artificial turf, the district should spell out how it’s going to boost participation.

Former NFL player Roland Williams was paid $34,000 by the district to assess the program. He found it’s in “dire straits.” Field condition is only part of the problem. Williams found a lack of interest and undeveloped coaches. Academic eligibility remains a big issue. Williams also suggested consolidating into four teams, which begs of the question of whether five fields are needed. More on that later.

2. What about other sports? I’m assuming the district wants other sports to use the fields. But there are few soccer and lacrosse teams in city schools. There are four boys soccer teams and two girls teams. There are no boys or girls lacrosse teams. Is there a plan to create more teams and increase participation?

Are baseball and softball fields also getting artificial turf? The specifics and cost-breakdown of these planned upgrades have not been spelled out.

3. Do you need five fields? The district would have artificial turf at East, Wilson Foundation, Franklin and two unidentified schools that would be approved at a later date.

Those two additional schools should be identified. Even more importantly, the district should release an analysis of the field use and schedules. Something like that should exist, given the magnitude of this expenditure.

One of the fields is proposed at Wilson Foundation, which doesn’t even have a high school large enough to support a football team. This suggests the district is already going to be in field-sharing mode. To what extent has the district explored field-sharing?

The district would like to host community leagues and Section V events. Are there any commitments for these organizations to use the new fields? Is there demand?

The district is installing lights at the new fields. We don’t know the cost breakout, but in Penfield, stadium lights exceeded $1 million. Are there going to be a lot of night games to justify the lights?

Furthermore, there’s a great publicly-owned artificial turf field that could really use the rent money: Sahlen’s Stadium.

4. What’s the real cost to the district? The district maintains the state will reimburse 98 percent of the cost. Those are still taxpayer dollars. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do something. The district could use these funds on other construction projects, so it’s not a use-it or lose-it scenario.

The district should provide a cost-benefit analysis. We don’t have the details on the type of turf the district is installing and the average annual maintenance. We also don’t know what the district spends on maintaining its grass fields. We should also be told how many events get canceled because of grass field condition.

The only thing we know is the district says it will save $60,000 a year in renting other fields.

We generally know artificial turf fields cost less to maintain, but they also have to be replaced every 10 to 15 years. It’s not clear if the state would pay for the replacement, too. Artificial turf is more expensive in the beginning and over time according to this university analysis and this sports maintenance company.

Perhaps spending extra money on artificial turf and athletic field upgrades is okay, but we need a lot more information to make that judgment.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Safe to listen to Bon Jovi again? He reportedly would keep the Bills in Buffalo.

– Women are now shut out of delivering homilies in the Catholic Diocese of Rochester.

– Sad and maddening tale of a Western New York doctor who is in prison and his two young friends who died of heroin overdoses.

– “This child, and tens of thousands like her, are forcing this country to confront a moral dilemma…”

– San Francisco may drop the speed limit to 20 miles per hour. Don’t be surprised if this talk comes up in Rochester.

– Check out the average weekly wage in every county in the U.S. with this interactive map.

 

Tweet of the Day:

 

A Rochester City School District high school teacher I know wrote me a letter about end-of-the-school-year testing. What this teacher describes is a little confusing – but that’s probably the point.

Remember “final exam week”? Especially when you were a freshman and you learned that you only have to come to school if/when you had an exam?

Boy, have times changed.

Test - Small FeaturedIn my district, where I am a veteran teacher – that is no longer the case. Final exam week – also known as Regents week is now reserved only for those taking actual Regents exams. “Final exams” are now often referred to as “post-assessments”. When do students take their final exams? During the last weeks of school, when students traditionally wrap up the year, finish projects, and prepare for their exams.

As a high school teacher, the last marking period of the school year, better than any other marking period, is planned to the day and usually loaded with work. Students are given their assignments and know the timeline regarding how the marking period will progress. Unfortunately, for my kids, their time has been cut short. Mind you the marking period is already shortened due to final exam week. This last marking period is 24 instructional days. Other marking periods max out at 32 days. The loss of eight instructional days is a 25 percent reduction! Not only are there fewer instructional days on the calendar in this last marking period, there are even fewer legitimate days of classwork going on. Remember in the beginning when I mentioned that “Exam week” is reserved for only those taking Regents exams? Well, my class does not end in a Regents exam, so they are to take their post-assessment during class time! That is a loss of two to three additional class days.

