What’s happening at East High School is nothing new

Op/Ed by Howard Eagle
Tue, Apr 15, 2014

Story Detail
Howard Eagle
(Part 1 of 2)
Regarding so-called education reform in the Rochester City School District (RCSD), everyone who is paying the least bit of attention knows by now that, recently, East High School has become ground-zero.

That is, leader of the New York State Education Department (NYSED), Commissioner John King, has ordered the Rochester Board of Education and RCSD Superintendent Bolgen Vargas to reform East High; close it, or turn it over to the state.

As it relates to the future direction of the school, on April 10, the Rochester Board of Education held the second of two so-called
public hearings at East High School. The first one was held on March 26. Both hearings were supposedly designed to solicit ideas and
recommendations from parents, students, educators, and community members.

The very first, sure sign that decision-makers have not really been interested or serious about desiring and/or valuing community input
is the fact that each speaker was allotted a mere three minutes to share their thoughts and ideas.

Thus, to say the so-called public hearings were more than likely purely symbolic, is a gross understatement. Such "clown shows," as one participant labeled the events, have in fact been 'par for the course,' i.e., politically-inspired mirages, designed to produce media sound-bites and flash-images. They are aimed at convincing television viewers, radio listeners, and newspaper readers that the board and superintendent value thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and recommendations from the community, and that they are genuinely interested in broad-based collaboration. However, the very clear, historical record bears witness to the fact that nothing could be
further from the truth.

One participant noted that if the superintendent and board were really serious about desiring community input, they would have held a day-long, workshop-style meeting, at which, not only would people have had more of an opportunity to fully share their ideas regarding change and improvement, but they would have, or at least could have, also had an opportunity to get some of their hundreds
of questions answered. This represents a major, fundamental, flaw in the so-called public hearing process, i.e., there was no
opportunity for questions and answers.

So, instead of a dialogue between the community, Vargas, and board, what actually occurred was a futile, one-way, monologue. For example, during the April 10 hearing, someone asked, "How will we know if our suggestions are being considered or taken seriously?"

Even this very, very important question was not answered. Board members, and the superintendent, just sat there staring blankly, as if the question had not even been asked.

The truth of the matter is, critically important, vital decisions concerning RCSD affairs are routinely made far away from public view, in clandestine, secretive meetings, with little or no consideration of ideas and/or recommendations from those who are most directly and most negatively affected and impacted by them, i.e. students, parents, and families. This is, of course, with the exception of a hand-picked few.

In fact, elitist decision-makers are so bold and inconsiderate that, after routinely convening secretively, they usually do not even bother to report back to their constituents, and when they do, information is so filtered, watered down, and incomplete that, again,
such reporting represents nothing more or less than just another mirage. Predictably, lack of timely and effective communication, especially on the part of RCSD's Central Office, is an issue, which was raised repeatedly, especially by parents, during both hearings.

Relative to secretive meetings, something very interesting occurred during the April 10 hearing. One of the local Democratic Party leaders, Anthony Plonczynski, leader of the city's 21st Legislative District, showed up at the hearing, and was visibly shaken.

When he spoke, he noted that both Gov. Cuomo and state Education Commissioner John King had been in town recently, and that they didn't care about the education of our children. Proof for him was that neither the governor, nor King, met with Rochester's
Democratic leaders.

This was a very strange statement to me, because apparently the real, decision-making meetings have become so secretive that even
some of the local politicos have not been aware that they are taking place.

I was surprised and baffled by the fact that, apparently Plonczynski, who has probably been accustomed to rubbing elbows with the
big shots when they are in town, did not know that a group of RCSD parents and others did in fact meet with King when he was in

Rochester recently. Or, maybe he did know, and maybe the fact that he apparently was not invited was why he was so upset. In any
case, it was a very strange scene.

Nonetheless, as it relates to efforts to produce permanent change and improvement in the RCSD, none of this is new. In fact, it all clearly represents a very old, tired, political con-game, and, truth be told, the new board president is more adept than most at playing
the game well.

That is to say, with regard to staging purely symbolic, politically-inspired mirages, board president Van Henri White is very skillful. In
this regard, in addition to the April 10 "clown show," some of his recent accomplishments include creation of a hollow-shelled

Department of African and African-American Studies, and convening four "Special Ad-Hoc Committees" last month, which produced a number of excellent recommendations for change and improvement; the latter of which have been virtually ignored, even though Commissioner White vowed to fight to get the recommendations funded in the superintendent's 2014-15 Budget.
Howard Eagle is a political activist and a retired Social Studies teacher for the Rochester City School District.

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