The Rochester City School District Board of Education is back to its full complement of commissioners after Bill Clark, retired president of the Urban League of Rochester, accepted Board President Van White’s request to serve.
Clark replaced Natalie Sheppard, who resigned in the summer to take the job as Deputy Democratic Elections Commissioner at the Monroe County Board of Elections.
Clark will serve through 2021 and has said he will not run for election to the board.
The announcement was made Nov. 18. Clark was sworn in on Nov. 19.
Clark, who will have to be reappointed in January to finish the term, said people asked him why he accepted the responsibility.
“You retire from the job, you never retire from the mission,” he said. “We’re at a point in this city and this state where it’s critical that we make sure our school system is sound and we make sure we provide the best outcomes for our 260,000-plus students.”
Considering the fractious nature of the board in general and over this appointment, Clark was asked whether he had trepidation about saying yes to White when he called him a few days ago.
“I’m hoping that any fractures can be set aside and we can put our children first and we can work in unity to do this,” Clark said at a news conference. “This would be my goal for the next year, to work with everyone at the table regardless of if you want me here or not. I think we need to listen to one another, we need to respect one another and we need to make sure when suggestions and ideas are positive and will move instruction in the right direction, we work together to make that happen.”
Commissioner Willa Powell, who attended the conference via Zoom, said Clark’s status as an elder statesman “could help this board immensely in overcoming its many interpersonal hurdles.” She said that anyone “who finds fault with this appointment diminishes themselves.”
Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small said Clark’s work is longstanding. He was with the Urban League for 38 years and was president and chief executive officer from June 1994 through June 2019.
“His expertise preparing urban and underrepresented students for jobs and a college education match with my goal of achieving equity and access to high-quality educational experiences for all students, across all schools,” she wrote in a news release.
Under Clark’s direction, the Urban League increased its annual operating budget, has housing programs, has increased the endowment for the Black Scholars program and provides services to 22,500 clients, according to his resume provided by the Board of Education.
In 1984, Clark earned a master’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology in business administration with a concentration in accounting.
White praised Clark’s service to the community. He has been on numerous boards and currently serves as a trustee of St. John Fisher College and is chairman of the finance committee for the board of Trillium Health.
Clark said he resigned on Nov. 17 as a trustee from Rochester Prep Charter School.
The board has said charter schools are competition for the district and members have said they need to bring students back into RCSD.
Clark said he believed in both but now was solely focused on students in the city school district. He said that his experience in nonprofits showed him the importance of the entire community getting behind the educational system to improve results.
White did not have the exact number of people who applied but said it was between 10 and 20. The process had been extended at one point to increase the pool of candidates. White said he called Clark when it was clear the board, with members advocating for particular individuals, could not choose among them.
“We don’t need further division,” he said. “I determined the best course of action was to pick an exceptional citizen servant who is a role model to children and families in the community.”
The seat held by Clark is one of three that will be up for election in 2021. The terms for White and Vice President Cynthia Elliott expire at the end of 2021.
Powell, whose term expires at the end of 2023, said the candidates who sought appointment can run for the seats without any of them being able to claim incumbency by way of appointment.
White echoed that by saying, “It’s in their interest to win the election and be the people’s board member.”