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Regarding RCSD, it’s time for Malik Evans to Knock It Off (part 2)

Howard Eagle
Howard Eagle

Former Rochester City School District commissioners, (Mayor) Malik Evans and Jose Cruz both represent the epitome of what’s wrong, and has been wrong at the Rochester City School District (RCSD) for decades.

They are full of old, tired, worn-out excuses regarding decades-long, chronic, massive failure and the ongoing academic and cultural crisis within the RCSD.

As noted last week, in Part 1 of this article, back in 2018 Tim Macaluso of City Newspaper published an article called Exit interviews: reflections from four city leaders. In the article Macaluso interviewed four long-time elected officials, including Malik Evans and Jose Cruz who both had long tenures on the Rochester City School District Board.

At the time in 2018, Malik Evans (Rochester's current Mayor), had "served" on the Rochester Board of Education for the previous thirteen (13) years, and Jose Cruz had "served" on the same Board for the previous eight (8) years.

Their super-hyper-rhetoric reminds me of a book published in 2002, written by professors Gerald Grant (Syracuse University) and Christine E. Murray (SUNY Brockport), titled Teaching in America: The Slow Revolution.

In the chapter Teachers’ Struggle to Take Charge of Their Practice: The Rochester Story, 1987–1997'–a time period in which the Rochester City School District supposedly represented a national leader and model regarding so-called education "reform." It is noted on page 171 that there was a "newspaper article 'Take Charge for Change' published in December 1994. The article discussed a report. “For All Our Children… No More Excuses,’ issued by a group of civic leaders at the request of the mayor at the time, Bill Johnson.

The report began, ‘Rochester has suffered from a surplus of educational rhetoric and a scarcity of implementation of educational change.It went on to summarize the lack of improvement after eight years of reform and indicated that in some respects things had gotten worse. Only 13 percent of high school graduates were receiving Regents diplomas compared with 24 percent in 1986, when the report was published.

The book and the report were published in 2002 and 1994 respectively; however, in 2018 (when Macaluso published his City News article) we were still hearing from the likes of Evans and Cruz that (education) reform/change was supposedly right around the corner. Fast forward to today, it still has not arrived. Ironically, in some respects, conditions are clearly worse.

It's most interesting that Malik Evans mentioned "after getting beat up at a board meeting, you'll ask yourself, "why am I doing this?" Of course he had his pat answer, but I think I have a much better one, and one that is likely much more realistic and valid than his simply put M-O-N-E-Y, Consider for example that in 2014 Van White, the school board president, [was] paid $30,000 a year and everyone else on the seven-person board [got] paid over $20,000. By 2020 those numbers had risen to $34k and $26k respectively.

So, in their part-time positions as school board Commissioners, Malik Evans had made $300k to $400k or more over his 13-year tenure and Jose Cruz made at least $180k over his 8-years on the board. This might not seem like much, but when compared to Buffalo and Syracuse, the other two school districts in New York State that pays their board members, the most anyone [got] paid [in 2014 was] $7,500, it's a hell-of-a-lot, especially in a school district that holds the distinction of being at the BOTTOM OF THE CLASS:

RCSD has the worst graduation rates among New York State’s major cities.

Evans was also quoted as having said: "People have every right to be concerned about the low academic performance in some city schools.” He claimed that we "have to look at what [they've] accomplished with universal pre-K and [their] summer learning programs."

Really? Does he really think that people don't know that huge numbers of the same young people who they claim are doing so well in the pre-K program are the very same children who, by the time they reach 3rd grade are two grade-levels behind in reading and math?

So, however the Pre-K, so-called 'success' is being measured obviously (for the most part), it is NOT being sustained. Yet, this is the type of stuff that they have the audacity to tout as representing so-called 'progress.'

There is no way in the world (in 2018, and certainly not in 2023) that we should still be talking about "bright spots in the district." That's excuse-making, compensatory language. Instead, the discussion at hand (in 2018, as well as currently) should have been, and should be about widespread, broad-based, systemic change and improvement across the district, period.

At this late date, during an advanced stage of systemic crisis, there should be zero tolerance for reductionist, deflective language about so-called "bright spots."

I would love to hear more about the type of "criticism of the school district [that] is [so-called] counterproductive." What's more counterproductive than anything else is for highly-paid people to play games about having solutions regarding significant and permanent improvement, when they know damn well they do not. And it's even worse when top leadership accepts and supports the games—which (in many cases) they have seen over and over again (repeatedly), and know exactly what they are looking at, and they know that it will never work. Yet, they remain tight-lipped.

We know that (collectively), we have most, if not all of the answers. There's nothing more to invent or discover. It's just a matter of having the commitment, political will and intestinal fortitude to implement solutions. That's right, commitment, will, and intestinal fortitude represent a major part of what's missing, and has been for decades. It appears that education 'leaders' are afraid of the 'boss.'

Regarding the "broken leg on a three legged stool," as Evans characterized some of RCSD’s problems, like parent engagement, a great part of the solution is embodied within a little orange book written over 3 decades ago by two brilliant African centric scholars and educators, Drs. Nathan and Julia Hare (see references below).

If, as Cruz boldly declared "it's not realistic to expect all parents to be [heavily] engaged in their child's school" then the next question becomes, how do we help mitigate that reality and circumstance? Again, I say look to the scholars who have already laid it out for us, focus on implementation of that which we already know works.

For example, since we know that "we also have challenged families where at the end of the day, [children] enter into a whole different reality, anything from unstable housing, family trauma, and even hunger; [and since] this is a large percent of the population" What does it inform us to do Mr. Mayor, especially now that you are at the helm of the city?

Eloquent descriptions of well-known, deep-seated, old, entrenched problems and issues, do not (in and of themselves) represent solutions. Nor does the existence of such widespread, deep-seated problems and issues absolve highly-paid administrators, teachers, support staff, and/or excuse-making Board members from the responsibility of providing a sound, basic education.

The State Constitution does NOT say that such education is only to be provided if students have un-challenged families, stable housing, no family trauma, and are fed. No sirree, the Constitution says that ALL of the State's children (regardless of socioeconomic class or living conditions) are legally entitled to a sound, basic education, and (at the local level), it is ultimately the responsibility of Board Commissioners to ensure that happens, or at the least that everyone within the organization is giving 100% toward the goal.

I'll give Mr. Cruz credit for one thing at least he has the gall to declare openly and publicly that he "is particularly concerned about the needs of Latinx students and their families, and [that] the district has largely fallen short at helping them."

If I was to ever hear a Black Commissioner declare the same thing (openly and publicly) about Black students, I think I would probably faint (from shock and surprise). They are spineless in unapologetically standing up for our children in the way that other elected officials stand up for theirs.



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