In his handful of trips to Rochester, Terry Dade visited parks, checked out College Town on Mt. Hope Avenue and was impressed that Hamilton was at the Auditorium Theatre. He struck up conversations with people in restaurants but didn’t tell them he was in the running to be the new superintendent of the Rochester City School District.
“I introduced myself as Terry and that was it,” he said.
His research on Rochester and what he saw left him with the desire to lead a school district characterized in a report by Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino as historically underperforming and “in dire need of improvement.”
The 42-year-old Dade was named superintendent on May 14 and he starts his job July 1. Dade most recently worked as an assistant superintendent of public schools in Fairfax County, Virginia. He is the divorced father of two children, ages 8 and 11, who he said will remain with their mother in Virginia.
Dade, who this summer earns his doctorate in education from Virginia Tech, talked with Minority Reporter about the challenges of improving Rochester’s schools.
Why do you want to be superintendent of the Rochester City School District?
I absolutely fell in love with the people of Rochester very early on. I knew I wanted to work in a district with significant barriers to student achievement, like poverty, like second-language learners. When I continued to do my research on Rochester, the sense of history and how much potential the district has compelled me to apply.
You taught third, fourth and sixth grade early in your career. What lessons did you learn as a classroom teacher that you bring into your role as an administrator?
That relationships matter. The performance of my students was directly correlated with how much they knew I cared about them and how much support I would provide them while also understanding their tough backgrounds. … I’ve taken that into every single leadership position, that relationships really are at the crux of everything we do.
How similar is Fairfax to Rochester?
Fairfax as a whole would be quite different. The region that I lead, Region 3, is comprised of 37,000 students. Approximately 50% to 55% get free and reduced meals. (The students are) 40% Hispanic, 30% percent white. 20% black and 10% Asian, and (there are) 35% English language learners. (There are) different metrics in regards to extent of poverty.
How does poverty affect learning?
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that if a student comes to school hungry, they’re not going to be available for learning. If a student is unsure about next week where they’re going to live or if they’ve moved around quite a bit, that’s an impact to their learning. The chronic stress some of our students living in poverty bring with them each and every day is a potential barrier to their academic success. While not an excuse, it’s something that we have to be extremely cognizant of as we give supports necessary to make sure all of our students achieve at high levels.
What does a superintendent do about students who live in poverty?
Look at the supports we have in place, look at the instructional practices to make sure we’re still providing rigorous learning activities while also fitting in wraparound services to make sure we’re providing social and emotional support in our schools. That we’re identifying students early who might be in need of support. My job as superintendent is to take the big picture view of what is our approach to wraparound services and making sure I fight for the funding necessary to make sure our students get what they need.
The report by Aquino leveled several criticisms at the school board. What do you see as your role with the school board that the report said needed to “promote a culture of respect, trust and collaboration that focuses on the students’ best interest”?
One is to start with a clean slate and engage the board in a retreat to make sure that we’re all on the same page with regard to role and responsibilities, how we’re going to treat one another both behind closed doors and in the public eye. Really start from that vantage point. It’s my job to work alongside the school board and make sure that we are very cognizant that what we model amongst ourselves is what our kids are watching. That’s my role, to really facilitate a collaborative approach. It’s at the very core of my leadership skill set, so that we’re all working together as one Rochester family.
Do you see the board as supporting what the superintendent wants? How do you see yourself working with the board?
That we establish a shared vision and plan for moving our district forward and really navigating the policies and the budgetary piece, and things of that nature. Not responding to my request but really us working together to implement the plan we agree upon to move our district forward.
Aquino’s report detailed numerous shortcomings in the district and called for “a total reset.” What is your take on the report and what challenges does that report present to you?
It’s an absolute blessing to have such a deep dive into the district captured in writing before I set in the district in official capacity. Looking at our data, interviewing a wide variety of stakeholders, immersing himself in the district for that amount of time is a true benefit that I would never have had without it. The challenges it presents is it’s really hard to operationalize such an extensive report. So my job is to come in and work with the board and our distinguished educator to say how are we gong to make this actionable? How are we going to implement some high-level strategies that are going to accelerate student progress in a manner we deem appropriate? That’s the challenge with such a deep and extensive report, how do we operationalize that so our teachers, our parents, our students, our principals fully understand our direction moving forward.
How will you measure progress in Rochester?
Multiple measures. Graduation rate. Reduction in absenteeism. Reducing the mobility that we have in the district, making sure we reverse the enrollment trend. Improve the achievement rate in math and reading. Reading on grade level at early primary ages, that needs to increase. Teacher retention and how we attract and recruit the highest quality teachers in the nation. Making sure our families are engaged and satisfied with their school. It would be my hope to develop a strategic plan with stakeholders so that they can help define what success looks like for our Rochester families.
How do you bring back families who’ve left for suburban schools?
Success and programming.
As our schools become more and more successful, we will be more attractive to our middle class families. They’ll have less reason to choose another option.
Two is programming, looking at what middle class families might be seeking out that we’re not currently providing.
The report from the distinguished educator talked about turnover in superintendents. You were in Fairfax in different positions for nine years. What is importance of continuity?
It’s extremely important, particularly for our Rochester families. The concern that I read in distinguished educator report is down to the teacher and principal level. Without that continuity, we’re going to continue to have a lack of clarity regarding what plan we have in place.
The report on the RCSD listed many shortcomings and made numerous recommendations in just about every aspect of operations. Where does a newcomer start?
A strategic leader can make the complex elegantly simple. My job is to take that massive report along with all other data that we find along with in-person contacts with parents, community, students and staff and come up with a plan that will be actionable and reasonable and most importantly for the benefit of our students. While daunting, that’s why I hit the submit button. This is the challenge I was looking for. My goal as a leader is to make sure all students in our country regardless of ZIP code receive a high quality education.
To learn more about Terry Dade and to read the report by Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino, click the links below.