School District Superintendents Meet to Discuss Planning for Integrated Crossdistrict Magnet Schools

More than a dozen Monroe County school superintendents representing the east and west side BOCES, Rochester City School District, and several suburban school districts have met twice with Great Schools for All since the beginning of 2022 to explore issues related to the possible creation of one or more pilot integrated public magnet schools. Such schools would be intentionally socioeconomically and racially diverse and draw students from both city and suburban school districts.

Subsequent meetings will discuss issues including, but not limited to:

  • Governance and oversight of such magnet schools
  • Financing to ensure equitable funding for all participating districts
  • Determination of the number, types, and location of initial pilot school(s)
  • Student selection process
  • Staffing and sharing of resources
  • Transportation, and
  • Determination of any legislation that may be needed to create such schools

It is anticipated that a second phase of this planning process would include parents, students, teachers, administrators, and other school employees, as well as others in the larger community, in identifying the key components or pillars of specific proposed pilot magnet school(s). Our local NYS legislators have indicated their interest in collaborating in the process of crafting any needed legislation.

With the generous support of a small foundation at Rochester Area Community Foundation, initial discussions are underway to engage an experienced independent facilitator to help guide the planning process going forward.

Discussions and plans to date have been consistent with findings and recommendations outlined in a 2021 report by the Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe global law firm, which specializes in conducting independent, objective research on education and integration issues. The Orrick report strongly endorsed integrated crossdistrict magnet schools in Monroe County as practical and “a realistic, feasible and viable option likely to improve educational outcomes and long-term success” among its students. The report also identified types of legislation that may be needed to develop and implement such schools and outlined a two-phase planning process to address key issues and implement and test the impact of one or more pilot magnet schools.

Great Schools for All has proposed the creation of a network of voluntary integrated magnet schools offering unique educational opportunities not currently available to either city or suburban students. Such schools have been successfully implemented in other communities throughout the country. Decades of research have shown unequivocally that such integrated schools can dramatically improve the odds of academic progress and graduation, as well as improving critical-thinking and problem-solving skills and readiness for future college and work. More recent research documents positive long-term outcomes well into adulthood among students enrolled in such integrated schools.

More to follow as decisions are made in the coming weeks and months.

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Countywide Survey Shows Support for Creation of Crossdistrict Magnet Schools

A recent Siena College Research Institute poll of Monroe County residents indicates strong support for the establishment of magnet schools with specialized curricula that would draw students from both urban and suburban schools.  As indicated in the graphs below, 75 percent of all respondents support the creation of such schools.  Support was consistently strong across racial/ethnic groups and across both city and suburban residents.

The Siena College poll was commissioned by the Rochester Area Community Foundation and the Democrat and Chronicle.  It was conducted during this past December and early January, with 707 county residents, reflecting the demographic makeup of the county population.  The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.7 percent.

The graphs, created by Kate Nelligan, were published by the Democrat and Chronicle on April 5, 2022.

Kate Nelligan's "Establishing New Schools" graphic from the Democrat and Chronicle on April 5, 2022.

National report supports creation of diverse interdistrict magnet schools in Monroe County:  Several superintendents to meet to discuss report

A thoroughly-documented new report shows that diverse magnets are an effective tool in rolling back segregation and improving educational outcomes for all children, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.

This summary was written by Mark Hare and Don Pryor.

Several Monroe County school superintendents will soon meet to discuss how to proceed in response to the new research report, which analyzes the possible creation of one or more pilot interdistrict collaborative magnet schools. Attendance at these schools would be voluntary, but each would be “intentionally integrated,” with a racially and socioeconomically diverse mix of city and suburban students.

This convening could be a first step toward possible interdistrict collaboration as a partial remedy for the troubling effects of high-poverty segregated city schools. Great Schools for All, a citizens advocacy group, has been calling for years for a network of these schools to improve the odds of success for the most disadvantaged students in the county—and to improve the skills needed by all students to successfully navigate the 21st century.

