Report: Board overreach, lack of focus impeding progress at Rochester CSD

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The man assigned by the state as a consultant, working to lead a turnaround of poor performance by the Rochester City School District has issued a report with a number of findings and recommendations.

In his report, Distinguished Educator Dr. Jaime Aquino says that the needs of students are often neglected. “A recurring theme that surfaced during interviews with all stakeholder groups (parents, community members, staff) was that the District’s decision-making seems driven more by the needs of administrators, teachers, and parents, with student concerns often taking a back seat to adult interests.”

“To make fundamental changes, the system must shift its entire focus from the interests of adults to a student-centered agenda. The most common example provided by representatives from all stakeholder groups was the practice of nepotism,” writes Dr. Aquino. “Numerous persons, in confidence, shared examples of nepotism.”

Dr. Aquino says another major problem is turnover in the superintendent’s office. The district has had five superintendents in the last ten years.

“This instability reduces the District’s ability to focus on implementing educational reforms that would better prepare students for college and/or careers. Each superintendent brings a new vision and seeks to implement new programs, but when a superintendent exits, the system typically abandons initiatives just as they are beginning to take hold. All stakeholders expressed concerns that this uncertainty at the top creates a sense of complacency throughout the system.

Another issue Dr. Aquino points out, is a lack of organization by the Board of Education.

“Observers noted that, in some instances, Board Commissioners act as if they were the superintendent trying to manage the day-to-day operations of the District,” adds Dr. Aquino. “Many in the community would like to see the Board President exercise greater leadership to make the Board’s governance more effective. Some interviewees went further, advocating mayoral control of the school system.”

Dr. Aquino says that when board members overreach their responsibilities and take over management roles: “…that undermines the superintendent’s role. Day-to-day operations should be left to the superintendent.”

Even though many posters are hung throughout the district with the district’s strategy outlined on them, Dr. Aquino says many staff members seemed “unaware of the stated vision.”

“When asked about major initiatives, Board Commissioners’ and staffs’ most common response was ‘I don’t know,'” Dr. Aquino explains. “Only a few persons interviewed could articulate the substance of any initiatives, and this led to multiple, and often conflicting, understandings of vision and goals.”

He adds, “With no firm plan for action, the schools and central office departments lack a coherent vision. Principals and teachers look for guidance but find minimal direction.”

A lack of consistency and a shared path for the district has led to vastly different approaches school by school. Dr. Aquino says one administrator told him: “Without shared priorities, attempts to improve teaching and learning vary greatly from school to school. Many who were interviewed described approaches that seemed to be based on a ‘flavor of the month’ or even a ‘flavor of the day.'”

As part of his recommendations, Dr. Aquino is calling on the board to better understand its role and develop practices to assess its performance. Dr. Aquino also wants the board to develop a long-term road map for success for the district.

In response to the report, the board only offered the following statement: “The report highlights areas of concern in the Rochester City School District, and provides recommendations to effectively address these concerns. Members of the Rochester Board of Education received Dr. Aquino’s report just this afternoon, and would like to take time for thoughtful review and response.  The Board will issue a statement regarding the report within the next few days.”

You can click here to read the full report.

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