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November 14, 2018
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JP O'Hare

(518) 474-1201



Rochester Distinguished Educator Report: 84 Recommendations to Improve Student Learning and District Operations

Rochester City School Board & District to Develop and Submit Implementation Plan in February 2019

The Rochester City School District Distinguished Educator’s report details 106 findings and 84 recommendations necessary to support and advance district improvements for the Board of Education and District to provide equitable access to high-quality education for all students.  The report is a culmination of meetings with stakeholders, input from focus groups and a comprehensive review of the District’s instructional systems and operations.  Now the Board and District will work with the Dr. Jaime Aquino to develop an action plan to address the report’s recommendations.  

“Dr. Aquino has set forth an aggressive agenda to improve outcomes for students in the Rochester City School District,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa said.  “Each and every child in Rochester deserves to have access to a high-quality education.  The Board of Regents and I are confident that Dr. Aquino’s plan to improve the education system in Rochester will be a valuable asset for the District and the children it serves.”

“Dr. Aquino’s report has laid out a roadmap that will enable the Rochester City School District and the School Board to give all students in Rochester the opportunity to succeed,” said Vice Chancellor of the Board of Regents T. Andrew Brown.  “I commend Dr. Aquino for his work on this report, and I encourage District leadership to begin working on a plan to implement these recommendations without delay.”

“I am encouraged by the plan that Dr. Aquino has put forth to address the serious deficiencies that we have seen across the Rochester City School District for many years,” said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “With the framework in place, it is now time for the District, the School Board and Dr. Aquino to work together to implement strategies that will allow Rochester’s children to reach their full potential.”

“I thank the Rochester City School District and the School Board for their cooperation and insight to date,” said Dr. Jaime Aquino. “While the recommendations and plan outlined in my report may seem vast in scope, I’m confident that by working together the community can create a better learning environment for all of Rochester’s students.”

Rochester School District Performance

The report notes the District has recently seen slight progress on graduation rates, Grades 3-8 Math and ELA Test Scores and Advanced Placement Course enrollment, while the Pre-K system continues to outperform similar programs nationwide. Despite these accomplishments, these improvements are insufficient to address the most pressing issues the District faces.

In August 2018, Commissioner Elia appointed Dr. Jaime Aquino as Distinguished Educator to provide support to the District in improving its systems, structures, and operations, as well as to address significant gaps in student services and academic performance. Gaps noted in the report include:

  • RCSD had the second lowest 4-year, 5-year, and 6-year graduation rates of any district in New York State with 30-plus students in a cohort in 2017.
  • RCSD had the lowest combined English language arts (ELA) and mathematics Performance Index in the state at the elementary and middle school levels (grades 3-8) in 2017. At the high school level, only one district performed at a lower level than Rochester on the combined ELA and Math Performance Index.
  • RCSD had the highest percentage of schools identified as Priority (54 percent) of any district in the state in 2017.
  • The District is one of only five in the state in which 20 percent or more of the schools have been placed in receivership, and one of only three school districts in which a school in receivership has failed to make demonstrable improvement. 
  • RCSD is currently classified as a District in Need of Intervention under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and is required to implement a Corrective Action Plan because of its failure to provide appropriate services to students with disabilities.
  • Issues have been identified regarding the provision of services to English Language Learners (ELLs), and as a result of a NYSED monitoring visit to the District the Department expects to issue a Corrective Action Plan.

Key Distinguished Educator Recommendations

This report underscores the need for serious reforms regarding the academic, operational and fiscal health of the District and includes 106 findings and 84 recommendations to improve the District.

Among the report’s recommendations to improve governance and leadership are to:

  • Ensure that the Board has a clear understanding of its role as a governing body by engaging in ongoing professional development, developing written guidelines that define the Board’s common understanding of governance as opposed to management, implementing a process to evaluate Board decisions and actions to ensure they are in accordance with the written guidelines defining roles and responsibilities and are supportive and respectful of the role of the Superintendent;
  • Ensure that the Board prioritizes its focus on improving student achievement;
  • Implement a system by which the Board holds the Superintendent accountable;
  • Develop a comprehensive process by which the Board identifies the most qualified candidate when there is a transition in superintendents;
  • Develop a multi-year strategic plan to serve as a road map guiding work throughout the system;
  • Develop a system to support schools as they engage in a comprehensive process to write school improvement plans; and
  • Promote a culture of respect, trust, and collaboration that focuses on students’ best interests.

