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Why can't the RCSD develop a permanent Strategic Plan?

Howard Eagle

On 8/17/23, the Rochester Board of Education held a "retreat" (see the first link below), which they said represents the beginning of a process to develop a set of "smart goals" for the Rochester City School District (RCSD). It was good to hear the Board President say they "will be communicating to the community about these goals to ensure that there's more input from the community, [and people should] feel free to reach out to the Board staff in terms of any questions or any input you may have."

With regard to numerous statements made during the session, some very important questions and ideas comes to mind.

My first question is why is the Board talking (again) about developing a NEW District Strategic Plan? Former Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small had developed one, just before she left the District, a little less than one year ago (as had most, if not all of the scores of predecessor-Superintendents, prior to Myers-Small). So why is it that every time a new RCSD Superintendent is hired, a NEW Strategic Plan is required?

Is the reality such that Superintendents and their scores of "chiefs, assistant chiefs," and other well-paid executives are NOT capable of developing a Strategic Plan that's so fundamentally-sound (though it may require minor tweaking) that it will stand as a legitimate, overall directional 'road map' (no matter who the Superintendent is)? For the sake of stability and consistency, shouldn't this be the case, especially since the RCSD has had a tendency for decades to switch Superintendents every 2 or 3 years, and sometimes less?

Secondly, when the Board was answering a question regarding their beliefs about the RCSD "strengths and challenges" one Commissioner mentioned that "the majority of the Board is focused on student outcomes vs. adult outcomes. Does this mean that there is a minority among Board members who are not "focused on student outcomes vs. adult outcomes?" If so, shouldn't that be a matter of public information? And if not, then what is the rationale regarding the latter quote? This is NOT a rhetorical question. On the contrary, it is a very important one. With regard to "challenges" that the RCSD faces, two Commissioners in particular, emphasized points regarding an issue that many in our community are convinced is one of the most pressing and vitally important issues that the RCSD faces. That is, the ongoing, historic existence, and continued devastating impact and manifestations of individual, institutional and structural racism.

The same Commissioner quoted above stated that "one [challenge] is lack of Black and brown teachers, and not only just Black and brown teachers, but teachers who understand the community, who are willing to disrupt, based on the students of color that they see—because they have experience within the community, to be able to speak truth to these systems, and be able to help disrupt them for the benefit of our community." The latter quote represents a very important statement. However, at the same time, it is extremely abstract and nebulous. It's one thing to say that teachers (and I would add administrators, support staff, parents and others) need to "speak truth to and disrupt systems," but what (exactly and specifically) does that mean? What (exactly and specifically) is it that needs to be "disrupted?" And who (exactly and specifically) is it that needs to be "spoken to," and spoken to about what (exactly and specifically)? Systems are made up of rules, regulations, policies, practices, procedures, laws, and most importantly, people—the latter of whom oversee and/or carry out the rules, regulations, policies, practices, procedures, and laws that guide and govern systems.

As it relates to "speaking truth [and] challenging, and disrupting systems", the people who establish, oversee and carry out or implement the rules, regulations, policies, practices, procedures, and laws that guide and governs systems are the ONLY ones who can be challenged, disrupted, and/or spoken to. Thus, unless and until we figure out, and clearly articulate what it is that needs to be challenged and/or disrupted, and who it is that needs to be spoken to, we're merely dealing in abstract, philosophical, theoretical jargon. Also (very importantly), if many or most teachers, and again, I would add administrators and some support staff, don't really "understand the community, [and] are [not] willing [and/or able] to disrupt, based on the students of color that they see because they [don't] have experience within the community—which seems to be the crystal-clear implication—then they can/should be taught how to "challenge [and] disrupt." This should become a necessary, routine part of school culture.

A second Board Commissioner made a very strong, completely accurate, crystal-clear statement at about the 1:23:32 mark of the video (first link below), in which (while discussing "low expectations"), she pointed out that "when we historically produce these [super-low] numbers [relative to ELA Math, Science, and Social Studies scores] year after year there is a district culture of low expectations, and that is not prescriptive to the teachers necessarily, but there's low expectations because there's no district that I can think of [within the predominantly, lily-white suburbs of Monroe County or beyond] that would allow students (year after year, after year; decade, after decade) to produce these type of outcomes, and there not be an outcry. So, low expectations, and I say it with my chest unapologetically." She also noted that " the graduation rates are rising, but college access or taking advantage of even skilled trades are still things that our students are not necessarily persisting with. So, how well prepared are they? And I know some of these things are very national, and you see them in other spaces, but when you look at our ranking in comparison to even folks that are dealing with the same issues that we are, we're still very much either the top three [lowest], or the last one on the list, depending on what list you're looking at, and so there's a disparity in Rochester that we have to really, you know, acknowledge."

These are vitally important points, which allude to, or directly calls out individual, institutional, and structural racism not only as it exists within the "culture of [acceptable] low expectations" within the RCSD, but also within ALL predominantly Black, urban, public school districts in New York State, especially and particularly the so-called "big-five" (New York City, Yonkers, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse). Even more importantly, the racialized urban (predominantly Black) / suburban (predominantly white); massive failure / massive success-dichotomous-pattern that exists throughout Monroe County and New York State, also exists throughout the white-supremacist-based U.S. nation-state, which is one reason why we know that it is NOT just one, great big coincident, but instead, is due to the historical and ongoing racist nature and essence of the U.S. public education system, which in my humble, but staunch and informed view, calls for a long-overdue, post World War II Marshall Plan-type design regarding the long-standing, deepening, urban education crisis (an urban education "Recovery Act" so to speak), designed to address conditions that have resulted from intentional, historic, disparities, discrimination, deprivation, and all sorts of systemic inequities, which have NEVER been adequately and/or thoroughly addressed.


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Sep 08, 2023

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