Here are some of the most Frequently Asked Questions about GS4A’s proposals. If you have other questions, please send them to us.
What does Great Schools for All advocate?
We support a network of diverse magnet schools jointly operated by two or more school districts. Attendance would be voluntary, but each school would offer a unique program to attract students from across the county (magnet schools could focus on performing arts, health sciences, foreign language immersion, or government service, for example). School admission would be by lottery to assure that the student population is approximately a 50-50 mix of low-income and middle class students. Magnet schools would also accept students with special educational needs.
What’s so important about diverse schools?
Research has shown for more than 60 years that students who are most disadvantaged and at greatest risk of educational failure have dramatically improved outcomes (higher graduation rates, higher college graduation, higher lifetime earnings, etc.) in diverse schools—where they share in all the resources and opportunities afforded to more affluent students. Furthermore, all students, regardless of family income, learn to appreciate differences, form close friendships outside their own social groups, learn to collaborate on problem solving, develop higher levels of creativity and become better prepared for the diverse workforce of the future.
What kinds of programs would be offered by the interdistrict magnet schools GS4A proposes?
Magnet schools are, well, magnets—they attract students with theme-based academic programming that is exciting and unique. Typically the academic program is built around the school’s theme. Rochester had a Genesee River school, for example, which used the river to teach about history, science, literature and more. Magnet schools in other communities do the same, focusing on business, environmental science, leadership, technology, history and peace studies. The sky is the limit.
Where would the interdistrict magnet schools GS4A proposes be located?
We expect that the first school(s) would be within the city of Rochester. We think this is an important way to create new educational opportunities within the city—brand new school programs using existing facilities that are open to city and suburban students alike. Over time, we expect there could be magnet schools in many districts around the county.
How is the GS4A proposal different from the Urban-Suburban program?
Urban-Suburban has certainly provided important opportunities to thousands of Rochester children who have been able to attend suburban schools. But Urban-Suburban was designed to ease racial isolation, not to create culturally-sensitive integrated schools (those with a 50-50 mix of low-income and more affluent students) that bring widespread academic and social advantages to students.
Suburban districts select Urban-Suburban students from a list of city applicants, looking to find children and families who will fit in. Often this means that the most promising city students are admitted (“cherry-picked” from the RCSD, its critics say). Students who display emotional problems or need special educational services are often excluded or returned to their original city schools.
Are diverse magnet schools like charter schools?
Absolutely not. Charter schools, while publicly funded, are run by private organizations that are given waivers from many state requirements to permit experimentation. While many city parents clearly feel charters have been beneficial to their children, students in need of intense academic support often find their way back to the RCSD. Moreover, in New York, charter schools must mirror the population of the districts where they are located—which in Rochester means that charter schools must be highly segregated, high-poverty schools. They cannot create the diverse student population GS4A advocates—even though the research shows that diversity is important to student success.
Would students in the magnet schools proposed by GS4A have to leave their home school districts?
City students who attend Urban-Suburban schools become students of and graduate from their host districts. Conversely, students who would attend the interdistrict magnet schools we propose would remain students of their home districts; they just happen to be attending collaborative schools with students from multiple districts. This distinction has important implications for per capita state funding, which follows students when they leave one district for another. No district loses students or state aid under this proposal.
Wouldn’t adding a bunch of magnet schools, as GS4A proposes, raise school costs and taxes?
Hopefully not. GS4A is asking state lawmakers and state education officials to find a way to fund these schools (to be located often in underutilized school buildings) using existing funding streams and mechanisms.
It’s worth noting that the RCSD’s financial picture could improve under this plan if some of those students who now leave for Urban-Suburban or charter schools, taking their state aid dollars with them, instead opt for a magnet program. The RCSD would retain per capita state aid dollars for magnet school students. We also encourage participating districts to share staff and other resources to both strengthen relationships across district lines and to minimize new expenditures. This plan restructures schools, but educates the same pool of students who now live in Monroe County. That should not require larger staffs, a fleet of new buildings, or the creation of a new magnet school district.
Who would be in charge of the interdistrict magnet schools GS4A proposes?
Participating districts would play the central role in creating, staffing and siting the diverse schools in our proposal. Importantly, however, GS4A proposes that the two Monroe County BOCES districts be designated as the institutional “home” for these schools. The Boards of Cooperative Educational Services have a long history of facilitating collaborative efforts among school districts, are widely respected and utilized and reimburse districts for their expenses. Our proposal requires some tweaking of the state law that governs BOCES (including the possibility of full BOCES membership for the RCSD, which is not presently allowed), but this platform seems ideally suited to the establishment of interdistrict schools.
Rather than opening one or two magnet schools at a time, wouldn’t it be simpler to consolidate all the school districts in Monroe County?
GS4A welcomes the efforts of groups supporting a countywide school district. But we believe there are state constitutional obstacles to separating city school districts from city government, which would be a prerequisite to consolidation of multiple urban and suburban districts.
In any event, a countywide school district does not guarantee integrated schools. You could have a county district with largely neighborhood schools just as segregated as those we now have. To achieve the benefits of diverse schools, a countywide district would have to do what GS4A believes can be done right now without a constitutional change—develop appealing schools that can draw students from multiple districts with a fair lottery-based admissions program, and practices to assure a diverse staff, a culturally-sensitive curriculum and a nurturing school community.
Great Schools for All offers the following response to this recent SURJ ROC Facebook post: How do magnet schools center students that have been harmed by racist policies? Is this what parents living in chronically underinvested communities want?
From the beginning, GS4A proposals have focused on the creation of an inclusive environment in which an intentionally racially- and socioeconomically-balanced mix of students from all backgrounds would feel comfortable and supported, and taught by a racially-diverse faculty supported by robust multi-cultural, anti-racist professional development and training for all staff. The foundation of any proposed magnet schools would include a multi-cultural, historically-balanced curriculum and plans to build caring in-school communities where nurturing relationships are cultivated. The framework, curriculum and overall strategy for these schools are designed to be inclusive and invite a broad range of students from our greater Rochester communities – including students whose ability to optimize their learning has been impeded by exposure to experiences of severe racism embedded through structural racism in their previous education systems or in their communities. The curriculum will be designed to address restorative gaps in learning designed to improve the education, self-concept and self-esteem of all students.
In terms of what parents want, we know that not all parents will want such schools, but our surveys and discussions with parents indicate that many in all sectors of the community absolutely do want such opportunities for their children. Our proposals would expand options for students, providing opportunities that do not currently exist, for parents and students to choose or not on a voluntary basis.
Although our proposals focus on socioeconomic diversity, consistent with what is allowed by Supreme Court rulings, our goal is to have all magnet schools also be racially diverse. Within the City, the two are highly correlated, and there are selection approaches which can be used to ensure that the schools will be both racially and socioeconomically diverse.
The specific details of any magnet school designs, and more detailed responses to the SURJ ROC questions, will be addressed as part of a comprehensive planning process beginning this summer (2022), including a broad community engagement process later in the year involving parents, students and other interested community members. More details on this process will be forthcoming over the next few weeks and months.