RCSD resolution, Regents’ policy statement are groundbreaking

As you know by now, at its June 27 meeting, the city school board passed a resolution that commits the district to an “exploration of possible regional schools, as envisioned by Great Schools for All coalition, and the impact that a regional school (or several regional schools) might have on existing facility and zone capacity.”

So what exactly does that mean?

Mark Hare is a member of the GS4A leadership team

Representatives from GS4A worked for several months to find a way to bring the district into conversations about socioeconomically diverse interdistrict magnet schools as part of a strategy to address the consequences of concentrated poverty in city schools. We appeared before the board’s Student Achievement Committee in March and later met individually with most board members to help find a path forward—one that would commence the interdistrict conversations needed to develop diverse schools while not disrupting Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams’ critical work to restructure the district’s administration and programs.

Since the district’s planning process includes assessing its future facilities needs,  the board’s resolution seeks to consider the possibility of interdistrict schools in light of their potential impact on the district’s future space needs.

That’s the legislative sausage-making process that led to the resolution. GS4A and BOCES leadership had earlier identified several suburban districts willing to be a part of a conversation on interdistrict diverse schools, and we expect that shortly these  conversations will begin.

GS4A will do whatever we can to facilitate and support these discussions,  including drafting agenda items and soliciting help and advices from educators in other communities with a long of history of maintaining diverse schools.

This resolution and the dialogue to come are especially timely. This summer the state Department of Education and the Board of Regents are considering strategies to increase socioeconomic diversity in order to improve outcomes and help school districts meet the requirements of the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The Regents’ “Draft Policy Statement on Promoting Diversity: Integration in New York State” is particularly powerful and on point. I want to share a bit of it with you.

An introductory referral attached to the draft statement notes that “the proportion of New York State schools considered intensely segregated doubl(ed) between 1989 and 2010.”

The draft statement then explains:

“In 2010, over half of Black and Latino students in the State attended schools with fewer than 10 percent White enrollment, and the typical Asian student in the State attended schools in which a little over 30 percent of their peers were White.  In that same year, the average White student attended schools in which close to 80 percent of his or her classmates were White.  Further, in 2010, the average White student attended a school in which 30 percent of his or her classmates were low-income, while the average Black and Latino student attended a school where 70 percent of his or her classmates were low-income.”

The Regents’ paper goes on to reference recent research showing  “that socioeconomic and racial integration leads to higher academic outcomes for all students, closes the achievement gap for students of different racial and economic backgrounds, fosters critical thinking skills and the ability to communicate and work with people of all backgrounds, reduces racial and ethnic prejudice while increasing cross-cultural trust and relationships, decreases the likelihood of teenage pregnancy and interaction with the juvenile justice system, and increases the likelihood of college going and success.”

This is a powerful endorsement of the arguments we and other diversity advocates have been making for years. In response to the findings, the board “commits to promoting increased integration within New York State’s public schools.”

The statement then says that “promoting socioeconomic and racial integration is a powerful mechanism for achieving” the Regents’ longstanding goal of educating all children in the state.

The draft policy paper further commits the Regents  “to the development and support of educational programs that promote the values of socioeconomic, racial, cultural, and other kinds of diversity. The Board of Regents encourages districts and schools, to the greatest extent possible, to adopt integration plans that result in schools that reflect a diverse mix of students—of different races and ethnicities, abilities, home languages, and socioeconomic status—to ensure that schools, programs, and services reflect—and thus obtain the full educational, instructional, and developmental benefit of—the diversity of the district and/or surrounding districts.”

To achieve these ends, the Regents suggest several strategies, including:

  • Creating partnerships or regional districts or consolidating with nearby districts to address socioeconomic or racial isolation across districts;
  • Re-drawing school zones, strategically selecting new school sites, and creating unzoned schools with weighted enrollment (e.g., enrollment preferences or weighted lottery) to increase integration; and/or
  • Providing transportation and other logistical support to ensure that segregated housing patterns do not prevent students from attending integrated schools.

The Regents conclude with “A Call To Action” that says they will work with “districts across the State to support their integration efforts…and encourages districts to consider integration as a cost-effective strategy for raising student achievement.”

As an old journalist, I know it’s important to never get ahead of the facts. But this statement, still to be revised and finalized, represents a huge step forward, even committing the Regents to the concept of interdistrict collaboration to achieve socioeconomic diversity. This is new ground, and essential to building an educational system that serves the needs of all children, including the poorest among us.

Stay tuned.

A breakthrough: RCSD to consider interdistrict schools

On Tuesday June 27, the Rochester Board of Education approved a resolution that commits the district to working with wiling suburban partners to investigate the development of regional magnet-type schools that would offer students the well-known advantages of a truly diverse education.

We see this is as an important step forward and worth celebrating by all of you who support the goal of socioeconomic diversity as a key to reversing the devastating effects of high-poverty schools on the educational achievement of the poorest children in our community.

The board approved the resolution on a 5-0 vote, with Commissioners Malik Evan and Cynthia Elliot absent. The resolution was sponsored by Commissioner Willa Powell who says this is a perfect time to begin conversations on regional schools because the Rochester City School District is assessing its long term capacity needs and magnet schools could well effect the districts’s future needs for space.

Great Schools For All applauds the city school board for this action. We have earlier reached out to suburban superintendents and found several willing to discuss with the city ways they might work together toward diverse schools.

This is just one step. We understand there is a great deal to be done. But we hope that these conversations will arrive at agreements on the types of magnet schools that could appeal to city and suburban families. We hope they will also result in a framework for interdistrict collaboration, with an emphasis on using existing buildings and funding streams wherever possible. We hope they will also identify changes in state law or regulations needed to make interdistrict collaboration possible and successful.

Adding to our momentum at the local level is increased interest from the Regents in making school diversity a statewide priority. The Regents and New York State Education Department (NYSED) are currently leading two strands of work that directly complement and align with the goals of Great Schools for All.

First, NYSED included school diversity and integration in their draft state plan required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The state ESSA Plan, which will be finalized in September, lists school integration as a potential school intervention strategy and recommends that schools be able to use their Title I school improvement funds to support integration efforts. Additionally, the plan discusses using school integration as a potential accountability indicator that schools would have to measure and report on to the public.

Second, the Regents are developing a Policy Statement in support of school diversity and have created a Working Group to facilitate that effort. The current statement specifically mentions interdistrict partnerships as a strategy to address concentrated poverty, which aligns with our efforts in Monroe County.

GS4A is actively involved in these discussions and are hopeful it will create the state-level changes necessary to create diverse schools in Rochester and across the state.