Highlights of the recommendations to improve student achievement, including among students with disabilities and English language learners, include to:

  • Develop a clear theory of action to show how the instructional vision and common curriculum will improve District-wide academic performance for all students;
  • Adopt a common curriculum in all subject areas, prioritizing literacy and mathematics, by implementing a rigorous curriculum selection process;
  • Develop a systematized process for curriculum selection and interventions by developing and implementing a coherent, aligned instructional framework;
  • Implement a system to ensure that students have all the materials needed to engage in the learning process;
  • Clearly define what “culturally responsive teaching” looks like and how it will be monitored;
  • Ensure that the Special Education Department is supported, resourced, and held accountable for the district’s implementation of the Special Education Strategic Action Plan and the Consent Decree if applicable;
  • Have the Superintendent place a more active role in monitoring the Special Education Department;
  • Ensure all staff take collective responsibility for educating special education students;
  • Set ambitious and achievable expectations for ELLs and monitor their academic progress; and
  • Review data and share best practices on how to best serve ELLs and establish a network of schools focused on ELL needs.

Recommendations to improve professional learning opportunities include to:

  • Re-evaluate the organizational structure to encourage efficiency, collaboration and accountability;
  • Implement a protocol whereby all supervisors support, coach, and hold direct reports accountable for progress in meeting academic and department goals. Ensure supervisors provide regular, meaningful, clear, and timely feedback aligned with performance goals;
  • Create and implement a professional development plan to equip all District staff to use data to drive decisions;
  • Establish a process to communicate, implement, document, and monitor continuous improvement in conditions that support learning;
  • Develop a comprehensive professional development program to help central office, teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff to better meet the needs of students;
  • Provide professional development in project management;
  • Establish a robust central office hiring process to produce the best candidates and select the most competent and qualified candidate based on pre-established criteria; and
  • Create a talent management plan to properly support and develop all staff, while focusing on succession planning, particularly for key leadership roles.

Recommendations to improve district operations include to:

  • Develop a long-term financial plan aligned to District instructional priorities and fiscal reality;
  • Ensure that the resources, supports, structures, and practices that promote a restorative philosophy and positive school climate are in place in every school;
  • Improve relationships among all stakeholders by establishing the Community Engagement Team to review pertinent data (e.g., school climate survey data, chronic absenteeism rates, incidents related to VADIR and DASA reporting) and develop an action plan to address any areas that need improvement;
  • Put effective systems in place to prevent crises from occurring; and
  • Ensure that standard operating procedures are clearly understood and followed. All departments and schools should document their standard operating procedures in writing and make them easily available.  It is particularly important the schools have and follow procedures relating to  daily arrival at, attendance in, and dismissal of students from school.

Recommendations to enhance parent and community engagement include to:

  • Set consistent expectations for and define the job responsibilities of parent liaisons. Ensure the liaison’s work is focused on improving family and community relations. School chiefs must monitor this work to ensure that parent liaisons are properly used;
  • Restructure the Parent Advisory Committee to increase transparency and parent participation; and
  • Develop a comprehensive parent engagement plan.

The report also includes an appendix to help the Board as it conducts a search for a new superintendent as well as assist in the transition.

Next Steps

The report includes a suggested timeline to address the areas needing improvement as well as steps the Board, and District should take, with guidance and technical assistance provided with Dr. Aquino, to achieve optimal results. The Distinguished Educator will provide support and technical assistance to the District and School Board to craft a plan to respond to the recommendations.  The District is expected to submit the plan to Commissioner Elia for approval no later than February 8, 2019. The District is also expected to provide periodic updates on its progress in implementing its plan.

Dr. Aquino will continue to update the Commissioner of Education on the District’s progress and will submit quarterly reports to the Department.