Transcript: Need to Know Rochester for March 12, 2010

 

Coming up on Need to Know,

 

Changing the system.

 

“For us as a district, it’s time for us to take the bull by the tail and face the situation.”

 

Rochester School Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard unveils his portfolio of schools. What happens next?

 

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(ANNOUNCER)  ROCHESTER'S NEWSMAGAZINE SINCE 1997, THIS IS NEED TO KNOW.

 

(Music)

 

I’M JULIE PHILIPP, THANKS FOR JOINING ME FOR THIS EDITION OF NEED TO KNOW.

 

ROCHESTER CITY SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT JEAN-CLAUDE BRIZARD IS STEPPING UP HIS EFFORTS TO REFORM THE DISTRICT.

 

(Brizard) For us as a district, it’s time for us to take the bull by the tail and face the situation. We've got a lot of work that we need to do. We know that we have hard-working people in our schools, in our high schools, in our elementary schools, unsung heroes every single day, but I would argue that some of our high schools, perhaps few of them, quite a few of them, are not poised, in position to be the kinds of schools that will meet the levels of regular that we require in today's society, the kinds of international benchmarking that we need in our high schools.

 

BRIZARD MET LAST NIGHT WITH THE SCHOOL BOARD’S EXCELLENCE IN SCHOOL ACHIEVEMENT COMMITTEE TO UNVEIL WHAT HE IS CALLING A PORTFOLIO PLAN FOR SCHOOLS. INSIDE THAT PORTFOLIO: SCHOOL CLOSINGS, NEW SCHOOLS, AND RECONFIGURED SCHOOLS.  BRIZARD SAYS OVERHAULING THE ENTIRE SYSTEM WILL WORK TOWARD SOLVING A BIG PROBLEM – FEW GOOD CHOICES FOR FAMILIES WHO WANT THEIR CHILDREN TO LEARN AND SUCCEED.

 

(Julie) This year, nearly one-thousand city students picked School of the Arts as the high school they would most like to attend – but there was only room for 200 of them. This school has one of the district’s highest graduation rates at 85 percent. Meanwhile, fewer than 100 students sought entrance into International Finance Career High School at Franklin, where the graduation rate is just 33 percent. Families know what they want – high performing schools. But with 16 out of the city’s 18 high schools on the low-performance list – there are few options. To remedy that, Rochester City School Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard is proposing this; closing down:

 

Franklin High Schools

Edison High Schools

And John Marshall High School

 

In place of those schools, he wants to open eight innovative new schools – including a charter school that would be exempt from many of the district’s rules and regulations. And Brizard wants to make grade changes in numerous other buildings. We're also increasing, or looking to increase the number of K-8 schools, what the research states about K-8 schools: students receive additional nurturing associated with an elementary school setting, this allows for children to still be children.

 

JOINING ME NOW ARE TWO PEOPLE WHO ARE REVIEWING THIS PORTFOLIO PLAN VERY CAREFULLY.  ROCHESTER CITY SCHOOL BOARD PRESIDENT MALIK EVANS, AND ADAM URBANSKI WHO IS PRESIDENT OF THE ROCHESTER TEACHERS ASSOCATION. Thank you both for coming and I want clarify that, during the package, we said there were 16 out of the 18 high schools in the City that were on the low performance list, and you're saying that number might be 14, its a number we'll check on after the program. I want to start Mr. Urbanski with you, what is your reaction, what do you like about this portfolio plan?

 

(Adam Urbanski) Largely very positive. This may not be a perfect plan but it's a very good plan. I'll tell you like best; I like best, for one, the movement towards K-8 configuration, not only does it make sense for the seventh and eighth grade students and their families, but it makes sense for the city as whole, because throughout the United States, urban districts have learned that if they can hang on to the kids longer than the elementary school period, then families will be less likely to seek alternatives to city schools and move out and go to the suburbs.

 

(Julie) So it might keep more families in the city.

 

(Urbanski) It might keep more families in the city, and also, it gives a smoother transition and less disruption for children at a very young age. And you know what is most of the schools that are having trouble in this country are actually middle school level schools and that's a very difficult age period for children, high concentration of kids that age is very difficult to manage. I like that. The second thing I like very much is the emphasis on career technical and occupational education and Edison is supposed to have two new schools to replace the four that we have there now and one of them, well both of them are technical and career education, but one of them actually will have heavy involvement of apprenticeships from labor, trades and employers and I think that there are a lot of kids in the city who will want to pull learn academically rigorous material, related to an occupation and a job that they hoped to do after graduation.

 

(Julie) Ok, and how about you Mr. Evans?

