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Candidates for the Rochester City School Board Share Their Vision for the District, How to Make it Reality

Democratic candidates for commissioner of Board of Education answer questions from Minority Reporter staff. Candidates are in the order in which their names appear on the ballot.

Voters will select three candidates.

The following candidates did not respond to our request for information:

  • James Patterson

Desjamebra Robinson

What is your overall vision for education in this community?

I have a three point focus for the education in the community.
Social/Emotional & Behavioral Health education for students and their families, a curriculum that is relevant to the culture of the student population being served, and Vocational/ Skilled Trades Training with a financial literacy component for graduating seniors.

What has been the hindrance to achieving an acceptable graduation rate (what rate is acceptable?) and how will you address this as a new board member?

As a teacher who has been in the classroom there are many factors that come to play when it comes to discussing the hindrances to achieving an acceptable graduation rate. In my attempt to put the answer to this question in a short answer:

The hindrance to our graduation rates is due to a systemic and strategic culture of hopelessness that has been created by the last few decades of mistrust in the management and competence of the previous school boards. As Commissioner, I will highlight the need for social/emotional and behavioral wellness for all students with an approach that restores the importance of education as a premise to liberation and independence.

(I am only answering two questions because these questions are relevant to my three point focus).

Joshua Bauroth

Job 5422 for Jessica Hooper. Portrait of Joshua Bauroth, Associate Director for Grants and Scholarship.

What is your overall vision for education in this community?

Just like in any other community, Rochester students deserve a quality education in their own hometown. In seeking out the best education for their children, parents should not have to rely on praying for a good lottery number to enroll in a charter school, or moving to another school district (means allowing) for that to happen. The RCSD needs to support and collaborate with the entire community to give all our students the skills and resources to succeed in this world, not just the well to do or lucky.
To do this, the district must:

  • Establish a culturally relevant curriculum that reflects who we are as a community;
  • Maintain its focus on academic merit so graduates may continue their education if they wish;
  • Publically and continually, acknowledge and address the effects of concentrated poverty and institutional racism;
  • Establish individualized “Roadmaps to Success” for every student in the district; and
  • Establish a pipeline of current students to enroll in local colleges to become future teachers in the RCSD.

All of this must be done to ensure that we provide our students the tools they need to achieve success as they define it: graduation, enrollment in higher education, beginning a career in the trades, public service, volunteerism, or simply acquiring a full time job. We must encourage our students to see a bright future for themselves from the start, show them how to get there, and track their progress.

What has been the hindrance to achieving an acceptable graduation rate (what rate is acceptable?) and how will you address this as a new board member?

Just as there are many roads to success, many obstacles can prevent graduation. Broadly speaking the major systemic hindrances are lack of family resources (money, time, transportation, etc.); racial or poverty based trauma (food insecurity is a serious barrier to learning); and an inconsistent educational curriculum (very often curricular, enrichment and pre-professional programs begin and end with little regard to the needs of participating students). Other compounding hindrances are a lack of community-based schools to provide wrap-around resources, a systemic lack of BIPOC instructors, an absence of a culturally appropriate curriculum, and the high number of students forced to move from school to school.

I would immediate rally the school board to do the following:

  • Provide funding to ensure all schools have the resources to function as community schools which collaborate with the City, County, and non-profits to support families in need of services;
  • Establish a subsidized pipeline for RCSD students to attend local colleges to become teachers for the RCSD;
  • Introduce a culturally appropriate curriculum across all RCSD schools;
  • Mandate that active educational programs cannot be cancelled without providing effective transition plans for current students; and
  • Ensure that each student has an individualized “Roadmap to Success” with student-identified goals and the District provided necessary steps/resources for achieving success.

Finally, while graduation rates are very important, we also need to consider actual post-secondary outcomes (employment, higher education, trade school, etc.).

Given issues that may arise, especially surrounding the RCSD budget, how can the board stay focused on student achievement?

