State education officials get feedback about next steps for the Rochester City School District

Mar 30, 2019

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino.
Credit James Brown / WXXI News

Concerned community members gathered at Central Church of Christ in Rochester on Saturday to discuss Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino’s report.

That report sharply critiqued the Rochester City School District’s governance, finances and outcomes.

Aquino has been working with the district to implement the 84 recommendations in his report.

One woman at Saturday’s forum asked if Aquino would stay to see the process through. Aquino would not answer but said the process is bigger than he is.

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia was at the Rochester forum along with two locally-based members of the NYS Board of Regents, T. Andrew Brown, who is also Vice Chancellor of the Board, and Regent Wade Norwood.

Also at the meeting were representatives from the Take It Down Planning Committee, Faith Community Alliance and the Movement for Anti-Racist Ministry and Action Coalition.

Elia said she wants Aquino to stay but said that’s up him. She said that Aquino’s contract is up in September.

Many of those who attended the Saturday session asked about race,  and its effect on schools. 

Elia said diversity among the teaching staff is a problem for districts nationwide, and one answer is within the schools themselves.

“We’re working on trying to build within our own school districts a cadre of students who are interested in being teachers and can get some of the credits while they’re in in high school,” Elia noted.

Gayle Harrison attended the event. She’s worked in the district and is the interim president of the community group, Roc/ACTS. Harrison said that the city school district needs to make a radical change. If not, she said the people of Rochester must make other choices.

State Board of Regents members Wade Norwood (L), and T. Andrew Brown
Credit James Brown / WXXI News

“As a grandparent, as a professional, as a black woman that’s truly concerned, I think we’re going to have to go back to some old-time techniques and come out with our signs and our marching, maybe even have some of our own schools to say this is what’s need to be taught,” Harrison said.

Minister Clifford Florence is a member of the Take it Down Coalition, and he’s also running for city school board. Florence says the stakes are high.

“If a radical change is not made in the system, we’re going to lose more of our children, and the issues that affect us with poverty and crime and other things will be before us.”

Commissioner Elia said the state is still in the process of deciding the fate of the Rochester City School District. 

Some of the comments made at Saturday's session by State Regent Wade Norwood: