Op-ed by Howard Eagle –
As many will recall, when New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced the appointment of the “Distinguished Educator,” Dr. Jaime Aquino to the Rochester City School District (RCSD) to investigating conditions in the RCSD, and issuing recommendations for improvement, the Take It Down Planning Committee; Faith Community Alliance; Movement for Anti-racist Ministry and Action Coalition were the only organizations in town that voiced public opposition.
Our concerns were two-pronged. First we believed that in spite of his good investigative work, he would not reveal anything fundamentally new or different regarding issues and problems that have been spelled out via scores of previous reports. And as suspected, our views held true. Dr. Aquino’s November 14, 2018 report states on page 13—“The issues identified in this report have been described in numerous earlier reports.”
We also shared the same concerns to State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, New York State Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, and Dr. Aquino during our meeting with them on November 14, 2018 (the same day that Dr. Aquino’s above referenced Report was released). We asked them what makes Dr. Aquino’s Report different than countless others that have been issued through the decades. Their response was “this is the first time that such a Report has been issued with the force of the State behind it.” Whether that will matter in terms of change and improvement in the near future, as opposed to the distant, abstract, bye-and-bye, is yet to be seen. Additionally, we asked the three of them whether or not when push-back starts—as we were certain it would—will they have the intestinal fortitude and political will to stand against forces such as the Rochester Teachers Association (RTA), and possibly RTA’s respective state and national Affiliates, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), and American Federation of Teachers (AFT)? They didn’t answer; so, we shall see. Of course, time will tell—as it always does.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we had discussed with Commissioner Elia and others during our above referenced November meeting, the fact that she would have never added an additional $200,000 burden to an already huge budget deficit within any predominantly white, suburban, public school system by appointing a so-called “distinguished educator” without even attempting to have a conversation with parents, families and other tax-paying community members. Dr. Aquino mentioned that we should view his salary as “an investment.” Our response was and is “only if it pays dividends,” otherwise it’s just one more among many very bad, so-called “investments.”
We also told the Commissioner (as Columnist, Gloria Winston would say) “straight with no chaser” that her disrespectful, unilateral decision to assign Dr. Aquino to the overwhelmingly Black and brown RCSD smacked of racism, and that she still needs to participate in open, honest dialogue with RCSD parents, families, and the broader community, relative to her intentions, expectations, and potential outcomes.
After several subsequent conversations, the State Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, and Dr. Aquino have decided to engage the community in a three (3) hour conversation via open dialogue Saturday, March 30, 2019 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Central Church of Christ, 101 S. Plymouth Avenue (across the street from the Public Safety Building).
Let’s pack the church.
Howard Eagle is a longtime educator and local anti-racism advocate, known for his campaigns for the Rochester school board and prolific political and social commentary. Eagle taught social studies in the RCSD for 23 years, before retiring in 2010, and is now an adjunct professor in the Department of African American Studies at SUNY Brockport.