This is really a question of individual and organizational discipline. It requires members of the board to remain respectful and collaborative on all issues as they arise so they can remain focused on student outcomes. To support this, the board must start each year with an agreed upon set of student achievement goals (even if it is incomplete) and regularly review the progress towards these goals throughout the year. Again, this requires discipline to keep student achievement goals on each meeting’s official agenda even when the inevitable issues and controversies arise each year. As a 10-year veteran of being in the minority of the Monroe County Legislature, I promise you that personal discipline is the best way to success in an adverse governmental environment.

For years, board members have said the state needed to fully fund schools. How will the district use the influx of money from COVID relief packages to identify and find ways for long-term sustainability of priorities?

While the influx of money is only short term, it allows the RCSD to eliminate the deficit spiral of the past decade. The district must focus on high impact projects with high startup costs but relatively minimal long-term expenses. If elected I will push hard to establish at least 5 new community schools, introduce a culturally relevant curriculum across the district, initiate a long term solution to the recruitment of BIPOC teachers, and explore the expansion of the current bus fleet. Each of these will improve the quality of education and support improvements in academic achievement with most of the expense being front-loaded. In addition, while a bus fleet expansion has enormous startup costs, there is great potential to reduce contracted transportation expenses for years to come.

Furthermore, long-term sustainability requires the district to better collaborate with others – especially the county and city – by sharing information, negotiating better terms for health and insurance by pooling our purchasing power, and collaborating in real time to ensure all families are in a position to support their students. Fiscal sustainability also requires us to lobby the state for more flexible and appropriate funding terms (that the RCSD must obey) so we can better manage our budget throughout the fiscal year.

The state monitor has suggested the district reconsider its boundaries for schools and how the schools are configured. What are your thoughts on neighborhood schools and perhaps changing the grades-levels within some schools?

I strongly believe that the number of neighborhood schools must increase because they should serve as hubs for activities and resources within the community. I will ensure that these schools are provided resources and partnerships with area non-profits and other organizations to identify and correct barriers to student success. This could include things as basic as after school care and local food pantries to establishing “career closets” where professional clothes can be made available for interviews and such. I am open to the idea of changing grade levels in schools if provided an identifiable set of expected benefits and measureable evidence that such a change will lead to increases in student success. Finally, we need to modify school boundaries to minimize the level of segregation that still remains within the RCSD.

Cliandra A. Yarde / Clifford Florence
(These candidates submitted joint responses)

What is your overall vision for education in this community?


Our overall vision is that the Rochester City School District (RCSD) will be a thoroughly anti-racist institution that ensures equitable opportunities for all students, which includes the important research-backed goal of ensuring that staffing will reflect the composition of the student/family population. The RCSD will be recognized nationally and internationally as a model of effective and successful urban, public education, which produces scholars who are thoroughly prepared and qualified to compete on the global, academic stage, and will eventually make significant contributions in every major area of life.

What has been the hindrance to achieving an acceptable graduation rate (what rate is acceptable?) and how will you address this as a new board member?

The graduation rate is a function of numerous socioeconomic/academic factors and conditions, with some of the most important including stable homes and community support; professional competence and commitment, and the ability to establish a solid foundation upon which to build, that is, at or above grade-level reading, writing, and math skills at the earliest possible age. Basic skills development represents the foundation upon which all else, including and especially higher order knowledge and skills are built, e.g., critical thinking, reasoning, and analytical skills. There have been, and continues to be many obstacles relative to meeting such fundamental needs, which of course feeds into the end result of low graduation rates. With regard to acceptability, we must always strive for 100%. However, the current rate is not acceptable, and nothing less than continuous, significant, measurable improvement, which must be demanded of the Superintendent and her team, will ever be acceptable.

Given issues that may arise, especially surrounding the RCSD budget, how can the board stay focused on student achievement?

Regardless of issues that arise around the budget, or any other areas or entities, we must remain focused (first and foremost) on student achievement. The guidepost for doing so must necessarily be incorporated into the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan, which Board members must familiarize ourselves with, scrutinize, monitor, and do all within our power to ensure that resources are allocated in ways that makes it completely possible to achieve the goals, objectives, and benchmarks, which must be laid out clearly and thoroughly in the Strategic Plan.

