The Rochester City School District (RCSD) is the only District among the 23 public school districts in Monroe County that has a fairly comprehensive Racial Equity Action Plan, which was developed over a two-year period 2017- 2019 by an extraordinarily focused, committed group of RCSD parents, grandparents, educators, and other members of the Rochester/Monroe County communities.
The Plan, which has never been fully supported by the Rochester Board of Education, was developed under the auspices and guidance of the Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) team, which was established by former RCSD Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams in 2017. It is a very pitiful reality that, of the 11 fulltime Superintendents that the RCSD has had over the past 43 years (4 Black males, 2 Black females, 2 Hispanic Males, 2 white males, and 1 white female), the latter did more, or at least attempted to do more to advance anti-racism in the RCSD than all of the others combined. That’s truly pitiful, but indeed factual.
The operative term is “attempted.” That is to say, since Deane-Williams’ departure in 2019, there have been 4 RCSD Superintendents (Lowengard, Dade, Myers-Small), and now the Peluso Administration. None of them have fully embraced the REAL team’s Racial Equity Action Plan and/or tireless implementation efforts, which is part of the reason why the Board has never fully supported it. Because the Board generally follows the programmatic lead or thrust of the day-to-day manager, the Superintendent. In this particular regard, it appears that the current Administration won’t be any different than the last three. It’s possible that it may be worse.
In fact, there is potential evidence that the Peluso Administration intends to weaken, if not dismantle the REAL team altogether. Superintendent Peluso has assigned an operative from his Cabinet (Rochester Mayor Malik Evan’s sister) to represent him on the REAL team. One of her first acts as a member of the team was to successfully convince the majority to reduce the number of team meetings from twice a month to once a month.
Additionally, REAL team-led, anti-racist work that was happening with teachers and other RCSD employees has suddenly come to a screeching halt, and instead, the very white Chief of so-called “Human Capital,” that is, Human Resources Department, Christopher Miller has launched a plethora of supposedly “anti-racist” initiatives. Some are referring to Miller as the “anti-racist magician [or] wizard.” Interestingly enough, Miller, Nicolle Haynes (the latter of whom had been spearheading the above referenced anti racist work until recently), and one of the RCSD’s two State Monitors, former Superintendent of the Syracuse City School District, Jaime Alicea, had all worked together in Syracuse. Some are referring to them as the “Syracuse connection” (whatever that means).
However, a deadly-serious issue and problem with Miller’s “magical” initiatives is that, as usual, they do not include representation of those in the RCSD who are most directly and most devastatingly impacted by the tripartite beast and illness of individual, institutional, and/or structural racism. Nor does Miller’s hand-picked-palatable-crew include folks who have deep and/or broad knowledge, understanding, or expertise regarding the history, functioning, and manifestations of the beast and illness, within the RCSD and beyond.
These are reasons why many of us are thoroughly convinced that the Peluso Administration is not serious about addressing racism in the RCSD (despite the fact that the REAL team’s Vision is: “The Rochester City School District will be a thoroughly anti-racist institution that ensures equitable opportunities for all”), which it is currently not even close to being.
Thus, the question for the community, especially those who are most directly and most devastatingly impacted by racism daily, is the same question that the late Jim Brown kept asking the Late Richard Pryor—when Pryor was going through his struggles with drug addiction—”what you gonna do?”
~ Howard Eagle is a longtime educator and local anti-racism advocate, known for his campaigns for the Rochester school board and prolific political and social commentary. Eagle taught social studies in the RCSD for 23 years, before retiring in 2010, and taught as an adjunct professor in the Department of African American Studies at SUNY Brockport for 20 years, before retiring in 2020.