Add on the early administration of the Common Core Algebra exam – my class was cancelled that day – now my students will have had 20 instructional days this marking period. Oh! It keeps going. Next week, I will be pulled out of my classes to grade those exams! Yes, there will be a substitute; my students will be in class – however – seriously! You really think they’re going to work as they would if I were present? (This could be fixed relatively easily – send post-assessments back to finals week, where they belong!)

Now, let’s talk about these post-assessments, SLOs (Student Learning Outcomes/Objectives?) and APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review?).

Post-assessments. Traditionally, students take their final exams during finals. There are only two testing periods per day at 3 hours each. Students were able to work for an extended period of time and focus on one test. Now, students are taking tests during class time. So, a 90-minute test is to be taken over a few days in 45-minute increments. Basically, students come to class, get materials handed out and begin their test. Then class is over! Hand everything back in and leave. Come back tomorrow, hand everything out and work some more – often rereading the passages and questions that were interrupted yesterday because of the end of the class period. It is terribly unfair to students. They cannot get in a groove, sustain their focus, and power through their test. It’s start-stop-start-stop, etc. Is that really conducive to high achievement? In addition, my student in 5th period just left his Global Studies class where he just sat for that post-assessment! AND will move to another period and work on THAT class’s post-assessment. UNFAIR. While the score they earn is a small class 6th percentage of their final average, it is a significant portion of my evaluation, which brings me to SLOs and APPR.

The exam my students are taking was not created until this winter. This past fall, we were asked to predict – to a percentage point – precisely what score each student will earn on this test, which hadn’t even been created yet!

In October, I had to list my 85 students and state what they’ll earn – hhmmmm, Joe – I think he’ll get a 72; Darryl – he’s going to get an 84; Carly – she’ll probably get an 80. I had to do this with every single student.

Yes – I had “data” to look at from previous school years, but how am I to predict how a student would do on a random day in June on a test I hadn’t even seen!?! That’s the SLO part, now the APPR part. 20% of my final evaluation will be based on what percentage of my 85 students earned or exceeded the grade I guessed they’d get back in October. Now that I have actually seen the test, yeah – sign me up for a TIP right now!!! (Teacher Improvement Plan – for teachers deemed “ineffective” or “developing” in the new APPR rating scale.) I’ve spent more than a decade earning respect and a reputation for being a good teacher, having earned “Distinguished” evaluations, taught AP classes, mentored student teachers and served as a department coach. This system will not reflect that.

Back to the kids. This system is not working, it is not allowing them to be successful. I feel badly for them, they are stressed, burnt out and tested out. Are the parents even aware of this?

The Rochester Teachers Association has filed a grievance over the post-assessments. I think many of the issues described here are unique to the RCSD. It appears to be a chaotic system with the primary goal of informing a dubious teacher evaluation system.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Land between Buffalo and Rochester will be last national cemetery for veterans to be built for next 40 years.

– That’s it. Larry Glazer owns all of Rochester.

– There will be no charges filed against the Buffalo woman who went on a racist rant. But there’s been such a backlash, police removed her children for their safety.

– A review of the Cortaca mess blames everything except college drinking culture.

Is softball sexist?

 

 

During a public hearing Thursday night, East High School Principal Anibal Soler, Jr. asked the school board to exercise civil disobedience and consider saying no to the state.

The district was given a shockingly short amount of time to come up with a plan to fix East High School. All of the options include outside management coming in or shutting the place down.

East has 1,700 students in grades 7 through 12. Seventy-seven percent are low-income. Fifteen percent speak English as a second language. Twenty percent have disabilities. The graduation rate is the same as the district average – 43 percent.

“You cannot find another urban school district in the country that is performing without some kind of filter, without some kind of way to pick kids, pick staff, do something different,” Soler told the board. “The beautiful thing about East High, we don’t do that. We take what we get. We do the best we can. We work hard every day and we’re proud of it.”

Soler implored the school board to ask the state a simple question about urban school transformations, “Show me where it’s worked.”