For years, board members have said the state needed to fully fund schools. How will the district use the influx of money from COVID relief packages to identify and find ways for long-term sustainability of priorities?

We have recently learned that, in accordance with advice from the Rochester City School District’s Fiscal Monitor, the New York State Commissioner of Education plans to impose restrictions on how covid relief funds can be utilized. Thus, of course we will need to wait and see, and fully understand what those restrictions will be. However, more so than any other single item, we need to make every effort to not only address any current, pending budgetary shortfalls, but to actually make financial adjustments regarding the long-standing structural, budgetary deficit. There is also a need for us to become very creative relative to establishing self-sustaining student and family support mechanisms and systems,, relative to both academic and social-emotional needs.

The state monitor has suggested the district reconsider its boundaries for schools and how the schools are configured. What are your thoughts on neighborhood schools and perhaps changing the grades-levels within some schools?

With regard to anchoring various sectors of the community, ideally, neighborhood schools are desirable. Not only do schools help anchor neighborhoods, but this idea would also likely lead to major savings regarding transportation costs (one of the largest expenditures in our budget). However, there are some potential, major problems, with the most outstanding being that not all neighborhoods are equal relative to socioeconomic stability, and/or overall school quality. This issue would need to be addressed conclusively, in order to avoid creating deeper inequalities than those that already exist from one neighborhood to the next. The RCSD has probably tried every type of grade configuration imaginable. In the main, we support K-6; 7-9; 10-12 configurations.

Cynthia Elliott

What is your overall vision for education in the community?

My overall vision for education in the community is that 100% of the students graduate from the Rochester City School District being career and college ready. An educated child is less likely to be the victim of various social ills such as an unplanned pregnancy, poverty, mental health issues, substance abuse and violence.

What has been the hindrance to achieving an acceptable graduation rate (what rate is acceptable?) and how will you address this as a new board member?

The hindrance has been low expectation for students to achieve, systems issues and leadership turnover. If we can first stabilize district leadership, ensure that systems issues are addressed and that it is believed that our students can achieve, we would see a higher graduation rate.

Given the issues that may arise, especially surrounding the RCSD budget, how can the board stay focused on student achievement?

The board is able to stay focused on student achievement, in part, through its Equity and Student Achievement committee, of which I chair. This committee meets monthly and is attended by all board members. The committee has as a standing agenda item the recommendations from the State Monitor’s Academic Plan.

For years, board members have said the state needed to fully fund schools. How will the district use the influx of money from COVID relief packages to identify and find ways for long-term sustainability of priorities?

To be clear, I was not one of those board members who advocated necessarily for additional funding since we didn’t seem to be able to manage the resources we currently had. I didn’t believe that it was a money issue per se, but a performance issue. However, with regard to how to use the influx of money, the decision will be made based on the recommendations by the state monitor.

The state monitor has suggested the district reconsider its boundaries for schools and how the schools are configured. What are your thoughts on neighborhood schools and perhaps changing the grade levels within some schools?

I have been a proponent of neighborhood schools since I have been on the board. Neighborhood schools allow for easier access for parents to attend parent teacher meetings, to pick up a sick child, and to attend other events their children are involved in after school programs. Transportation and timing concerns are reduced.

One problem has been parents not wanting their children to walk to school due to high crime areas. Additionally, the performance of some of the neighborhood schools have been low and parents tend to select a school outside of the neighborhood for school that shows higher performance. My fight has been to make every school a school that parents would want to send their children to.

With regard to how schools are configured I am a proponent of the middle school model. The middle school model provides an opportunity for students who are moving through puberty to have additional support services to transition successfully to high school. The middle school ages tend to be where most of the behavioral issues occur, i.e., attitude, mood swings, inability to manage conflict, etc. This is the demographic of students whose suspension rate is higher than any other demographic. With the additional support services in a middle school configuration, their transition to high school will be less traumatic and smoother.

Joseph Klein

What is your overall vision for education in this community?