 

(Malik Evans) Like Dr. Urbanski, I also looked at the K-8, I've always been a big supporter of K-8. When the Superintendent first came I said you would be my hero if we could have half of our elementary schools within the next couple of years be K-8. I look at my own experience going to city schools and my parents very much wanted me to stay at School #12 where I went to elementary school, through eighth grade, and they were sad when I had to leave that place so I think that it creates less transition points and will give kids greater stability. I also like the fact that we're using a turnaround model. We are going to minimize the amount of disruption that we are going to have in reforming schools that were not performing to state standard; while at the same time allowing students to still be able to get a quality education, but we're also turning the schools around so to speak. I think that that's important because as we go through great changes it's good for students to not have so many disruptions. I also like this concept of the Vanguard Collegiate School which will be open soon on the Franklin campus. I think that sometimes Franklin unfairly has gotten the black eye and I believe that this turnaround model will allow Franklin to gain a greater reputation for this great school that is going to be.

 

(Julie)  I want to have you explain the turnaround model in a minute, but first can we talk about what you don't like. It sounds like overall you're both giving this plan a thumbs up.

 

(Urbanski)  As I said it's a very good plan, it's not a perfect plan. I think the board of education may want to consider making some adjustments depending on their perspective on this plan. One thing that confuses me is the inclusion of the proposal that in a year or so would also open up a district charter school. Now I think public charter schools have a place; but we have been making collaboratively a significant effort to make all schools more flexible, more autonomous, more charter like. So this is a little confusing are we going this direction or are we turning into charter? If I had any advice my advice would be put that on the back burner, let's see how our autonomous contract schools work out. Because the real solution is not to create a few more exceptions, the real solution is to change the system so that it could include some of the best features of private schools, some of the best features of charter schools and still remain public school.

 

(Julie)  Do you have things that you would immediately say let's change that or do you get a sense of the Board is looking at?

 

(Evans)  Well obviously the items that are going to be moving forward this coming year I have no problems with, the committee voted 7-0, to send it to the full Board. Their are some other things that the Board will want to talk to the Superintendent and work out. Charter schools they have their place, but our schools already have...are working towards the autonomous concept. So I wonder how that will work and also I think that sometimes people see the school districts as sometimes the cash cow, so I would just have to make sure that any private development that was going to be coming into our schools to try to make money would be in the best interest of our students. But that's something that I think is longer off down the line, but the overall...

 

(Julie)  That being the organization that would run the charter school?

 

(Evans)  Exactly.

 

(Julie)  So the charter school's is what's raising a little bit of...

 

(Urbanski)  Yes but there’s one other thing I would mention. We have a really wonderful and promising locally grown model of an initiative school; it's called the Freedom School. It's modeled on the parameters set by the Children's Defense Fund. And it's sort of an annex to East High School, so what they did is they took some of the most struggling, lest achieving seventh graders from East and they put them in that school where their are terrific leaders over there who are community leaders and parent leaders. Those kids are succeeding, 90 percent attendance where before it was like 10 percent attendance, 90 percent graduation or a passing of course work and so forth. I think it's a suitable mission not to take that model and...

 

(Julie)  Which is not a charter school that it's happening with then?

 

(Urbanski)  No, it's sort of what we would call a satellite school. It's a small school under the supervisory of the closest Principal, but it's proving to be very successful. So why not create such a school in every quadrant of the city. I've already indicated my view on this to the Superintendent and he said he would take that into consideration, but I think that is a very promising act. I would have wished to seen it part of this plan, maybe it's not too late to add it to the plan.

 

(Julie)  Okay when you made that request did you expect to possibly see it in this plan or did you make that request a little bit later?

 

(Urbanski)  I think I had the feeling that the plan was pretty well set for now, but since the Superintendent just makes recommendations to the school Board and the school Board eventually approves I think it's time to consider it.

 

(Evans)  And also remember Julie we are going to be opening two other schools that have not been named on the Marshall campus eventually. So there may be room...there will be room for the type of schools and what they are going to be. So it's important...

 

(Julie)  So some of them could have that Freedom School model.

 

(Evans)  Right. Some of them could have that Freedom School model. And I don't want people to think that this a phase of complete, it's not done yet and that's why it's important for folks to understand that although we mentioned the district may have a charter school that's not a foregone conclusion, there is a lot of questions around that.

 

(Julie)  You're talking about this turnaround model, can you walk us through exactly how these transitions are going to happen because I think that families are pretty confused right now.