What would happen if the district told the state to shove it? Would the state come in and take over the school? Would the state take over the district? Would the state get better results? Would it be so much different than what’s happening now?

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Cities are building on their downtown parking lots. Buildings generate life and tax revenue.

– The path to owning the Buffalo Bills is extremely complicated.

– The key paragraph in this story is about what happens if the Medley Centre mess ends up in court. Maggie Brooks could actually force a compromise.

RAPA opposes a downtown Rochester theater.

– Editorials around the state are criticizing Cuomo for disbanding his anti-corruption commission.

– Laws prosecuting women for choices they make during pregnancycould set dangerous precedents.

Weird Press Release of Day:

 

grad speech

 

(Please click the image to blow up the article and read. If it’s too cumbersome, let me know and I’ll type it out.) 

I gave this speech on June 24, 1994 at Kodak’s Theater on the Ridge.

I’m not sure I could have given a different speech, though 20 years later, there are some things I wish I could add. I would add that the experiences we had were not the fault of individuals running our schools, but a broken system. I would add that I had some wonderful teachers; I didn’t score highly on my Regents and AP exams without their support. I would have said thank you to my parents.

My teenage self was talking about educational inequality, though there was much about it I had yet to learn. I knew something wasn’t right about my school. Watching so much human potential go unrealized remains a very painful memory.

What would 17-year-olds say today?

 

Links of the Day:

 

– A couple other things I wrote about my RCSD experience: Meeting a student who got shot at school years later and reconnecting with a classmate who went to prison.

– Can Buffalo and New York state afford a new stadium for the Bills? Is it even worth talking about, with future ownership in limbo?

– Rochester’s port development is very complex – and expensive. RG&E is trying to figure out how and where to build a $2 million gas pipeline to the port.

– Was your utility bill super high this month? Join the club.

– New York-based Remington Arms is opening a factory. In Alabama.

– What role does marijuana play in road fatalities? Seems a lot more research is needed.

– Does cutting the cord save money? Comcast doesn’t want it to. Meanwhile, cable TV prices have gone up twice the rate of inflation annually for the past 17 years.

RCSD LOGOToday, all heck broke loose at Northeast College Preparatory and Northwest College Preparatory high schools, which share the old Frederick Douglass High School building. (The names of those schools, which have nothing at all to do with places on a map, have always irked me.)

These schools were started in 2006 and partnered with the College Board. They have smaller enrollment, about 500 each, and higher graduation rates of around 75 percent in 2012. They were touted as places where kids beat the odds, graduate and go onto college.

Last school year, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas announced a Wegmans executive would conduct an experiment of sorts at Northeast. The school would have an extended day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Students would eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at school. They would be able to take all kinds of classes administered by community volunteers. They would get to learn yoga, or take cooking and dance classes. This intense focus was to ensure no kid was lost and the opportunity gap would be closed.

But the project didn’t work out. Parents and kids didn’t buy in. You can’t leave volunteers alone with students. The whole thing was rushed. School now ends at 3:45 p.m., according to the district website. It also appears the College Board is no longer an integral part of Northeast or Northwest.

Now the schools are battling a chaotic environment, and reports indicate today wasn’t an isolated incident. Maybe there’s still awesome work happening in this building, but enough has happened to take the shine off. We will be watching to see if the early promise has been sustained.

Something else happened today. The district announced it studied Edison Tech’s multiple schools and found them lacking. Edison was broken up into smaller schools by former superintendent Manuel Rivera 10 years ago. Less than a decade later, Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard began phasing out schools at Edison and adding others. Today’s report found all the rejiggering made no difference. Kids are not getting ready for college or anything else. The district wants to make Edison one school, with a career and technology focus. Perhaps BOCES will take over.

No discussion of school reinventions is complete without mentioning Franklin High School. Former superintendent Clifford Janey created multiple schools on the campus. They were also deemed unsuccessful and are being phased out.

Faced with terrible results, the district is not afraid of trying new things. Vargas opened All City High School and then cut its budget in half in the space of one year. The superintendent even wants to turn over some schools to colleges.

Meantime, a whole bunch of charter schools are coming to town, ready to try their own version of something new.