Rigorous academics preparing students for college, and/or career, and for life. Addressing the social, emotional, behavioral, and physical needs of our students. Every student proficient in an extra-curricular activity in fields such as music, art, dance, robotics, game design, or chess. A caring relationship between teachers and students and between teachers and students and their schools. Parents treated with respect. The re-establishment of community schools. The RCSD can become a proof-point to the nation that our children can learn and can thrive.

What has been the hindrance to achieving an acceptable
graduation rate (what rate is acceptable?) and how will you address this as a new board member?

Given Rochester’s Pre-K is arguably the nation’s best and that we spend over twice the national average per student, the RCSD should have a real graduation rate (graduates actually prepared for college, and/or career) of 90%. Instead our real graduation rate is less than 15%. We blame poverty and parents for being dead last in math and English language arts among the nation’s largest districts. The real blame lies with the board, which the Distinguished Educator says creates a culture of fear, micromanages, interferes, and focuses on adult needs and not on student needs. The RTA contract, contempt for parents, and chaos in all major district operations are also to blame.

As a new board member, I will have a cadre of activists mobilize the community to call out the board and to demand changes in state mandates, and in district procedures and contracts which hinder education. Busing rules must be changed to allow a return to community schools. Principals must be given the authority to hire and fire for their schools. Seniority rules must be eliminated so that overstaffing, which is bankrupting the district, can be cut, with the lowest performers being let go. When children are forced to eat cold, sub-standard food because of the board’s financial incompetence, RCSD board pay and benefits must be eliminated.

Given issues that may arise, especially surrounding the RCSD budget, how can the board stay focused on student achievement?

RCSD budget issues are caused by the board not addressing rampant district waste. The board overspent $65 million, showcasing that the board is financially illiterate and incapable of financial oversight. The comptroller’s report shows inadequate financial controls in spending, payroll, and purchasing and the budget is not transparent. Dr. Jallow writes of rampant overstaffing. Give Dr. Jallow the veto power over spending and the budget that was promised before the monitor position was created.

As a member of the Rochester Business Hall of Fame, I am competent to address district spending. The current board is also ignorant about improving student achievement. Laser like focus must be put on student achievement. I earned a Master’s in Education Policy and Management at Harvard. We improved student achievement in our partner RCSD schools when I led Mayor Duffy’s Literacy Commission (the district then destroyed all the progress.) I learned how to drive student achievement while helping start Rochester Prep and Vertus. Our RCSD students can learn, our district is preventing academic achievement.

For years, board members have said the state needed to fully fund schools. How will the district use the influx of money from COVID relief packages to identify and find ways for long-term sustainability of priorities?

Partnering with the U of R Medical Center, Rochester General Health System, and local MSW programs could address physical, social, and emotional student needs. Recreate the Josh Lofton School and the SHAPE program for chronically out of control or violent students while addressing their emotional needs and providing solid education. Start a school modeled on Syracuse’s Beard School for K – 12 students to achieve emotional stability while developing resiliency, teaching life skills, and educating students for a smooth transition to regular school settings. These programs will improve school climate and safety as chronically out of control and violent students are not in regular classrooms until they are ready.

Re-create a great music program district-wide in partnership with Eastman and Hochstein. Strengthen the arts and partner with RIT to create robotics and game design school clubs. Institute weekly, mandatory hands-on training in student engagement and classroom management. District IT systems, including payroll, are old and subject to ransomware attack. Upgrade or the district is courting disaster.

The state monitor has suggested the district reconsider its boundaries for schools and how the schools are configured. What are your thoughts on neighborhood schools and perhaps changing the grades-levels within some schools?

The RCSD and the RTA have done everything possible to rupture the care between teachers and students, and between teachers and students and their schools. We must return to neighborhood, community schools to start restoring those caring connections. We must have strong principals in every school – principals who control their own hiring and firing and with the authority to re-establish a culture of care. Those schools can re-create strong community partnerships that have withered because the district is an abusive partner.

I believe the best grade configurations are K – 4, 5 – 8 , and 9 – 12 High Schools with a 9th grade academy embedded in every high school. However, there has been so much chaotic change in the district in the past 20 years that we must be careful, methodical, patient, and realistic about making needed grade-level changes.

