Rochester's schools are one of the region's most critical challenges. This city cannot reinvent itself until its students are graduating with the education they need and deserve.
Improvements can't come solely from the schools themselves; the city's extraordinarily high poverty concentration has affected children and their families in ways that the entire community must address. But unquestionably, there are serious shortcomings in the school district itself.
There are signs that the district is trying to tackle some of its worst problems. The graduation rate is still abysmally low, but it has begun to inch upward. The district is trying new approaches to develop a safe and healthy culture in schools. It's about to undergo a nearly $30 million technology upgrade.
It's preparing to enter the third year of its unique partnership with the University of Rochester to operate East High School, and in May, the school board approved a partnership with SUNY Geneseo for School 19.
The district's new superintendent, Barbara Deane-Williams, has been on the job for about a year. And by most accounts, Deane-Williams and the board are working well together.
But progress has been painfully slow, and it can be tempting to call for a revolution, to throw out everyone – teachers, principals, school board members – and start over with new people. But that isn't likely to improve student achievement in city schools. The district's low performance developed over a period of decades, and it will take time to repair it and restore the public's trust.
While new blood and new energy are important in any elected body, one current member began her service last year, and another has served just over one term. It takes months, even years, for new board members to grasp all of the state and federal rules and regulation affecting public schools, much less the problems with each individual school.
A current board member, Jose Cruz, is not seeking re-election, and the board could also lose former board president Malik Evans, who is running for City Council. So the board will have its share of new blood, regardless of who is elected.
In addition, given Rochester's turnover in school superintendents, stability on the board is an attribute.
This year, voters will elect three of the seven members of the school board, and in the September 12 Democratic Primary, six candidates are vying for those seats. On the ballot will be incumbents Van White and Cynthia Elliott and newcomers Beatriz LeBron, Natalie Sheppard, Cecilia Griffin Golden, and Sabrina LaMar.
We're endorsing Cynthia Elliott, Beatriz LeBron, and Van White.
Beatriz LeBron is a community care coordinator with Rochester Regional Health, where she connects her patients with the kinds of medical services they need. Her children have attended city schools, and she has been a substitute teacher in the city school district.
LeBron knows first-hand what it's like to be a single, working mother, who also put herself through college. She says she understands from personal experience what many city children face in their homes and in their neighborhoods, as well as the struggles their parents have trying to care for them.
LeBron also knows how many of those challenges find their way into the classroom. If she is elected, she says, she would push for more classroom support for teachers. But she also believes that teachers, principals, and school administrators need to spend more time in their students' homes and neighborhoods. Expecting to build relationships and engage families from a school building isn't realistic, she says.
The district has many students with learning problems and social-emotional needs, and LeBron says she worries that the many high performing students aren't getting the attention they need.
"Higher performing children are just lumped in and not given that extra stimulation and challenge they should be receiving," LeBron says.
LeBron is sharp and engaging, and she would bring fresh, new ideas to the board. In addition, with Jose Cruz retiring, LeBron would be the sole Latinx member on the board. In this diverse city, that representation is crucial.