All of these experiments are costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Former Mayor Tom Richards used to lament all the new programs coming and going in our schools:

“We must be dependable and stable—like adults are supposed to be. Our children must be able to depend on us. At its most fundamental level, this need for dependability—for stability—should not be overcome by some debate over educational philosophy. Or by which group of adults gets to decide which philosophy is correct. It means that we pick some fundamental programs and approaches and that we stick to them.”

Update: Here’s what RPD said happened. Took them 24 hours to respond and it’s far more detailed than what district put out there.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– It is astounding and disturbing that the state budget director had no idea so many people live in poverty in Rochester. The state seems clueless when it comes to the plight of cities.

– COMIDA does most of its work behind the scenes. When it’s time for the board to vote, decisions have already been made.

– I did an interview today with the City of Rochester’s transportation specialist about bicycle boulevards.

– The governor created a board to look into the possibility of a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills. That is causing speculation over the Bills’ future.

– Did the police really need to read Philip Seymour Hoffman’s diaryand then go blabbing about it?

– I LOVE this column about the ridiculous hysteria surrounding the sleepwalking man statue.

Notice any changes in Wegmans Chinese food?

 

Tweet of the Day:

 

Franklin High, 1935

Franklin High, 1935

 

I visited the former Franklin High School last night. It now houses several different schools. School #58 had an expedition and a teacher friend invited us to come by. I was very impressed with the student displays on hydrofracking and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

I was also struck by the beauty of the building. Franklin was built in 1930 on 23 acres at Hudson and Norton. Back in 1930, Rochester had 325,000 residents and Kodak employed 23,000 people. When it was built, Franklin was the largest school east of the Mississippi, with 500 rooms and a mile of hallways. At one point, Franklin had 4,100 students.  Check out this Life Magazine spread on the school, which includes a bizarre boys shower picture.

They just don’t build schools like this anymore. Marshall, Jefferson and Charlotte are also beautiful schools, loaded with big windows, wood and decorative features. I’m encouraged that the modernization plans already under way in some schools are preserving many of the historical features. These schools are community treasures.

The Auditorium

The Auditorium

 

Students lost in World War II. Memorial outside the auditorium.

Students lost in World War II. Memorial outside the auditorium.

 

Benjamin Franklin quote near main entrance.

Benjamin Franklin quote near main entrance.

 

Benjamin Franklin quote near main entrance. Unfortunately, metal detectors detract from beauty.

Benjamin Franklin quote near main entrance. Unfortunately, metal detectors detract from beauty.

 

Links of the Day:

– Buffalo’s bishop lives in an 11.500 square foot mansion with nine bedrooms and six bathrooms. Some are wondering if he’ll sell the million-dollar place, with Pope Francis living so simply.

– On the $350 family rebate check, a Buffalo columnist writes, “The only group it’s still acceptable to single out are the childless”

– When the power goes out, you could be issued a small credit on your bill.

– Developers of the complex that will house Costco in suburban Syracuse claim they will add tens of millions of dollars to the tax base and generate millions more in sales tax revenue. Here’s the problem with this kind of math when dealing with this kind of sprawl: The new roads and infrastructure will eventually have to be replaced – at a cost to taxpayers. Furthermore, the sales tax figures assume people wouldn’t spend that money anyway in Onondaga County. Sprawl is a Ponzi scheme.

Meanwhile, Costco is scouting sites in Albany. I wonder where it’s looking in Rochester.

A Jersey cow in Syracuse sold for $170,000.

BlocksApproximately 600 teenagers in Rochester give birth every year, but the City School District does very little to support the students or their children.

The Democrat and Chronicle did an excellent job shining light on this issue in a story reported by Tiffany Lankes:

Leaders of several community agencies say they have reached out to the district in an attempt to offer programs for teen parents and their children, but have had their proposals consistently shot down or ignored.

The end result, early childhood experts say, is a high number of children entering the school system without the preparation they need to be successful, something that could haunt them throughout their school years.

(snip)

“If that mom ends up dropping out of school, it’s not going to be good for either of them,” said Jean Carroll, president and chief executive officer of the YWCA. “It can very easily, if it’s not already, become a situation of inter-generational poverty.”