 

(Evans)  Very simply you can close a school out right or you can turn it around. That's what, hence the name turnaround. So we're not going to say all right Franklin High School you're closed we put a padlock on the door, the building doesn't exist anymore, you take all the kids. What you do is you start eliminating grades. Let's say a school is 7 - 12, this coming school year you don't take 7th graders. If the school is 9 - 12, you don't take 9th graders. So you start to phase out the school by eliminating grades. Whereas in a year to two years the school would then phase out and then another school would open in its place, so in this case we are phasing out grades. And then we're also opening a new school this year on that campus with the eventual phase-out. So you're growing a new school in phasing out at the same time and minimizing disruption for teachers, minimizing disruption for students, minimizing disruptions for the community because, you can imagine, if we padlocked every school it would create chaos, so we're doing this in a methodical, thought-out way that gets us to what the state expects and at the same time building great schools that are going to have these programs that are going to be able to be offered.

 

(Julie) So what's different then? You have small schools within large schools in the same buildings, they're just being called something new now, but what's going to make it different in terms of results for the kids that are in the school that's growing, lets say Franklin, as the current Frank high schools are phasing out and there's this new one growing within the Frank High School building, what’s going to be different about the results?

 

(Urbanski) Actually, that's one of the features of the plan, of the overall plan that I like the best, is that, this time around, unlike in the past, the superintendent has ensured that each one of the schools has a really rigorous, solid, experienced partner who knows how to organize a school, who knows how to make that seamless transition, and gives each school a focus. Now some of the staff may change in the schools but probably not all. That too will be gradual but I think that the new schools with greater academic rigor, with greater ethos, or identity for every school, for example some occupational education programs, or some arts programs. I think that that is the real difference and the fact that we're doing it collaboratively enhances the prospects for success.

 

(Evans) And you must remember, we have models that work. North West Preparatory School is a school that is following the College Board, that partners with the College Board and now we're estimating, superintendent may get upset with me for say this, but you two have my back, we're going to see a graduation rate this year of over 80% at that school because we followed this model that Dr. Urbanski talked about. A partner, thematic themes, good leadership from a principal, great staff that's over there. You have those four elements and you can succeed. Also, support from the central administration. In the past, the reason why these other schools did not work is because central office sometimes handcuffed the staff there to prevent them from doing what they needed to do to make the school succeed. I think that with this model, this should not happen.

 

(Urbanski) I think the one thing that is going to be really critical is the implementation. Faithful implementation of the plan. Even the best plans can be hurt by sloppy implementation. I expect that if we can continue to work collaboratively on this, if this is done with teachers and not to teachers, that the faithful implementation of this will actually be the charm and we'll get better schools for this community for our kids.

 

(Julie) There is so much going on in this community right now. Round education, specifically Mayoral control. It's a lot for a community to keep them engaged and understanding and rolling along with all of these changes. How is the fact that mayoral control is going on over here and all this restructuring is going on over here, how is that working?

 

(Urbanski) Let me say at least this. It's kind of timely. It's important that what's happening is happening at this time. Unlike the mayor, the school board and the superintendent had a plan. This is really a pretty good plan. We don't know yet. We've had so much discussion about mayoral control but we don't know yet what it is we are supposed to be enticed to or be opposed to. All he's saying so far is give me the control and trust me on this. So I think if the mayor really even wants to be part of the conversation, he needs to come out with a plan and he has not yet come out with a plan.

 

(Evans) The bottom line, Julie, is that while I'm adamantly opposed to mayoral control because I don't think that we should be shoving it down the proverbial throats of the citizens, the people who live in the zip codes of the city of Rochester. That's a separate point. But the bottom line is that the school board and the superintendent and the teachers and administrators in the district are here to do a job. While politicians haggle back and forth about who's going to control the resources of the district, we have work to do. I believe that this portfolio plan, our strategic plan, our budget, which is coming up next Thursday we're giving a presentation on that. That work continues. I can't be pulled off the sidetrack of taking the focus off what's important which is our kids which politicians haggle back and forth about who's controlling what.

 

(Julie) Is there any concern though that if mayoral control were to go through that some of this could be de-railed?

 

(Urbanski) There is. That's one of the dangers of mayoral control, but I would support what Mr. Evans just said and I would say to the mayor of the city there are a lot of good features about this mayor and a lot of people like him. I would say, why don't you do what you can already do to help the school board, to help the teachers, to help the schools rather than wait until we figure out who controls. I think that there will not be mayoral control in the city because frankly, the parents and citizens of this community don't want it and I think we should all line up behind the plan that we now have to improve our secondary schools and some of our elementary schools so that the focus be not on the shape of the table, who calls the shots,   but rather on the education of the kids.

 

(Julie) We will be getting into, in fact, WXXI is sponsoring a forum on mayoral control which you will be part of on April 1st so we will be getting both sides of that issue a little bit deeper, but let's go back to this plan. March 25 is the vote. It's coming up quickly.

