Yes, we’re still at it! Quietly but steadily, Great Schools for All continues to work behind the scenes to build support for the creation over time of a network of voluntary cross-district socioeconomically diverse magnet schools offering opportunities not otherwise available in our current schools – new schools designed to improve outcomes for all students, especially those living with the effects of concentrated poverty.
Decades of research clearly indicate that the odds of graduation and other measures of student success dramatically improve for low-income students in such integrated schools, reducing disparities between low-income and middle-income students. Moreover, students of all income and racial/ethnic groups in such schools benefit from improved decision-making, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, teamwork and ability to process diverse perspectives and approaches, and improved preparation for the increasingly-diverse workforce and society of the future. More recent research also indicates that the benefits continue into adulthood, with students from such schools experiencing higher levels of family and income stability, less dependence on public assistance, and less involvement in the criminal justice system.
We realize there are many obstacles to introducing systemic change at a time when school districts are dealing with the pandemic, fiscal uncertainty and dwindling resources, in addition to the need to address issues of racism in our schools and community, On the other hand, crises present opportunities for new approaches to be considered, and many organizations throughout the community are looking at ways in which we can use the crises of the moment to think creatively about new initiatives and approaches to many issues, including the educational opportunities we provide for our students.
GS4A is Building New Partnerships
For example, GS4A is working with the Rochester Coalition for Public Education on a variety of approaches to improve school infrastructure, curriculum and outcomes, and we are also members of Roc the Future, which is embarking on a systems change agenda, with particular focus on transformational changes involving how we think about and provide education going forward.
All of this is consistent with GS4A’s Both-And approach: We need as a community to be BOTH
- Making a variety of internal changes to strengthen our existing schools and support systems so that they meet educational, cultural, social and emotional needs of our students, AND
- Simultaneously engaging in the parallel track of examining new systemic changes that involve collaborative efforts between city and suburban districts and other community partners to create an array of options that students and parents can select from, to best meet their diverse individual needs.
In recent weeks two important community groups have released strong statements that we support and that should help guide our work going forward:
- The Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group has issued a “Racism is a Public Health Crisis” Declaration which a wide range of individuals and community groups, including GS4A, have endorsed and pledged to support through various action steps, and
- A strong anti-racism statement was recently passed unanimously by the Monroe County Council of School Superintendents, including all school districts in the county.
Together, these statements offer both challenges and opportunities to help shape our efforts in the coming months.
Over the past few weeks, we have engaged in a partnership to collaborate with NY Appleseed and the Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe law firm based in Washington and NYC to investigate legislative, governance and financial changes that may be necessary to establish diverse voluntary magnet schools and incentivize districts to be willing to partner in their creation. They will be focusing on the types of issues that can hopefully help overcome questions and concerns that school districts legitimately raise as potential barriers to such partnerships. We expect to have a preliminary report and recommendations from Orrick by late summer/early fall, and will use this report to help shape our future actions. At the same time, individuals and groups are developing ideas of what some possible magnet schools might look like.
Expanding Outreach Efforts
We are also in the process of engaging a diverse group of students to obtain a wide range of student perspectives on the ideas of voluntary integrated magnet schools. We have also received support for our ideas from an emerging group of potential new state legislators in the state Assembly and Senate. A number of new faces will represent the city and county beginning in 2021, and we believe that their support, should they be elected in November, will help create opportunities for needed legislative changes that would not have been as likely in the past.
And, speaking of changing faces, over the past few months we have lost two of our strong supporters and leaders within GS4A: John Wilkinson and Lynette Sparks, both of whom have moved on to lead churches in Philadelphia and Grand Rapids, MI, respectively. Their leadership and commitment are greatly missed, and much appreciated for all they meant to our efforts over the past few years. But they would be the first to admit that this volunteer organization has never been dependent on just one or two people, and that we remain strong and committed with veterans who have been engaged in this effort from the beginning, and new faces who have emerged in the meantime.
So… quiet and behind the scenes? Yes. But we see evidence that we continue to gain traction for our ideas, slowly but surely. We have always known that this process of creating new evidence-based options for our students would be a marathon effort that would take time. Important changes always do. But we are not going away, and believe there is support building for the collaborative approaches we advocate. We welcome your support and your questions. Please write us through our contact page.
We will be back in touch over the next few weeks as we have more to share.
On behalf of GS4A,
Don Pryor, Convener