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Superintendent Terry Dade Calls School District a Family That Will Unite Behind Student Achievement

Patti Singer

RCSD Superintendent Terry Dade answers questions from the media on May 29, 2019.
Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter

In his first news conference as superintendent of the Rochester City School District, Terry Dade repeatedly used the phrases “one Rochester family” and “move our district forward.”

Dade’s official start date is July 1, but he spent a couple of days in late May in Rochester basically in constant meetings. One person he said he hadn’t yet talked to was Mayor Lovely Warren, who has been critical of how the district operates.

On May 29, the day the district introduced Dade to the media, Warren used the city’s mayor’s office Facebook page to post a plea for families to contact their state representatives to support the Education Department plan to “fix” Rochester schools. The video featured children and adults calling for change, and the mayor urged Rochester residents to seize this “last best chance to make our city schools beacons of hope.”

The post went up at 8:10 p.m., according to a time stamp on the page. About six hours earlier, the first question Dade faced was about his reaction to talk of state takeover that has escalated since he was named superintendent.

“I was hired by the school board to do one job and that was to provide the leadership necessary to make sure our students are getting the education they deserve. That hasn’t changed. I’m going to stay absolutely focused on that as our mission, no matter what is going on above and beyond what I can control. My job has not changed, and that is to provide the leadership necessary to move this district forward.

Here are excerpts from the approximately 15-minute news conference, edited for space and clarity:

In light of talk about state control of the district, how do you feel about potentially relinquishing control, and are you concerned that the people who hired you may not end up working with you?

I believe that no matter who would be in that position would still have the confidence in me and my skill set to unite all of us as partners in this work. I’m not going to get into hypotheticals with a plan that has not been developed. … I have made a strong, strong commitment to the families and students here to do what is within my control. That is looking with laser-like focus on teaching and learning … and advocating with business partners and engaging our community and families as partners to move the district forward.

Where do you want to make the biggest immediate impact?

There will be zero doubt that the number one thing I want to change right away is the narrative (in the district). It will be one Rochester family under my leadership. This work is too challenging and complex to think that there’s going to be only one person or one entity that’s going to be able to provide the outcomes for our students (that are) necessary. … The narrative is definitely going to change as we more forward, highlighting exceptional teachers in our schools every single day (and) the amazing work of our students.

You use word family in refer to the district. How do you plan to change a school board that has been characterized as dysfunctional?

All of us come from families and families argue, disagree, have differences of opinion behind closed doors. But there’s no one that can tell me that families do not emerge looking out for the best interests of their kids and their families. That’s what I hope to bring to Rochester. That we we will disagree on a variety of points. … How we react in public, our behavior is what we hope our student will emulate. … My expectation is that no matter what types of disagreements we might have as a Rochester family, when we emerge from any kind of discussion, we’re speaking with one voice. Our families deserve that, our students deserve that.

What did you learn from the community forums?

I definitely had a sense from the community that we’re ready for someone to come in an and reengage us as partners in this work. Rather than someone coming and telling us what we need to do, we’re looking for someone who is going to work with us and really listen deeply to our wants and needs and hopes and dreams for our students and truly engage our community, business partners in that work moving ahead.

The other thing I took away, when I think of community engagement, it’s not a one-time instance. There’s not a date that I’ll put on the calendar with one event and expect everyone to say based on this one experience (the district) really engaged parents. What I’ll be looking for is more of a portfolio of how we’re going to engage our community over the course of the year. Some of that might be coming to an event at central office. Others have to be out in the community, engaging parents where they are.

What is your reaction to the report by Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino?

It really took a holistic view of what we need to do as a family to move the district forward. My concern and my next step is how do you make that actionable. … My job is to make the complex elegantly simple. How do we digest all those pieces. (We’ll) take a look at where we are .. .and come up with strategic plan over the next three to five years of how we’re going to go about putting those components into goal-based steps. … I don’t want to continue to have this churn of is our plan going to change in the next year, but really going into the next three to five years, where we’re going to get to as a district.

Read: Why Terry Dade wants to lead Rochester’s schools.

This story has been updated.