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Wednesday 19 December 2018
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The Education Front: Who will lead?

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Op/Ed by Howard Eagle –

The much-appreciated compliment relative to my knowledge, commitment and educational leadership, which Gloria Winston expressed via her “Straight, No Chaser” Column recently, is sincerely humbling. [http://minorityreporter.net/straight-no-chaser-thoughts-review-rochester-city-school-district/].

With regard to the major focus of her article, she actually beat our Coalition to the punch. We are in the process of developing a comprehensive response to the recently released report by Rochester City School District (RCSD) Distinguished Educator, Dr. Jaime Aquino. [https://www.facebook.com/tidpc/?ref=br_rs]
[‘A Review of the Rochester City School District’- http://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/programs/main/rochester-de-report-11-14-18.pdf].

As it relates to critiquing Gloria’s article, she raised so many critical issues that it’s difficult to know where to start. One thing is for certain, we are in full agreement that all RCSD parents in particular, which, as Gloria noted, collectively, represents the critical, missing element regarding education reform efforts, as well as families and the broader Rochester community in general, should definitely take the time to read Dr. Aquino’s Report. Not (as Gloria also noted) because the Report contains anything fundamentally new that we didn’t already know—it doesn’t. Actually, we’ve known about each and every issue outlined in the Report for decades. In fact, we told Dr. Aquino (when we first met with him at Central Church of Christ on September 5th) that it was probably impossible that his investigation and subsequent report would uncover anything that scores of previous reports haven’t already revealed (repeatedly).

This was reiterated during his participation in our community forum at FIGHT Village on September 20th [https://youtu.be/yXyyR5BVZAE]. This reality also represents the reason why initially, we actually opposed his appointment [https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2018/08/24/rcsd-jamie-aquino-distinguished-educator-school-board-meeting-rochester-ny-welcome/1066586002/]—because it didn’t make sense to us that the State Education Commissioner was unilaterally imposing another lucrative, financial burden (in the form of roughly a $200,000 dollar salary) on our school district, which according to one talkative board member, fiscally, is “in a really bad place right now.”

“This probably is gonna be one of the worse years, in 2019 certainly, that the district has ever faced in its history.” She spews this and other rhetoric beginning at the 32:52 mark of the following podcast: http://www.wxxinews.org/post/connections-candidates-rochester-city-school-board.

The whole idea of a high-priced, so-called “Distinguished Educator” still does not necessarily make sense (unless and until significant, concrete, fundamental, measurable change and improvement is manifested). It’s a matter now of “seeing-is-believing”. All else is merely rhetoric and noise. Dr. Aquino says we should view his lucrative salary as “an investment.” Our response was and is that idea will only make sense when and if widespread, fundamental, concrete, permanent, measurable change and improvement occurs. Otherwise it’s just one more terrible, so-called “investment” with no tangible dividend.

We asked State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, Chancellor Betty Rosa, and Dr. Aquino—during a meeting with them when the Commissioner and Chancellor were in town on November 14 for the release of Dr. Aquino’s Report—what makes this report any different than scores of others that have been produced down through recent decades? Their response was, this is the first time that such a report has been produced as a result of State action, and they declared that they “made it clear to the Rochester Board of Education they will not be complicit with continuing dysfunction in the Rochester City School District.”

WE SHALL SOON SEE!

We made it clear to them that we were never supportive of their disrespectful approach from the start, and that the way in which they ignored parents and the broader taxpaying community in the process of assigning the distinguished educator smacked of the racist status-quo—they would never go into a predominantly lily-white, suburban school district and implement this, or any other type of unilateral imposition, and especially compel local taxpayers to foot the bill without even affording them the basic respect of a community conversation.

We told them that they need to make amends, and engage the community in a conversation regarding the entire process, including what to expect moving forward, which they promised to do before the Christmas vacation (By December 20th) which just happens to be the date of the next monthly Board Business Meeting.

We’re still waiting to hear from them regarding a date and time, and are anxious to inform the community just as soon as it’s confirmed. Also, the community should not be surprised if December 20th turns out to be a hot-time-in-the-old-town-tonight type scenario, as opposed to benign-business-as-usual.

Lastly, there is no doubt that Gloria has put her finger on the heartbeat of this issue:
1) widespread, consistent, deadly-serious parent/family/community engagement and genuine unity, as opposed to phony, lip-service.
2) bold, knowledgeable, thoroughly committed, “unbought, unbossed and unsold” COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP, including of course a strong Board of Education and strong Superintendent of Schools, which is, and was our position right from the start [http://minorityreporter.net/the-critical-missing-element-authentic-collective-leadership/].

With regard to the latter point above, It really is very humbling (to say the least) that well-grounded, strong, wise elders such as Queen-Mother Gloria, and I believe others as well, would place their confidence in me. I have no doubt that I could do the job well, and as Gloria noted, of course the “unbought, unbossed, unsold, and fire” aspects and elements are a given. However, at the same time, I am a staunch realist, even though I’ve learned to never-say-never. But honestly and realistically, there are two fundamental reasons that make it quite unlikely that I would be appointed or even considered:
1. Great numbers within the local ruling-class-elite would vehemently oppose the idea, and would pony-up lots of resources (of various sorts) to systematically undermine the appointment, and of course they would get lots of help from their lackeys-of-color.
2. Perhaps most importantly, we probably would not be able to (at this point in time) sufficiently organize and mobilize the dormant, sleeping Black masses—the only force that would be capable of countering the oppressor’s onslaught.

Yet, in my humble but informed view, we should remain cognizant of the fact that within the current educational-pecking-order, the only positions that are more powerful than that of Superintendent, are the Superintendent’s seven supervisors (Board of Education Commissioners)—that is, IF they are bold, knowledgeable, thoroughly committed, unbought, unbossed, unsold, and genuinely united. And it doesn’t hurt for them to have at least a little “fire.”

Now, having said that, remember four “supervisor-seats” are up for grabs next year (2019). We know that Reverend Judith Davis will run again (to retain her seat), and we feel absolutely confident that by the end of her year-long, provisional term, it will be abundantly clear why the community will want to keep her. Additionally, we are aware of another well-grounded, hard-working, thoroughly committed person who has decided to run. We’ll announce that name very soon. Also, some are still after me to run one more time. I can’t believe that I’m actually considering it.

In any case, WE NEED A SOLID SLATE OF FOUR—this would represent a majority on the Board. Potentially, we are positioned to actually change the entire political dynamic, and finally get something significant, concrete, measurable, and permanently done; but the BROADER COMMUNITY WILL NEED TO BE VERY SERIOUS ABOUT HELPING TO DO THE NECESSARY WORK. This really does represent a rare, golden opportunity for us to be (without any rhetoric) the change that we say we want to see.

The Struggle continues, and 2019 is the year to smash gradualism.

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.

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(The views expressed on our opinion pages are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or viewpoint of the Minority Reporter.)