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Meet Demario Strickland, Rochester schools' new interim superintendent

Demario Strickland is the new interim superintendent at the Rochester City School District.
Noelle E. C. Evans
Demario Strickland is the new interim superintendent at the Rochester City School District.

A new leader started at the Rochester City School District this week.

The district has long struggled with a revolving door of superintendents. In the past five years four superintendents have helmed the district.

Newly appointed interim superintendent DeMario Strickland stepped into his role after serving as deputy superintendent of teaching and learning to his predecessor, Carmine Peluso, who starts his new position as superintendent at Churchville-Chili schools this week.

Strickland was a former chief of schools for the district. He has also served as a principal and assistant principal in the Buffalo City School District, and as Dean of Students in the New York City Department of Education.

WXXI’s Education reporter Noelle Evans takes us to Central Office where interim superintendent Demario Strickland says he’s taking on the charge to establish greater stability in the district.

What follows is a transcript of an abbreviated interview that has been edited for time and clarity.

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EVANS: Is this something that you offered yourself to or were you picked out?

DEMARIO STRICKLAND: So, the Board of Education were going to go with an external candidate. But I guess it just wasn't working out. And I just remember I went to go shop at Wegmans and I came home and I was asked to jump on a zoom call. And they said, did I want to do this? And I was, ‘Absolutely I'll do anything to stabilize the district or keep things as stable as possible.’

EVANS: So they picked you.

STRICKLAND: Yes, they picked me.

EVANS: What are, I mean if you're thinking proactively, what are some of the areas that you're expecting to hit head on?

STRICKLAND: We have to make sure that schools are ready to serve our students and families, providing a welcoming and affirming environment for them so that in September, our staff are ready to go, our students are ready to go. Our families don't have the issues of you know, ‘Are the classroom setup?’ things of that nature. That's the major thing that I'm focusing on because there's a lot of disruption that has been done to our families.

EVANS: You mentioned you had a meeting today about the cabinet, are there any changes to the cabinet you're thinking about?

STRICKLAND: So, as of right now, the one thing that I really want to prioritize would be around our ninth graders, just bringing on a secondary chief to become a chief of schools, and they would supervise our high schools. We have a brand-new high school that's opening in the fall.

EVANS: With the other districts that you've worked for, is there something in particular that stands out to you about RCSD?

STRICKLAND: I think there's so much potential, there's so much activism, and just pride in Rochester here. And it exists in Buffalo, it exists in New York City, you know, very culturally in New York City. But there's something about it here that really stands out. The one thing that you can see is that things haven't been stable here. So in order to elevate what needs to happen outside, you have to get some of the things inside together. And that will help lift the students so that they can go out and do this strong, crazy advocacy. And I just want to see that for the kids. I really do. I'm so serious. And it's something very compelling for me to just be a part of.

When you're talking about the great people that have lived here, Frederick Douglass, for goodness sake, Susan B. Anthony, like just thinking about the work and the mark that they've left on the United States. And then we're in a struggling school system, you know, the opposite of what they were fighting for. We have work to do here and we have the people that can do it here because guess what, we have great foundations here and I just want to see that really ingrained in the culture of our buildings and things of that nature.

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