Great Schools for All does not call for consolidation of school districts, but rather for a mechanism that would permit districts to jointly and voluntarily develop magnet schools to better serve the needs of their students and the Greater Rochester community.

view the report

Great Schools has just released the independent report from the Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe law firm, based in Washington and NYC,[i] which objectively assessed the viability of our magnet schools proposal. Such schools would center curriculum around themes (e.g., health careers, language immersion, environmental science, social justice) to offer programs not otherwise available in Monroe County schools.

The report’s primary conclusion:  GS4A’s proposed “Breakthrough Schools that are socioeconomically and racially diverse and that offer unique educational opportunities not otherwise available to students in Monroe County school districts should be considered a realistic, feasible and viable option likely to improve educational outcomes and long-term success among all students, and particularly those in geographical areas with high concentrations of poverty. This report outlines practical proposals designed to incentivize school districts to collaborate in the creation of a structure to implement proposed pilot interdistrict magnet schools.”

Continue reading

GS4A: quiet, but still very active

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. Continue reading

Raleigh/Wake County graduation rates continue to increase for all subgroups; disparity gaps cut in half

In the Raleigh/Wake County public school system, more than 35 magnet schools of varying grade levels have been established over the years, each deliberately drawing a socioeconomically diverse student population. GS4A representatives spent three days visiting the district several years ago, and were impressed with the strong schools and the student outcomes. There have been many changes since we visited, including some frustrations as a result of political and demographic shifts in the community.  But throughout these changes, graduation rates have continued to increase steadily across all racial and ethnic subgroups over the past 10 years, with the biggest gains among Black and Hispanic/Latino students.  Gaps in graduation rates between white students and Latino and Black students have been cut in half during that time. Rates for all subgroups far exceed those among Rochester City School District students.  For more details, see the five-page report here.

Rochester needs socioeconomically diverse, cross-district magnet schools

Excerpt from a Rochester Beacon opinion from April 22, 2019 by Mark Hare and Don Pryor

“GS4A is not advocating the creation of a single countywide school district. Rather, we support a network of voluntary interdistrict schools. Our niche at GS4A has been to insist on a public school system that does its job to sharply improve the odds of success for all children—and in particular for those most at risk of failure. Socioeconomically diverse schools can significantly improve the odds.”

School integration actually drives social mobility

From Children of the Dream by Rucker Johnson

“We are frequently told that school integration was a social experiment doomed from the start. But as Rucker C. Johnson demonstrates in Children of the Dream, it was, in fact, a spectacular achievement. Drawing on longitudinal studies going back to the 1960s, he shows that students who attended integrated and well-funded schools were more successful in life than those who did not — and this held true for children of all races.

“Yet as a society we have given up on integration. Since the high point of integration in 1988, we have regressed and segregation again prevails. Contending that integrated, well-funded schools are the primary engine of social mobility, Children of the Dream offers a radical new take on social policy. It is essential reading in our divided times.”

A promising Path Forward for city schools

The Rochester City School District’s recently-released Path Forward plan contains a number of clear references to directions GS4A strongly advocates. Among these:

  • Expand and replicate several popular and effective existing District schools, including School Without Walls, World of Inquiry and its expeditionary learning approach, School of the Arts, The Children’s School.
  • Under “Future Concept Schools,” the plan advocates the creation of two magnet schools (one high school and one elementary school), each designed to draw students from both the city and suburbs. At least one suburban district and college, and other possible partners, have already been identified as potential collaborators in the development of the school concepts outlined in the plan. Many critical details would need to be worked out before these and related ideas can be implemented, but the fact that these concepts are part of the Path Forward plan is encouraging. GS4A looks forward to working with the district and other potential partners in the development of these initiatives.
  • Efforts to expand the numbers of teachers of color and to make the curriculum at all levels more culturally sensitive and relevant to students.

Great Schools for All looks forward to working with city and suburban school officials and all sectors of the community to help develop these ideas and support for their implementation.

