Replicating success

Soon the Great Schools for All coalition will propose legislation to enable school districts in Monroe County to collaborate across district lines. What forms might these collaborations take? Of course, we will be seeking projects that promote learning in socio-economically integrated classrooms. But which classroom? Which buildings? Which students? From which districts?

Beth Laidlaw teaches philosophy at Monroe Community College and is a member of the GS4A leadership team.

Beth Laidlaw teaches philosophy at Monroe Community College and is a member of the GS4A leadership team.

Here is something to consider: Join the call for a change in the state’s charter school legislation to permit (if not require) charters to have socio-economically diverse student bodies, with students drawn from several school districts. Presently, charters must give preference to students from the district in which they are chartered, which generally means that city-based charter schools are high-poverty schools with all the usual problems.

Such an amendment might also require that failing charters be replaced with schools far more likely to help students succeed.

We already have an example. The Genesee Community Charter School (GCCS) is a stand out on the local charter landscape with its students consistently performing as well as students in many suburban districts. Contrast this with the performance of students at the Urban Choice Charter School where less than ten percent of third graders met or exceeded state learning outcomes on Math and ELA tests. While I am not a fan of standardized tests and especially not a fan of using test scores to justify closing schools, a compelling case can be made here. Because the charter system was established as an alternative to failing schools, I believe we should have a very low tolerance for failing charters.

GCCS’s history of solid performance and unique curriculum will attract suburban families. Twenty six percent of GCCS’s students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch (FRPL) which accords with the established claim that in schools with a cap on FRPL students, all students thrive and students living in poverty have a markedly higher performance. The school’s curriculum is based on the model of expeditionary learning which focuses on active, inquiry-based pedagogy; and a school culture that teaches compassion and good citizenship. At GCCS, Students learn hands on about local and global history with all grades studying the same period at the same time. A change in the charter law would make it much easier to replicate success stories like GCCS.

Where would you suggest we begin to build inter-district relationships? We welcome your innovative ideas about cross-district pollination. And we encourage you to ask your legislator to support legislation to would bring down barriers to collaboration.

Quality Summer Learning programs proof of a ‘sharing community’

A year ago, eleven of us traveled to Raleigh, N.C. to see what deconcentrating poverty looks like in a large urban school district. Schools don’t look different in Raleigh. Teachers don’t teach differently. What is different is how the Raleigh community feels about education. Every child in Raleigh is a child of promise, rather than a child at risk. School buildings are sharing communities. Because most schools in Raleigh are designed to cap the number of children from poor families (defined as those eligible for free or reduced price federal lunches) at 40 percent of the student population, 60 percent of families in a building have resources to share. Think about that. This deliberate 40/60 composition is a reflection of the community’s commitment to sharing. Walking into Joyner elementary school, I see a rack of clothes for those in need. The Joyner PTA stuffs backpacks with food each Friday afternoon to give to students at the social worker’s discretion. Sharing is part of the Wake County Central School District’s DNA.

Beth Laidlaw teaches philosophy at Monroe Community College and is a member of the GS4A leadership team.

Beth Laidlaw teaches philosophy at Monroe Community College and is a member of the GS4A leadership team.

But it’s not about the stuff. The Great Schools for All coalition here in Rochester has been working on concrete action steps to eliminate high poverty urban schools because the needs of so many poor children can overwhelm a school’s staff and resources. The same principle applies to summer learning: a socioeconomically diverse program reflects a commitment to sharing that will benefit both the poorest and most affluent children.  We’ve learned that a quality summer learning program (QSLP) engages students by weaving summer learning through a well-designed curriculum, exercise and enrichment and assessment of student progress. Some students in Rochester learned last summer through building rockets, learning scripts, and playing building-sized board games. Quality learning requires a lot of stuff. But Raleigh’s success is not about the stuff, it’s a mindset of caring about every student.

If you are paying for a 6-week QSLP (at The Harley School, or Nazareth College, or Lego Camp, for example), your child can expect quality instruction reinforced through exercise and enrichment (field trips, plays, rocket launchings). The City School District reports that as many as 12,500 students will be involved in some form of summer learning, but very few of those who need quality summer learning this year can afford $1000 or more for summer programs like those above. Maybe two in ten of our city’s children will be lucky enough to be selected for a free QSLP.

Hundreds of city children will attend day camp through the YMCA – a fun experience, but not a QSLP. Only 64 students from Schools 33 and 8 will be chosen for the Y’s free QSLP held at the Carlson branch. Many many children each summer sign up for Monroe Public Library’s Summer Reading Program which tracks the amount of time and number of books a child reads. Only 300 students, though, will be selected for the Library’s QSLP run by EnCompass. Only 700 children will be able to participate in the City School District’s premier QSLP, held last year at the School of the Arts, where the entire building became a game of Clue as students puzzled out a mystery.

And for our children in extreme poverty who find their way to a QSLP, the lack of food, clothing, and transportation continue to be barriers to learning. If your only meals are the breakfast and lunch served at school, you may choose not to eat. The directors of QSLPs report that some students squirrel away school meals in backpacks so that their siblings will have something to eat when they get home. Other children sit pool-side during swim time because they don’t own a swim suit or towel. And if transportation is not provided to the QSLP, students don’t go.

Scaling up the few free excellent quality summer learning programs in Rochester to fully enroll all the students needing them is not about getting more stuff, it is about sharing. If we adopted Raleigh’s perspective that each child is a child of promise and that schools are caring communities, we could leverage education and foundation dollars to support this critical learning. Join us on Tuesday, May 5th, from 8:00-12:30 at the GS4A  at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church as we hear action steps proposed by the Summer Learning work group as well as five other work groups from the Great Schools Coalition. In this atmosphere of promise and sharing, a caring Monroe community will discern ways to wrap our arms around our city’s children. It’s not about the stuff, it’s about the caring.