Lesli Myers-Small, who led Brockport public schools for seven years and currently oversees efforts to turn around troubled schools for the state, was named superintendent of the Rochester City School District on Monday.
Her selection follows the unexpected resignation of Terry Dade, who announced his departure a month ago after less than a year into the job to lead a smaller and more affluent school district in the Hudson Valley.
Myers-Small, who starts her role on Tuesday, will be the city’s seventh superintendent in 10 years and inherits a district beset by financial difficulties, a budget that calls for deep cuts in the upcoming school year, and an academic and fiscal monitor that was a condition of the state’s $35 million bailout of the district last year.
In accepting her appointment, which was made formal over a video news conference with some Rochester school board members, Myers-Small made a point of stating her commitment to the role and a community stung by a revolving door of superintendents.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Myers-Small said. “I know other leaders have said that. So, I’m just going to have to prove it through the work I do.”
Her appointment was not unexpected. Word of her selection had been circulating since it was first reported by the Democrat and Chronicle two weeks ago.
Myers-Small, 50, grew up in Rochester and attended its public schools. She began her career in education in the district as a guidance counselor and intervention specialist, and earned degrees from the University of Rochester and St. John Fisher College.
Before her tenure in Brockport, Myers-Small spent five years as an assistant superintendent in Ithaca and has worked as an administrator in Greece. She left her position in Brockport last year to become the assistant commissioner of school reform and innovation in the state Education Department.
Board of Education President Van White called her return to Rochester a “coming home” and said Myers-Small will not be hampered by the dual challenges faced by her predecessor of building relationships with stakeholders while grappling with a dire fiscal situation and the ongoing health crisis.
“Lesli knows the board members. She knows this community,” White said. “She doesn’t have to have the dual responsibility of getting to know a community and having to solve its most difficult problems.”
White acknowledged that Myers-Small was a finalist for the superintendent's opening that was given to Dade last year, but said she is now the right person for the job at the right time.
Myers-Small becomes the first woman of color to lead the district outside of an interim role, a milestone that was heralded by school board members and city officials alike.
Mayor Lovely Warren called Myers-Small a “tremendous educator” but tempered enthusiasm for her potential to succeed in improving the district with a thinly veiled dig at the school board and its reputation for micro-management.
“I know Dr. Myers-Small, if truly empowered to do so, can improve our district, and therefore, our city,” Warren said in a statement. “I am equally heartened that she will be the first woman of color to serve our community in this role. This milestone is worthy of recognition and celebration.”
Warren is the first woman of color to lead the city as mayor.
Myers-Small ran down a list of her priorities, from implementing the new budget, which calls for the elimination of hundreds of jobs and closing cherished programs, to reopening schools.
Asked by one reporter why she wanted the job, Myers-Small replied: “I have an extreme affinity for the Rochester City School District and the community. This really isn’t about me. It’s about the 25,000-plus students I’m responsible for serving. … You’ll get my best every single day.”
David Andreatta is CITY’s editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.