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Rochester school board votes 'yes’ on reconfiguration plan. 11 schools to close

Students depart Dr. Alice Holloway Young School of Excellence on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 13, 2023. A proposed districtwide reconfiguration would close the middle school in the city's Corn Hill neighborhood and replace it with Rochester Early College International High School, which would move over from Genesee Street, about a mile away.
Max Schulte
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WXXI News
Students depart Dr. Alice Holloway Young School of Excellence on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 13, 2023. A districtwide reconfiguration proposal approved Thursday will close the middle school in the city's Corn Hill neighborhood and replace it with Rochester Early College International High School, which would move over from Genesee Street, about a mile away.

The Rochester city school board has approved a reconfiguration plan to close five school buildings and about a dozen schools by next school year.

The district has cited declining enrollment, poor building conditions, and poor performance as reasons why this plan needs to happen now.

Community members who gathered for a public forum ahead of the vote on Thursday night called for a delay, but many of their concerns were answered before the vote began.

A dozen people were on the list of speakers. Joe Baldino, principal of School 29, which is on the chopping block of closures, was among them advocating for many of his students who have autism.

“It has been my great honor and privilege to be the principal of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) children. They're unique. They're beautiful, and they don't do real well with change, because that's their world.” Baldino said.

“So change in routines for them is very difficult. But if they can go together as a culture and have a number of friendly and supportive staff in one place who understand them, it will be very positive for them.”

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Like others in the crowd, he proposed that autistic students should be able to stay with their classmates and teachers when they move to a new school. That concern was echoed by parents in the room.

Rebecca Hetherington with the Parent Leadership Advisory Board warned that the proposal disproportionally affects students in special education and English language learners.

"Son preocupaciones de los padres." Diveth Garcia with the Bilingual Parents Advisory Council was initially denied her request to read to the school board concerns from Spanish-speaking parents after her presentation. "Not at this time," president Cynthia Elliott said. People in the crowd booed. Two other parent advisory council representatives went to the mic to advocate in Garcia's favor. She was then allowed to read the concerns in Spanish, translated in real time, to the school board.
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"Son preocupaciones de los padres." Diveth Garcia with the Bilingual Parents Advisory Council was initially denied her request to read to the school board concerns from Spanish-speaking parents after her presentation. "Not at this time," president Cynthia Elliott said. People in the crowd booed. Two other parent advisory council representatives went to the mic to advocate in Garcia's favor. She was then allowed to read the concerns in Spanish, translated in real time, to the school board.

Ahead of the vote, Superintendent Carmine Peluso unveiled some slight changes to the plan that accounted for that.

“Current school 29 and RISE students and specialized ASD classrooms will remain together. We will move these classrooms as a whole, across the district,” Peluso said to some applause.

The modified plan also allows elementary students at School 2 to move as a unit, if their families opt in. But for the most part, other students whose schools are closing will have to go through a special lottery, so they may not end up together next year.

That was a major concern among some students at Northeast Preparatory High School who talked with WXXI News earlier this week.

Peluso said there would be social-emotional support in place for students who will go through a transition but didn’t elaborate on what that would entail.

He said going forward there will be School Family Nights for staff and families of impacted schools, and negotiations with the teacher's union over support for affected teachers.

School board member Camille Simmons was one of two commissioners to vote against the proposal.

“We have that history of doing these things with our schools. But one thing that remains consistent is our student academic outcomes seem to not change very much” Simmons said.

"Was there a way that we could have engaged a little more? Considered some other things? Have some more discourse among the board? Among the community?" School board commissioner Camille Simmons said. "Because I don't think I did. I don't think I raised what I needed to raise. I'm not going to put this on anyone else. I don't think I did it the way I needed to."
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"Was there a way that we could have engaged a little more? Considered some other things? Have some more discourse among the board? Among the community?" School board commissioner Camille Simmons said. "Because I don't think I did. I don't think I raised what I needed to raise. I'm not going to put this on anyone else. I don't think I did it the way I needed to."

Simmons said there are details of the plan that don’t sit right with her, like moving a high school to what has been a middle school campus.

“Someone was like ‘The bathrooms have to be changed, right? Will they be able to fit high schoolers into an elementary, middle school bathroom?’ like those are all these things that seem like nuances, but they're so important to the outcome,” she said.

Board Vice President Beatriz LeBron voted in favor of the plan, and said there should be a stipulation that prevents buildings that will transfer from the district to city council from becoming charter schools.

School board member Amy Maloy was also among those who voted in favor of the plan. She said the district’s Central Office needs to be re-examined next.

“Other reconfiguration also needs to take place across the district, including central office,” Maloy said. “We should be looking at departments that other big five districts contract out as we reconfigure moving forward and closely analyze the impact that central office has on actual student outcomes.”

If a greater percentage of the money in the district goes toward classroom staff and supplies, Maloy said it could improve academic outcomes.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.