I predict that there will be action called for on school boundary adjustments, decisions on facilities needs tied to overcrowding, and I expect there will be renewed urgency on addressing inequities, especially those strained even further by the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to be transparent about my priorities, and how I will go about making decisions on the school board.
I will have 3 lodestars as a member of the school board. Opportunity. Community. Vision. These will be my guiding priorities and the rubric I will measure against to determine when a change in course is called for.
Ours is the land of opportunity, and our public schools should be the means of aggressively conveying that opportunity to every single student. Every single student should be met where they are at in their learning journey, and provided with the best resources to help them achieve the highest-performing version of themselves that will allow them to chase their passions.
Aggressively providing Opportunity to every single student cannot be done passively. It means aggressively identifying and breaking down barriers that prevent ANY students from learning at their best, including implicit bias. It means addressing discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex, orientation, or any other characteristic; it means addressing food insecurity needs, special education needs, and any other barrier to ANY of our students learning at their best. It means identifying root causes and remediation tactics for ANY systemic discrepancies in discipline, in academic performance, or in curriculum planning. I will prioritize determining why RPS has been unable to attract an educator workforce that better reflects the diversity of the district.
Ensuring that our schools zealously convey opportunity to each and every student will be my single greatest priority for two equally compelling reasons. From my heart, when I think about the urgent need for equity in education I can’t help but hear the echoes of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous letter from a Birmingham Jail that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And in my head, I know that our community simply does best over the long term when we are able to harness the collective brilliance of every single student. Ensuring ALL students are afforded every Opportunity to attain the best version of themselves is truly the economic tide that lifts all boats. This will be my highest priority as a member of the school board.
Public education is not just for students, and it is not just for parents of students. The benefits of public education accrue to the entire community. I think there is room for more to be done at the board level to engage the broader Rochester community, through listening posts, through engagement with existing professional groups and councils, and with other elected leaders in the city and county. There is a need to connect the dots here so that our public schools are better understood as a resource that benefits the broader community and not merely as a service for those families with students that attend.
Rochester is regularly listed amongst the best cities to live in. Education is the single best thing that any community can do to enhance quality of life. For increasingly mobile workers (made even more so due to the coronavirus pandemic), many young families deliberately select where to live based on the educational opportunities available for their children. For Rochester’s employers, high quality public schools are absolutely essential to attracting and retaining a high caliber workforce. For Rochester’s growing entrepreneurial sector, a steady stream of dynamic contributors (and new founders) from the public schools will ensure their ability to compete without relocating to one of the tech centers. For Rochester’s families just looking for a better future for their children, there is no better means to provide that future than an outstanding education. And yes, for students that aspire to be creators, and entrepreneurs, and professionals, and citizens, a first rate public education is the best gateway to any of those dreams.
And for everyone that lives in this community, there is a recognition that our public schools forge the ties that bind neighborhoods together. These bonds begin with school-yard friendships, or sitting next to one another at PTSA meetings, but they develop and mature over years and expand to include entire families, forming bonds that last well after the students have graduated. The great value of community bonds build on public schools is that these are the bonds that cut across boundaries of income, and religion, and other artificial social boundaries to extend empathy across those boundaries and truly stitch together a community.
As a school board member, I will conduct outreach with the broader community and I will be keenly focused on boundary adjustments and infrastructure decisions and weigh them in view of their tendency to enhance or diminish the community bonds that are grounded in our public schools.
As a community, we are in need of a shared vision of our future, so that we know what we are striving for. I have attended quite a few school board meetings and task force reviews and the events of the 2018-19 academic year over facilities improvements that eventually resulted in the voter-approved referendum to build an additional middle school, make improvements at the high schools, and reconstruct several elementary schools. In general, I thought the process was too quick to rule out options that were dismissed for being too expensive.
To take just a couple memorable examples, it seemed clear to me that there should have been serious consideration given to increasing the number of K-8 schools rather than debating closing Lincoln K-8. The process understandably brought out enthusiastic support of teachers, parents, and students at Lincoln K-8. Instead of finding a way to replicate the successes of Lincoln K-8, the debate focused on whether to abolish the K-8 program and repurpose the building as an elementary.
Many may also remember trying to understand why the proposals called for several new elementary schools with a capacity of 720 students each rather than schools about half that size. I recall Superintendent Muñoz stating multiple times that he wishes he could have a dozen more elementary schools with populations of around 300 students each, but that a school with 720 students optimizes the usage of shared resources like gymnasiums, cafeterias, and administration resources.
Those considerations should have been better balanced the advantages of smaller schools and K-8 environments. It's intuitive that a small school has a stronger sense of community where individual students forge long-term bonds with their classmates over multiple years rather than being one of 100+ students in each grade with classrooms that get re-shuffled each year.
While I am acutely aware of the need for fiscal responsibility, and I am no stranger to the diligence involved in carefully managing contract negotiations as a fiduciary, and transparency required in managing a budget in a corporate setting, always ready for an audit, I plan to take every opportunity to present my Vision of RPS’s future as a model of educational excellence. I will work hard to communicate the virtues of that Vision to our community while being completely transparent on the costs involved.