RCSD considers shuttering five buildings in revamp affecting more than a dozen schools
The Rochester City School District may close five school buildings and about a dozen schools next school year.
That’s according to a proposal Superintendent Carmine Peluso presented to the city school board Tuesday evening. The board is scheduled to vote on the plan next month.
Peluso cited enrollment declines, school performance and school monitor recommendations, building conditions, and the number of students expected to enroll in the district going forward.
“Right now, roughly 50% of our children … that are born in the city are making their way into our schools,” he said, “which is different than the 73% that we had 10 years ago, right?”
The reconfiguration and closures are the first of a number of changes soon to confront City School District families. The district also is considering a plan to narrow managed school choice from district-wide to three zones and restarting a massive but stalled school renovation plan.
"There's a lot of moving parts, and then it gets confusing, because people are like, 'Wait a minute, what?'” said Shawn Farr, the district’s chief financial officer. “What does this mean to me? What does this mean to my child?”
The closures announced Tuesday appear to most affect the northeast and southwest parts of the city.
Buildings that will be shuttered or converted to swing space during upcoming renovations include schools numbers 20, 29, 39, 44 and 106.
In total, 11 schools would be closed and five would be opened. A shift to add middle schools will open new junior highs on Genesee Street and at the Freddie Thomas, Charlotte and Jefferson campuses.
Who is affected in the reconfiguration?
Recommended School Closures
- Clara Barton School No. 2
- Dr. Walter Cooper Academy School No. 10
- Adlai E. Stevenson School No. 29
- Andrew J. Townson School No. 39
- RISE Community School No. 106
- Wilson Foundation Academy
- Dr. Alice Holloway Young School of Excellence
- Franklin Lower School
- Monroe Lower School
- Franklin Upper School
- Northeast College Preparatory High School
Recommended Building Closures
- School No. 20**
- School No. 29**
- School No. 39*
- School No. 44**
- School No. 106*
*Buildings remain in RCSD inventory
**Buildings returned to the City of Rochester
Elementary Schools (Citywide: PreK-6)
- Nathaniel Hawthorne School No. 25 moves to 190 Reynolds St. (current site of School No. 2)
- Montessori Academy School No. 53 moves to Dr. Walter Cooper campus
Middle Schools (7-8)
- Charlotte campus*
- Douglass campus
- East Lower School
- Freddie Thomas campus*
- Jefferson campus* (RIA program remains)
- Wilson Foundation Academy campus*
*Denotes new middle school
High School (9-12)
- New high school at the Franklin campus
- Rochester Early College International High School moves to Dr. Alice Holloway-Young campus
Student Transitions for the 2024-25 school year
- Current K-5 students in closing schools will participate in a special lottery to select a new school in their zone. Current PreK and 6th-grade students will participate in the traditional school choice process.
- Students with multiple disabilities (GEM) at School No. 29 will move to Mary McLeod Bethune School No. 45 as a K-8 program.
- Current PreK, 6th, and 8th-grade students at Wilson Foundation Academy will participate in the traditional school choice process.
- Current 7th-grade students will attend a school in their zone. (Excludes students at Northwest, East Lower, School of the Arts, and World of Inquiry School No. 58)
- Current 8th-grade students will participate in the traditional school choice process.
- Current 9th-11th-grade students in closing schools will participate in a special lottery to select a new school.
- NorthSTAR Program students will move to the Franklin Campus.
"It's not about sometimes the money, it's about the actual delivery of service and the capacity to deliver service," Peluso told school board members, referring to staffing and transportation but not providing specifics on the costs and savings behind his plan. "We've got to streamline that to help us deliver high-quality service."
School board members appeared initially receptive, if cautiously so.
“We need to upgrade this district,” said board member Ricardo Adams. “We’re just out of compliance with a lot of stuff, man. And I totally support this transition. I know it's gonna be difficult. We're gonna get a lot of pushback. My email is probably starting to fill up right now. But I just want the community to look at the why, and know that this is actually an upgrade.”
School board vice president Beatriz LeBron noted she has been through school closures as a parent and described the experience as “horrific.” Families have to be well-informed and told in a humane way, she said, because regardless of the reasons why reconfiguration has to happen, it will be life-altering to the people affected.
“Change is hard,” said board member Camille Simmons. “And it's not comfortable. And when we talk about raising expectations and breaking barriers ... about making those type of adjustments to do that, you have to lean in and go through the discomfort of that, and I believe that's the place that we're in.”
Peluso met with building principals and union leaders on Tuesday, and said he has briefed lawmakers and Mayor Malik Evans. Emails, robocalls and texts went out to affected families Tuesday evening, he said. And he plans to hold sessions with affected school communities over the next month.
Mass layoffs unlikely
Also affected in all of this are teachers and staff. But Peluso said that transition might not be as difficult as it appears.
"We're gonna run the numbers," he said. "And once we start to look at (those), we'll be able to give a better sense, but I believe through vacancies, attrition, retirements, we'll be able to absorb most of these positions."
Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski said on Wednesday that Peluso called a meeting with union representatives about an hour before the announcement.
“He laid out the rationale for doing this, and he indicated that he would like to do it collaboratively," Urbanski said. "So, for example, some schools are being moved ... we would like to see the opportunity for (their faculty) to move as a school unit and not be dispersed and he seems very open and agreeable to that.”
Urbanski said he's confident there are enough vacancies for teachers to transfer into if and when their schools close, but he warned that a final decision needs to be made carefully and only after all stakeholders' concerns are considered.
"Even the date of Oct. 19 for the board to approve this should be flexible and, if necessary, postponed," he said.
The response from families has been mixed in the days since the announcement.
Last week, WXXI News met Saint Iheukwu, 3, and his mother Philomina Emeka-Iheukwu as she dropped him off at Montessori Academy on Scio Street.
She works just down the road at the Public Market, so she said his school is in a good spot for her family. This week she found out that his school may move to another location near Genesee Valley Park about five miles away next school year.
“It's okay, the new place ... on Congress Avenue is also close to home,” Emeka-Iheukwu said. “I don't take it personal. I think before they bring up any proposal, (it) is for the betterment of the children, how they're going to get better quality education.”
Rochester is a small town, Emeka-Iheukwu said, so as long as the students are staying within the city limits, the change should be manageable.
During dismissal on Adams Street in Corn Hill, Sarah Deppen had a different take.
She’s a single mom, and her daughter Shaelyn just started seventh grade here at Dr. Alice Holloway Young School of Excellence, which is on the list of school closures.
“I think it's ridiculous that the kids get into a school and they get comfortable, and then they're yanked out,” Deppen said. “I don't agree with it because I think it hurts their education.”
The reconfiguration puts many seventh-graders in an unstable position. Since schools will be reorganized into elementary (K-6), middle (7-8) and high schools (9-12), students like Shaelyn would be placed in a different school next year for eighth grade before transitioning to high school the following year.
“It's a good school and it's really friendly and everyone's really nice,” Shaelyn said. “I don't want it to close.”
However, if it has to be this way, Shaelyn said she’ll adjust.
Still ahead: School upgrades
The third phase of school "modernization" or upgrades is anticipated to include eight projects with a budget of $475 million. Those plans are awaiting approval from state education officials. Schools to be renovated are:
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School No. 9
- Frederick Douglass
- East (work remaining from earlier phase)
- Edison Tech
- Wilson Commencement
Plans were to use Jefferson and Marshall as "swing space," or temporary relocation space for schools that are being renovated. The reconfiguration plan has Jefferson becoming a middle school, so now only Marshall would be used in that capacity.