Rochester City School Board President Cynthia Elliott is a passionate advocate for the Comprehensive School Reconfiguration Plan. She acknowledges that the district has faced a significant decline in student enrollment, with approximately 10,000 students choosing Charter Schools, Suburban Districts, and other educational opportunities but says she is determined to return these students to the Rochester City School District.
"Let me put it on the record,” Elliot told Minority Reporter. “Every one of those children that are at the Charter Schools, I want them back in the Rochester City School District."
Elliott discussed the crucial changes the current board members have implemented and outlined her plans to attract students to the district.
Elliott, 67, says she is in full support of the Comprehensive School Reconfiguration Plan. She emphasized the importance of reconfiguring the school district to address the declining enrollment. She believes that now is the perfect time to consolidate.
“While this reconfiguration was initially part of the state monitor's plan, it is a necessary step that the board and community will agree on,” she noted.
She acknowledges that families have been leaving the district due to concerns about the quality of education and the availability of alternative options. She shared a personal experience where she was given a first-grade book to read to seventh-grade students, highlighting the low expectations that exist within the district.
Elliott has been on the board since 2005. She believes that by prioritizing teacher diversity and setting high expectations, the district can guarantee that students receive the quality education they deserve. She emphasizes the importance of having teachers who not only represent the community but also believe in the potential of every student.
"We started with a high of about 37,000 students in the Rochester City School District. Since that time, enrollment has steadily decreased. We over time were not doing our diligence about educating our children. And there were always these negative narratives within the community or from the news reports about us being dysfunctional. Not only the board but also the district,” she said.
“So, families began to walk out and make other kinds of selections like Charter Schools, surburban Districts, or some other educational opportunities because we were not doing the job that we needed to do. So, we lost probably about 10,000 students to all of those educational spaces.”
Elliott says other considerations include steady decline in birth rates.
“Our country is experiencing a low birth rate, it may even be in terms of the decisions that families make or whatever the case may be that families are not having as many children. It could be expensive and what have you. The board is looking at those trends and we're having to right-size the results of those trends. So, if we don't have enrollment, we cannot continue to have building space available if it's not going to be used," she stated.
While admitting that it took her some time to consider closing schools due to emotional attachments, she says that emotions must be set aside, and the focus must be on academic achievement.
“By consolidating resources and implementing a reconfiguration of the plan, the district can offer more competitive and comprehensive educational programs,” she said.
She emphasizes that the current board members are dedicated to overcoming these challenges and have worked towards creating a more united and functional board.
“The goal is to restore confidence in the board's ability to make effective decisions and prioritize the needs of the students and community,” she noted.
Elliott expressed confidence in Superintendent Carmine Peluso, who she says, “has extensive experience within the district.”
She believes that with the right leadership and support, the superintendent's policies can align with the community's needs and desires.
“The board is committed to ensuring the superintendent's success and creating a stable environment that fosters long-term commitment and positive change,” she said.
Elliott and Peluso have appeared together in press conferences to explain why the plan is necessary. She says the district recognizes the significance of involving the community in the decision-making process and aims to ensure that the plan reflects the desires and concerns of the community.
The board is hosting community-wide conversations where they will listen to feedback and input from the public. These events will take place at East High School on October 10 at 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. and Wilson Foundation Academy on October 14 at 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.