 

(Evans) March 25 and actually, the meeting might be moved up because some folks might have some scheduling conflicts so the meeting might actually be March 23. The Tuesday instead of the Thursday. Our board meeting may be changed which is the time we would be voting on this plan. As I said, it passed the excellence and student achievement committee 7-0.  I'm sure more questions will come up in the coming weeks, but I anticipate an affirmative response from my colleagues on this plan. It's long overdue and it's important that we work. One thing I've learned is that we can not have a tent year in terms of listening to the community in terms of them wanting change and I wish that other elected officials understand that. The community speaks and tells you what they want. We just can't turn our heads and say we don't hear what they are saying. K-8 something that people have been saying for many years, the license practical nurse program as Dr. Urbanski mentioned, and the trades at Edison are something that people said they wanted. People wanted these things so we have to respond. And it's important that other elected officials understand that they also need to listen to their constituents.

 

(Julie) We are about out of time but thank you both so much for coming in and clarifying some of these things. THANK YOU MALIK EVANS, PRESIDENT OF THE ROCHESTER CITY SCHOOL BOARD AND ADAM URBANSKI, PRESIDENT OF THE ROCHESTER TEACHERS ASSOCIATION.  IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO LOOK AT THE PORTFOLIO PLAN PRESENTED BY SUPERINTENDENT BRIZARD, IT’S ON OUR WEB SITE.  JUST GO TO WXXI DOT ORG.

 

IT’S TIME NOW FOR THE BUSINESS SECTION WITH THE DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE.

 

(Julie) MATT DANEMAN, Business reporter for the Democrat and Chronicle joins us once again. Hi Matt.

 

(Matt) Hi Julie! Good to be here. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

 

(Julie) Same to you. Thank you. The former Medley Center, some questions about the future of the former Medley Center.

 

(Matt) Monday really becomes sort of a delaine on whether this project is going to happen or not. As a recap, Scott Conjule of the Conjule family, big developers, particularly in Syracuse with the Pyramid Mall, has proposed a $260 Million, sort of, rehab of the old Irondequoit Mall making it in to more mixed use, a movie theater, offices, a hotel. Much different than just a struggling shopping mall they've been for quite a while. Instead of paying taxes on the property, which they negotiated with the town and the various government entities in Irondequoit a payment in lieu of taxes will sort of help with the project. A lesser amount than if it was just straight taxes. Conjule has not been paying his bill and Monday becomes sort of a deadline where the town of Irondequoit and the other various entities are saying pay what you owe or else we are going to cancel this pilot, payment in lieu of taxes. That could provide to some real interesting questions as to whether the financing for this whole Irondequoit project is even going to go through, if Conjule has the money, if he's going to cough it up, where this thing sort of lands. But if the pilot gets canceled it's not necessarily a nail in the coffin, but it's a pretty strong indication that this thing is DOA. Conjule has not been responding to any sorts of media questions so nobody at this end really knows and nor does the town of Irondequoit.

 

(Julie) And obviously the town, very frustrated. This has been a piece of property that has been a problem for a long time for that town.

 

(Matt) Exactly so. Back when it was Irondequoit mall and the Medley Center, there was still shopping going on but the amount of vacant real estate, the amount of stores in there, you could throw a dead cat in there and not hit anybody for quite a while.

 

(Julie) We don't want to go there. Let's move downtown now. We have a new company.

 

(Matt) Yeah. Downtown parking is going to be shoulder to shoulder. It's going to get a little more crowded. ESL Federal Credit Union is right in the midst of its move, once again, from Irondequoit to its new digs in Rochester. $55 Million building, right on Chestnut Street. Right across the street from the Strong Museum. They're moving 360 some employees, I believe it's around 360, over the course of three weekends and we're right in the midst of it. The ESL itself will be open to you and I and the public on April 4th. That's when the branch in the lobby actually opens up to the public. It's a shot in the arm to downtown, a few more workers there.

 

(Julie) People coming down to the restaurants.

 

(Matt) Exactly so. It sort of indicates some of the activity and energy that's been going on downtown. We've got midtown which demolition is supposed to start later this year. Still this PAETEC headquarters that is supposed to built.

 

(Julie) Just about 30 seconds left, not too much time, so I want to talk real quickly about Kodak's new Press.

 

(Matt) This month there is a big trade show in England for the printing industry. They are pulling the sheet off their prosper press. It's a big digital printing press. It works on this inkjet technology kind of like their inkjet printers that people have at homes and offices. The big deal for Kodak is that they are really, really counting on prosper to be a big driver in their profits in the future. They've been talking about the prosper for years and the technology behind it for years, literally for years. And there's a lot resting on it now.

 

(Julie) Thanks so much for coming in today. MATT DANEMAN BUSINESS REPORTER FOR THE DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE.  I’M JULIE PHILIPP, HOST OF NEED TO KNOW, THANKING YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT OF NEWS AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS ON WXXI-TV.  HAVE A GOOD NIGHT.

 

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