(snip)

National experts say that services such as day care at high schools, specialized transportation and data systems that track the children of teen parents are critical to helping young families succeed, and other districts around the country have found ways to offer those services. The City School District, despite high rates of students having children, does none of that.

The Young Mothers program has the capacity for very few students and the mothers are kicked out when their babies are born. With the importance of early childhood education, the lack of services for this population is stunning.

When I went to Marshall High in the early ’90s, there was an in-school daycare and special transportation for mothers and babies. I don’t know why this was discontinued. Perhaps it was a budget issue. Perhaps people felt the program enabled girls to have babies by making it “look easy.” I vaguely remember a lot of debates around school daycares and the Young Mothers programs; many thought they promoted teen pregnancy.

Years later, schools are now handing out condoms to sexually active students. If we can accept students are having sex despite our best efforts to teach abstinence, maybe it’s time to accept they’re having children. The consequences of not doing so are evident in our high rate of poverty and low achievement in schools.

Links of the Day:

– In Section V, only one in five girls basketball coaches are women.

– I loved this column about finding compassion for the mother who set the fire that killed her five children.

– There are questions and pushback regarding Governor Cuomo’s plan to make it harder for drivers to plead down speeding tickets.

– Syracuse’s Catholic bishop has asked priests to speak out against Governor Cuomo’s abortion bill.

– A competitor was willing to pay the state $100 million more than Maid of the Mist, but wasn’t allowed to bid.

This might be a more affordable way to own lakefront property.

Downtown Buffalo is experiencing a building boom.

School busI followed Rochester City School District Superintendent Bolgen Vargas yesterday as he knocked on the doors of truant children. These were kindergartners to third graders who had racked up excessive absences. One-third of students districtwide have already missed a week of school.

One mother, whom Vargas woke up at 11 a.m., said her son repeatedly misses the bus and she has no other way of getting him to school. Vargas told her that was unacceptable. He said neighborhood schools could cut down on transportation issues, which were cited by many parents of absent children.

Children’s health issues was another big excuse.  Staff told one mother the nurse has her son’s medication and can dispense it or home tutoring is available. Another family’s version of health problems were not the types of issues that prompt most people to keep their kids home from school.

Deputy Mayor Len Redon encountered this mother:

 

“The woman had recently had a baby, had some complications. She seemed to really get the message her son really needed to be in school,” Redon said. “She said he’s very bright and she knew this wasn’t good, but with all the trials and tribulations of the new baby she wasn’t able to get him there as regularly.”

Staff members and volunteers said the parents they encountered were extremely receptive. They appreciated someone cared.  It’s clear the parents need accountability along with positive support and help solving problems.

It’s certainly appalling a mom can’t get her kid on the bus every morning, but placing blame won’t get the kid to school.  One volunteer said she wished she could knock on the door of the parents again today to make sure they followed through. Maybe that’s what it will take.

Links of the Day:

– Shower drug dealers with love. That might get them off of Clifford and Conkey.

– Really? A seven percent raise for the Water Authority director?

– A plan to build a Wegmans on New Jersey farmland has met opposition. The complex would include an affordable housing component, which one resident likened to a “ghetto.”

Kodak spots are leaving Disneyland.

– After assaults on Buffalo teachers, the no-suspension movement is under scrutiny.

– Doesn’t it seems colleges are always under construction? That building binge is costing students and it’s not sustainable.

Is there are proper way to fire someone? I’m sure human resources experts have many tips for managers on how to inform an employee she is no longer wanted.

In checking the court case of a former Rochester City School District administrator who is suing the district for age, gender and racial discrimination, I came across her termination letter. It was recently filed as evidence.

Dr. Marilyn Patterson-Grant had been employed in the district for decades and was highly regarded by peers and the community. She was principal of Wilson Magnet before former superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard tapped her to be a deputy superintendent. After several bad reviews, Brizard personally gave Patterson-Grant the following letter:

I was struck by the absence of one line: “Thank you for your service to the district.” Even if she hadn’t performed satisfactorily, it seemed a cruel way to end a long career.

