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Is Change and Improvement Coming to the Rochester City School District?

Howard Eagle

Regarding the Rochester Board of Education, young Isaiah Santiago made history via the recent Democratic Party Primary Election. At age 19, he is the youngest person ever elected to the Board. While fresh political "blood,"( as the saying goes) is certainly needed and welcomed, and congratulations are absolutely in order; at the same time, the question is being raised—and I think rightly so—is the overall outcome of the Election a clear signal that we can expect more of the same, entrenched, status-quo politics, and overall, longstanding, miserable conditions?

It's interesting that it was exactly two decades ago that the man who is currently Rochester's Mayor, also made history, when he was elected via the 2003 Democratic Primary Election at age 23, as the youngest person (at that time) to sit on the Rochester Board of Education. And though he boasted about his accomplishment as a Board member when he left the Board in 2017 to join Rochester City Council (see his 11/8/17 press release at a link below), the objective truth of the matter is that in 2017, 13 years after he was elected to the Board of Education—five of those years in which he was President of the Board—overall conditions in the Rochester City School District (RCSD) were worse than ever, and still are.

It is vitally important for us to remain keenly cognizant of the fact that one Board member alone (regardless of age, aspirations, hopes, dreams, etc...) can’t produce widespread, significant, measurable, permanent change and/or improvement. And it's also vitally important to understand that young Mr. Santiago has to work with 5 other folks who have sat on the Board for years, and in spite of their efforts, have not been able to produce widespread, significant, measurable, permanent change and/or improvement, which actually brings us to another critically important point.

Why is there no discussion, no congratulations regarding the other new "blood," Primary winner who will gain a seat on the Board after the November General Election? Are the political pundits and congratulatory forces schizophrenic? After all, Ms. Jacquelyn Griffins' defeat of entrenched incumbent Ricardo Adams, especially with this being her first run for political office, and unlike Mr Santiago and Mr. Adams (without the backing of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), and their local affiliate, Rochester Teachers association (RTA), was no small task.

So, again I ask, why is "our" community not congratulating and celebrating her victory? Politically speaking, is the community indeed schizophrenic, or are there other political dynamics at play?

Hopefully, the community, especially and particularly the sector that is most directly, and most devastatingly impacted, is paying very close attention. There’s a longstanding, crystal-clear, political pattern here in Rochester, by which school board candidates are elected via minuscule percentages of eligible voters, which was true in the most recent Primary Election, like nearly every other Primary—for decades.

Also, those who are backed by NYSUT and their local affiliate RTA, are most frequently winners, which of course almost always translates into Commissioners' loyalty relative to carrying out union-friendly agendas (the latter of which are often diametrically opposed to the objective best interests of the vast majority of RCSD children and families), especially those who are socioeconomically poor, mainly unorganized, and Black—which happens to be the demographic that composes the overwhelming majority of RCSD students and families. Those candidates in this particular case are Beatriz LeBron; Amy Maloy, (Brighton Teachers Association), and Isaiah Santiago (see NYSUT's advertisement at a link below).

In the final analysis, regardless of who is elected to the Rochester Board of Education, if there is no serious, well-organized, community-based entity (and currently there is none) that holds Commissioners accountable, then it's not likely that there will ever be widespread, significant, measurable, permanent change and/or improvement in the RCSD. Period!


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