Taking steps to shape new initiatives with diversity

I recently sat in on a Rochester Board of Education committee meeting that focused on approaches to improve student outcomes, particularly graduation rates.

You know the context: Despite board priorities and the efforts of a parade of superintendents over the past several years, the district has struggled to move four-year on-time graduation percentages above the mid- to upper-40s.

Don Pryor is a researcher for the Center for Governmental Research and a member of the GS4A leadership team

Ongoing approaches and promising new and modified initiatives were discussed at this meeting. The back and forth between board and staff reflected a sense of, “this time it will be different,” that these efforts and the dedication of board members, administration, teachers and principals, parents and students will combine to move the needle toward significantly improved student achievement and graduation rates.

I’m a believer in “the promised land,” and the potential of numerous encouraging initiatives throughout the district, under goals set by the board and being carried out under the promising leadership of new superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams. And yet…and yet, concentrated poverty levels remain high, and no school in the district has a poverty population below 60 percent. Our local history—reinforced by consistent research findings across school districts throughout the country—strongly suggest that there are limits to what any of these internal promising initiatives can do to overcome the insidious effects of concentrated poverty, unless accompanied by other systemic interventions.

Great Schools for All strongly supports the district’s laser-sharp focus on a variety of actions to strengthen internal standards, structure and operations; to strengthen individual schools; and to improve achievement levels and academic and support programs for children. But GS4A also believes that this is a “Yes…And Also” proposition: That it is also important to simultaneously develop community-wide plans, shaped by all the existing research, to launch a network of socioeconomically diverse cross-district schools that are most likely to result in dramatic improvements in student achievement and graduation rates for the poorest children in our community.

While efforts of the district, and of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI), focus appropriately on ways to strengthen supports in individual schools and neighborhoods, national research makes clear that these important efforts will be enhanced and that the ultimate goal of “lifting children out of poverty” will be more rapidly attained if the concentration of poverty in individual schools can be minimized. While, of course, there will always be individual kids who defy the odds, overcome the effects of poverty, and excel, research demonstrates that diverse schools can improve the odds for the majority of city children who, through no fault of their own, are being taught in schools with high concentrations of poverty.

Cross-district, socioeconomically diverse magnet schools have demonstrated their success in numerous communities across the nation. Not only do they improve the performance and graduation rates of poor students, they also improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills for all students, poor and more affluent/middle class students alike. Voluntary magnet schools can offer cutting-edge academic opportunities that not even the most affluent school districts can afford to offer on their own, and in so doing draw students from both urban and suburban school districts. Local parent survey data, and the experience of other communities across the country, indicate that there is strong support for such opportunities.

Several encouraging developments are under way locally that could lead to such schools in Monroe County.

GS4A is having constructive conversations with leadership in the City School District and with leadership in several suburban districts to explore these possibilities. Discussions are in very early stages, but offer the potential to create diverse educational opportunities to benefit students throughout Monroe County.

Simultaneously, GS4A’s Magnet Schools Committee has developed a process that will soon seek proposals from parties interested in collaborating with school districts or other community partners in the development of one or more socioeconomically diverse magnet schools.

Related plans are also being finalized for a series of community gatherings designed to bring together interested parties from various sectors throughout the county to develop ideas for diverse cross-district magnet schools that would respond to student and parental needs and desires by offering opportunities not currently available in any school district.

More details will be announced about these initiatives in the near future, so stay tuned. Efforts are also underway to expand Great Schools’ community engagement, outreach and advocacy efforts in all sectors of the community; to strengthen ongoing communications; and to expand diverse summer learning programs throughout the community. If you are interested in learning more about, or participating in, any of these efforts, please let us know by emailing Lynette Sparks, the Great Schools co-convener at lsparks@thirdpresbyterian.org

We say Yes to RCSD and RMAPI efforts to strengthen existing schools and neighborhoods, but lasting change must also include collaborative efforts across districts that will improve outcomes for students living in poverty, sharpen the cultural competencies of all students and strengthen the workforce of the future.