Advisory Committees Led by Van White Include Students, Parents and Community Leaders

By Delani Weaver
Fri, Jan 24, 2014

Van White, Board President of the Rochester Board of Education, held a press conference Thursday announcing the formation of four advisory committees comprised of parents, students and community leaders. These committees will be charged with examining issues within the Rochester City School District (RCSD) and preparing recommendations for improvements in student achievement, parent engagement, student and community safety, and concentration of poverty.

“Unless we figure out a way to address those particular problems, we will continue to struggle as a district,” White said.

The committees will prepare recommendations and budget priorities for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which will be presented to the Board of Education. If the recommendations are accepted, they must be adopted by May. The advisory committees will be a vehicle for students, parents and community leaders to support the overall mission of the board, which is providing a quality education for all students of the city school district, according to White.

“Each of these committees has about seven to 10 people who are experienced activists, long time folks who understand the problems,” White said. “…Over the course of the next 45 days, they are specifically asked to look at solutions; we don’t want people preaching and pontificating about the problem. We know what the problem is. The question is do we have the will to talk about solutions.”

In addition to the new committees, White said the following other actions will be taken within the next 45 days:

A complete assessment of existing board policies, which has already begun by the board’s policy committee under the leadership of Commissioner José Cruz. This work will include development of a plan to ensure that the policies are strictly followed and enforced.

A proposal will be submitted to the Parent Advisory Council (PAC), PAC President Makita Saloane, and board vice president Cynthia Elliott to require the district to distribute school-wide parent participation report cards. School-wide parent participation report cards will measure key indicators, such as student attendance, percentage of parents who return school climate surveys, number of parents who are registered for and/or access Parent Connect, etc.

A proposal has been offered to open at least one new school for the 2014-15 school year. White said he has already held discussions with key collective-bargaining units, which indicated their keen interest in exploring this further. The proposal will be submitted to the board’s Excellence in Student Achievement Committee, led by Commissioner Malik Evans, and to the Finance Committee, chaired by Commissioner Willa Powell.

The agendas for all monthly board business meetings and weekly leadership meeting agendas will be adjusted so that the board’s eyes are always "on the prize." By February 2014, White said citizens will see that board business meetings will begin with a focus on results, so that they will have a real-time understanding of how each school is progressing in key performance areas.

Monthly board business meetings will regularly recognize examples of excellence within RCSD schools. The board will do so by honoring students, caring adults, and entire school communities that are making progress and/or serving as models of best practices.

A proposal to modify the superintendent's annual evaluation tool to measure: (I) the superintendent’s implementation of board policy; (II) the superintendent’s success in graduating students on time; and (III) the progress district schools are making along the state's proficiency continuum (i.e. from priority, to focus, to reward schools).

A resolution proposing that the salary of the Board of Education president is tied to performance-based indicators, such as graduation rates, and proficiency rates on NYS assessments for ELA and Math. This resolution will first be submitted to the Board Governance Committee, chaired by Commissioner Melisza Campos. Through this proposal, White said he hopes to send a message that everyone is accountable for their performance, including the board president; who, coincidentally, is paid more than the other board members.

“We should want our superintendent to be measured on how many students graduate on time,” White said. “There’s no double standard here. I’ve presented to my colleagues a board resolution which I will submit next week, which calls for the board president to be paid for his performance.”

White’s theory is pay for performance. He said the board president gets an extra $7,000 a year. He proposes that if the graduation rate, math and ELA scores go down, then the board presidents’ pay should go down. However, he said it will not go up if scores go up.

“Leaders should be as accountable as teachers, parents and principals are,” White said.

White also said he has reached out to every candidate who participated in the 2012 school board election to offer an opportunity to serve on one of the advisory committees.

“These people represent constituencies; had thousands of people vote for them, and spent the better part of last year listening and learning from the people of our city. It only makes sense that we would tap into that resource as we look to develop a list of solutions to address the district’s most pressing issues,” he said. “I am thankful to my colleagues for having trusted me with the opportunity to serve as board president. Moreover, I am grateful for the fact that they provided valuable insight and opinions as I developed this plan. So, in most respects, this is the board's plan for moving this district forward and for supporting the good work already being performed by Dr. Vargas and his team."

“If we only do what we said we were going to do, imagine where we would be,” he added.

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