Camille Simmons

What is your overall vision for education in this community?

My overall vision for education in Rochester consists of a school system that incorporates the collective voices of students, parents, educators, and community. A school system where funding is stable, communication is clear and transparent, and our scholars have access to the resources needed to meet their mental health and social- emotional needs. Each student would be armed with an educational road map that would follow them throughout their elementary, middle, and high school years.

I envision a school district where students receive early-grade academic interventions resulting in increased literacy success. Our scholars would arrive prepared to thrive upon entry into high school.

Our students would not only graduate on time, but graduate with a sense of identity and connection to their overall community. My vision is for our scholars to graduate prepared to take advantage of any college, vocational, employment, or military opportunities of their choice.

Finally, we cannot afford to only acknowledge that individual, structural, systemic, and institutional racism exists, we must demonstrate our commitment to eradicating it through the implementation of accountable practices and well-developed plans of action.

What has been the hindrance to achieving an acceptable graduation rate (what rate is acceptable?) and how will you address this as a new board member?

Graduation rates are hindered by many factors including: low school attendance, lack of equitable school resources and academic support across the district, and in some cases the missing intentionality of fostering positive relationships that build a sense of community and belonging within schools. Also, many students enter the ninth grade academically unprepared, resulting in difficulty embracing academic rigor.

I would address these issues by working with City Council to address the intersectionality of housing insecurity and its effects on transportation and school attendance. I would consider community school models influenced by community voice to address some of the zone restrictions that prevent school access. It is also understood that students perform better when they can identify themselves in the reflection of their teachers, curriculum, and practices. The RCSD graduation rate was approximately 68% in 2020. An acceptable graduation rate would be reflective of the rates we see in some of our high performing suburban districts, for example reaching a rate of 96% and higher would be an ideal goal.

Given issues that may arise, especially surrounding the RCSD budget, how can the board stay focused on student achievement?

It will be imperative for the board to maintain or adopt an agreed-upon and strategic framework of student focus when making decisions. We must also look at the impact on students when school communities are disrupted by staff loss. It is important to identify options that will not devastate our students or severely damage the morale of staff. Proactive and regular community engagement (students, parents, educators, and community) can help the board make decisions that will support keeping schools as whole as possible during difficult times. The lens used should be both student focused and equity focused. We have to do our best not to compromise the needs of our students to accommodate budget crisis. Accountable and transparent accounting practices must be integrated and adhered to, to achieve and maintain fiscal responsibility.

For years, board members have said the state needed to fully fund schools. How will the district use the influx of money from COVID relief packages to identify and find ways for long-term sustainability of priorities?

The district recently received $307 million in federal stimulus dollars to be allocated over the next 3-4 years. Some of these dollars are not renewable, so we want to be careful about attaching dollars to strategies that require long-term sustainability.

The first step would be to hear from the community. We would also want to look at ensuring the immediate support needs of our scholars are addressed. This would include resources around special education, English language learners, as well as mental health and social emotional resources. Rochester is number three in poverty, many of our students depend on a meal when attending school, let’s do our best to ensure that our meals don’t simply meet bare minimum nutritional requirements but actually nurture the whole child. I would also like to see a concerted effort around more teachers of color, and an immediate response to culturally responsive curriculum and teaching practices.

The state monitor has suggested the district reconsider its boundaries for schools and how the schools are configured. What are your thoughts on neighborhood schools and perhaps changing the grade-levels within some schools?

I think the community schools model could prove to be extremely beneficial if executed correctly. Reconfiguration of our schools could increase access for families, resulting in a better school experience. Changing some of the grade levels in schools could also be considered beneficial when considering the social environment. We would need to have a grounded understanding of the longer term costs to confirm the best possible approach if our families agree that school reconfiguration would be of great benefit to them.

Tatiana Welch

What is your overall vision for education in this community?

