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Rochester school board balks at leadership shakeup, stays the course with busy year ahead

Isaiah Santiago was sworn in as a Rochester city school board member on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024.
RCSD livestream still
Isaiah Santiago was sworn in as a Rochester city school board member on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024.

There will be no change in leadership atop the Rochester city school board, as a majority opted to stay the course heading into a year of monumental decisions.

Behind that appearance of stability, however, is potential volatility. That was apparent in Tuesday’s at times contentious nomination process for president and vice president as one member's call for unity to start the meeting fractured.

“You can't call for unity and try to backstab people. You can't throw hands and then try to hide your hands,” Vice President Beatriz LeBron said in her acceptance speech, pointing to a newly seated but visibly upset Jacqueline Griffin.

"I do not get down with inauthenticity, that's just not my style,” LeBron continued. “It doesn't gel and vibe with me.”

The city school district is working through a school reconfiguration plan and preparing for a $475 million facility modernization project. That means some schools closing, others moving by next school year, and some buildings getting significant upgrades.

“Continuity is really important at this time in our district,” said newly elected board member Amy Maloy. “We're making some pretty important decisions over the next year. They're going to have a major impact on what happens in this district in the next five, 10, 15 years.”

Board member James Patterson had other ideas. He nominated Griffin for school board president on her first day holding an elected office.

“Work with us, don’t divide us,” Griffin had said in her swearing-in speech. “We can conquer this together, but we have to stop the division. The division is so great and the devil is alive.”

But a majority stuck with board president Cynthia Elliott and LeBron, who both were re-elected on separate 5-2 votes.

“I'm sorry that that change didn't happen at this time,” Griffin said after trying unsuccessfully to nominate a challenger to LeBron. “But please know that change is going to come regardless because my steps are ordered.”

LeBron said this third term would be her last on the board.

Newly elected school board member Isaiah Santiago, who at 19 is the board's youngest member, was unanimously chosen to lead the committee on community and intergovernmental relations. Griffin was appointed to lead the policy committee that previously was led by Willa Powell, who did not seek re-election this term.

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