Perhaps Brizard did thank her upon giving her the letter. He described the meeting in a deposition and said Patterson-Grant was silent and he assumed she was angry. Brizard told her she could resign, retire or be fired. Patterson-Grant chose to be fired, which made her eligible for severance pay. She soon filed a lawsuit against Brizard and the district after the EEOC determined she was discriminated against. The case is still pending.

Links of the Day:

– Red light cameras are hitting poor neighborhoods the most. The Democrat and Chronicle‘s Brian Sharp did a great piece on the program. The city is issuing tickets at a rate of one every six minutes – and there’s no conclusive evidence the cameras are making us safer.

– Monroe Community College is no longer a “high school with ashtrays.” This invaluable school is celebrating its 50th year.

– A Central New York town took fluoride out of its water system without talking to a single expert.

– A Buffalo man on parole shoplifted from Wegmans, hoping to be sent back to prison where he can get free treatment for leukemia.

– A Syracuse assemblyman really, really likes Destiny USA.

Incredible street photography in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

The Democrat and Chronicle, in a piece about the struggles of young black men, says many teachers don’t understand their culture:

The stories behind these statistics tell a bitter tale of generational poverty; of children born into single-parent homes; of mothers, many of whom have little education themselves, working low-wage jobs to support their children…

Already up against tough odds, these young men enroll in school systems largely unequipped to meet their academic needs, much less the social and emotional problems they may be struggling with…

Although they often enter school less prepared than their white classmates — and need extra help to level the playing field — black male students tend to be concentrated together in poor-performing schools where they have fewer opportunities.

Added to that, many teachers lack a basic understanding of the culture black male students come from and misinterpret their behavior, something that drives a disproportionate number of young black men being expelled, suspended or placed in special education.

Poverty, concentrated poverty in schools, family structure and the lure of the street culture are more compelling reasons for the struggles of black male youth than “teachers don’t understand.” Teachers are with their black male students every day year after year. To state as fact many don’t understand their students is very controversial and offensive to teachers. This is not a new debate. Rochester school board member Cynthia Elliott caused a big stir when she suggested white teachers were not as equipped to teach black students.

There’s no question schools play a role in the success or failure of young black men. There’s no question institutional racism plays a role; our schools are segregated by race and income. City schools do not have the same resources as suburban schools. (Much of funding goes to special needs.)

The question is what role the school system should play in elevating black male students. The D&C cites well-funded programs in New Jersey to target the population with intense mentoring and teacher training. The school is called on to fill gaps in the community.

Links of the Day:

– St. John Fisher students complain about a lack of parking. Notice how they’re forced to pay for a lot that’s free to the general public.

There are 10 dry towns left in New York state.

– Colleges are clamping down on free speech in the name of sensitivity.

Food recalls are on the rise.

Rochester City School Superintendent Bolgen Vargas announced he wants to close five schools. The plan comes soon after Vargas hired former deputy mayor Patricia Malgieri, who once wrote up a plan to consolidate schools when she worked for Center for Governmental Research, as his assistant.

The schools on the list have been targeted in the past: #10, #16, #22, #25, and #36. With the exception of #10, they’re in the poorest neighborhoods in the city and have terrible test results. The district closed #10 before – when it was #37 – but in true RCSD fashion, couldn’t resist opening it back up. School #10’s program would be moved to another building.

There’s no doubt the district has to consolidate space, with enrollment declining by more than 5,000 students over the last decade, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. Over the last decade, the district has not done a good job consolidating space, frequently backing off closure plans in the face of community protest.

It’s troubling so many students have been disrupted in recent years. The district has closed failing schools and reopened them as something else, a model Vargas says no longer works. The district has also temporarily relocated hundreds of students as their buildings are renovated.

One could argue it’s the program that matters, not the physical space. But I disagree. School buildings are important anchors in neighborhoods. The schools targeted for closure are beautiful old buildings, with natural wood everywhere, built in shelves, glass cases, and wood floors. Why is it schools are never part of the historic preservation debate in Rochester?

It sounds like the district is trying to include the stakeholders in the decision-making, by scheduling a number of meetings. It will be interesting to see if this sparks major controversy.

Read the decision matrix to close schools. 

Update: The district posted this much simpler document.