My overall vision is to create an education that will benefit all involved, especially the students and parents. Our children must be allowed to flourish in the correct environment. They also must be college ready, or career ready, trade ready by the time they are walking the stage. Our community does not deserve the no child left behind act; it is destroying our youth. Our community deserves gifted programs, extracurricular activities and enrichment programs for our youth. Our community will be education enriched from the household to the schoolhouse to the parks. Play is learning too. I want to create a system that dismantles the school-to-prison pipeline that government has help to create. My vision for the RCSD is to be one that includes apprenticeships and leave our youth with opportunities in entrepreneurial ventures as well. An educational system that allows unity amongst neighbors and neighborhoods, parents and teachers, students and teachers and especially the parent-child relationship.

What has been the hindrance to achieving an acceptable graduation rate (what rate is acceptable?) and how will you address this as a new board member?

The hindrance to achieving an acceptable graduation rate is having people who understand our children teaching and helping our children. It is as simple as that. We must care for them to care. That’s just as if I was trying to get my 3-year-old to eat something. Even if I don’t like it, at that moment it is the best thing in the world and I am eating it chewing, and I’m teaching her about something new, so she would have a decision on whether she likes it or not, and not because I don’t. Same with reading, learning a new math concept, getting a new teacher. We were children before and remembering that is how we ensure our children are enticed to learn because they want to, and that’s how we achieve comprehension. Addressing the inequity of staff, addressing the lack of social workers, extracurricular activities such as band, dance, music, soccer, tennis, football, drama club, art club etc. Also, by ensuring student government is in our schools. Having democracy is important and allows people to feel important, especially kids. I can be here for days explaining what I will do to ensure graduation rate is achieved. Being involved being the main step. Ensuring parents and students are properly prepared and have the proper outlets to be prepared.

Given issues that may arise, especially surrounding the RCSD budget, how can the board stay focused on student achievement?

By doing my job. Staying in the know, ensuring we are not spending overbudget, and being mindful of the services our parents and students need. Being in the schools. The mission of the school district is to “Foster students’ individual talents and abilities in a nurturing environment of equity.” INDIVIDUAL TALENTS and ABILITIES in a NURTURING ENVIRONMENT, should not be held back because of incompetence or naivety on behalf of the staff. We should always know when a school is lacking or in need. There are seven of us and one superintendent. Granted there are 101 schools including pre-k sites. That’s fourteen schools each. That means our schools should be seeing us twice a month. Implementing that will allow us to be more aware. These should be a half a day visit. First in the month earlier times of the day, and second time in the afternoons. Catch the different students and parents within the building.

For years, board members have said the state needed to fully fund schools. How will the district use the influx of money from COVID relief packages to identify and find ways for long-term sustainability of priorities?

By creating self-sustaining programs, like student funded positions within the district, more support staff for both students and parents. Also, by creating more safe spaces, providing teachers with tools to be able to create a learning inducing environment. That means the classroom will have technology, and the proper funds to decorate their rooms with proper material to create a safe and comfortable learning environment.

The state monitor has suggested the district reconsider its boundaries for schools and how the schools are configured. What are your thoughts on neighborhood schools and perhaps changing the grades-levels within some schools?

Per say Dr. Lesli Myers-Small, the state monitor did not provide us with suggestion, these are mandatory recommendations that must be achieved. I am all for changing how our schools are leveled. Honestly, I feel this is the way they should be grouped together, which is exactly how my pods inside of my future building for B.E.R.R! will be grades e-pk to kindergartener, 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12.

Students 10-12 should be almost ready to begin their career path in vocational studies, entrepreneurial endeavors, college, and/or into a union and/or trade with a company. These students should be prepped and focused on their life after school in order to be conducive and productive successful citizens of community.

By breaking our schools down, we can focus on the children and their emotional well-being easier. Development is simple, stages are easily recognizable and should be respected. 1-3 should also be together because in my experience of working at 57 the younger students encourage the older students to work harder or help the younger students. It builds unity and love. This separation also allows for parents to have more support with their children and the stages they go through at home.

Neighborhood schools would ensure the same kids in the neighborhood are the same ones at the school, again strengthening the neighborhood, ultimately, strengthening the community. Love GOD with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as you would self, and guide and encourage the youth.