A Message From The GS4A Co-conveners

Welcome to Great Schools For All (GS4A). We are grateful that you have found our website, and, at a deeper level, we hope you find our mission and vision compelling, so much so that you would connect with our work.

Who are we? We are a group of citizens, urban and suburban, residents of Monroe County, who care very much about the education our children are experiencing with a special focus on the educational experience in the city of Rochester. We are teachers, writers, business people, not-for-profit leaders, faith leaders, parents, grandparents. Most of us do not have education related careers, but we all care deeply about education.

We know that children can learn, teachers can teach and families want to support their children. We know that individual children and families can overcome the great barriers of urban poverty to succeed; we also know the documented and extraordinarily disproportionate concentration of poverty in the city of Rochester makes learning extremely difficult.

We know that all urban school systems in the U.S. face problems; Rochester’s problems are more pronounced, as documented in the recent Rochester Area Community Foundation report, which is now receiving wide-spread attention. We are glad for the attention; it highlights the critical need of our work.

We know that many individuals and groups in our community care about children and education, and we are glad to work with them and step out of the way as needed. Our unique contributions exist both in who we are (grass roots and grass tops, broad-based) and in our approach. Our focus is on discovering ways to de-concentrate levels of poverty. That naturally would involve different forms of collaboration.

Last year, we visited Raleigh, N.C., and learned much from them. We also know that communities across the country are engaging in new ways to address this problem. We hope to learn from them. We do not specifically advocate for school consolidation in Monroe County; we do strongly believe that reversing the decline of city schools is most likely to occur in concert with a spectrum of voluntary programs aimed at achieving socio-economic integration of schools across Monroe County.

To that end we have had several community-wide events that have generated five working groups, which you can read more about throughout this website.

This is a very organic and fluid movement. We have been heartened by the level of enthusiasm and commitment we have experienced thus far – it is an indication of how much this community cares about its children and in setting us on a different future course.

Join us! Share your questions, concerns and ideas with us! Get involved, if not with GS4A, then in some form or fashion in our community. Our children deserve it, and the need is now greater than ever.


Lynette Sparks and John Wilkinson, Co-conveners

Great Schools For All Coalition

Key points from GS4A Nov. 2014 meeting

Three points from the November 10, 2014 community meeting organized by Great Schools for All particularly impressed me. From them I conclude that yes, this effort has an excellent probability of improving public-school education in our region.

  1. Mark Hare reminded us in the audience that concentrated poverty in part of the area can’t be solved in that part alone. And no one is elected or appointed to work on the regional challenges. Therefore active citizens have a role
  2. The Great Schools for All effort is directed at identifying and encouraging voluntary actions that community leaders, schools, parents, elected officials, and ordinary citizens can take. In other words, progress does not have to wait for any comprehensive “master plan,” buy-in, or vote
  3. I found especially enlightening comments by Kara Finnigan of the University of Rochester. Much of her research focuses on struggling schools. In particular she talked about findings in the Twin Cities, Richmond VA, and Omaha NE. From those studies and others she’s formed concepts about what’s likely to produce meaningful change. She provided a taxonomy of solutions highlighting four broad areas, which I took to be in increasing probability of benefit from (my terminology) minimal to significant:
  • Standards and accountability factors: incentives, sanctions, governance structures
  • Place-based strategies: increased investment, children’s zones, neighborhood revitalization
  • Urban-suburban systems: remove/reduce boundaries, consolidation, annexation, choice and mobility across systems
  • Regional strategies: voluntary/legislated councils, inter-local agreements, metropolitan planning organizations, federated regionalism

The November 10 meeting led to six working groups outlined elsewhere on this web site. Group members are all volunteers seeking to identify actions in their group’s area of focus and report those at the next Great Schools for All general meeting on May 5, 2015.