SWCC Education Committee Minutes for Wednesday October 15, 2014 Meeting at the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence

SW Common Council Education Committee

At the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence

929 S Plymouth Avenue

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Meeting convened at 6:30 pm


John Boutet             SW Common Council Education Committee Chair

Eleanor Coleman    OACES & ProsperRochester, Inc. (Grandparent/School #10)

Robin Dettman        Education and Business Organization Development Consultant

John Laing               19th Ward Schools Committee Chair, School #16 Volunteer

Sandra Lowry          Parent/Grandparent

Pat Merle                 Corn Hill Neighborhood Association, Interested in involvement with School 3

Bill Nichthauser       19th Ward, School #22 Volunteer

Bruce Pollock          Friends of Education Excellence

Rosemary Rivera    Grandparent – AQE / Metro Justice Education Committee

Betsy Romson        19th Ward Resident

Ralph Spezio           School #17 Principal

Reginald White

Special Presentation: Ralph Spezio, School #17

Ralph Spezio was the principal of School 17 in Rochester NY from 1990 to 2002. During this time he turned a failing school into a model community school recognized state wide serving Pre-K to 5th grade. After he retired in 2002 the school sank back into poor performance. In 2011 to 2012 the school building was renovated to accommodate Pre-K - 8th grade. In the fall of 2013 the School District asked Ralph Spezio to come back and build the school performance back up to its former excellence.

Rochester Joint Schools Construction Board John Boutet

  • Very long agenda of change orders for the Phase 1 projects; Phase 2 has not yet been signed off on.

  • School #12 – renovation will not require hazardous insulation removal which opened up contractor pool; bid will be re-sent.

  • Concern about how quickly they should close out various jobs - leaving them open leaves room for staff to add another item onto the "ticket." Thought is to leave contract open to ensure that everything is in order; however, leaving them open costs additional funds.

School #17 - Ralph Spezio  -  Video of presentation: http://youtu.be/g5F_30DOeX8

  • Principal at School 17 1990-2002; created a State model for a Community School; stopped the busing in 1990. Supports concept of Neighborhood Schools. Raised just short of $7 million for the School. There was no pre-school when he started. Partnership with Kodak resulted in a Montessori preschool; received national school accreditation. "Should not be able to tell where the school ends and the community begins."

  • With St. Mary's, raised $1.2 million - first health center in NYS attached to the school; open even when school is closed; no one turned away; sliding scale.

  • Raised another $1 million with UR and brought in Eastman Dental; no one is turned away.

  • Urban Teacher Prep program via Brockport provided a pool of well trained new teachers; worked with the Union to counsel poorly performing teachers out of the profession when appropriate. Acid test: "Would I have my child in your classroom?" If no, called in the VP and Union Rep to sit down with that teacher to develop plans for bringing skills up to where they are needed. Teachers either improved or self selected out. This permitted developing an outstanding teaching staff by 2000.

  • Demanded to see Monroe County medical records of students. Children live in the neighborhood; over 3/4 suffered from lead poisoning. Went public with results – Lead is invisible monster devouring children. Steal a child's IQ, you are stealing their future. With others he was a founder of the Coalition for Lead Poisoning.

  • Upon retirement in 2002 Ralph Spezio handed the school off as a top rated NY State model community school. Unfortunately there is no RCSD leadership sustainability training. A new principal will likely mean a new way of operating a school as does pressure from the District in a new principal. School 17 performance declined. School 17 went through a building renovation starting around 2010. The students and teachers had been moved to Jefferson with only 2 days notice at the start of the renovations. Busing had been reinstated and grades 6, 7 and 8 added.

  • By the time Ralph returned in 2013 the RCSD has the worst indicators in NYS and School #17 had the worst in the District. School #17 renovations were barely completed withe C of O obtained just 4 day before the start of classes. Several barriers he faced: 8 subs; 7 out of 8 teachers just out of college; extended day added but extra time 3:30 to 5:00 covered by non teachers, busing re-instituted with most students coming from other part so the city, some from rival gangs. There are 850 neighborhood kids eligible to go to School #17 but most are bussed elsewhere.

  • Rosemary: Doesn't busing help even-out poverty in the schools?

  • Not all schools lend themselves to be neighborhood school; however, one of the best ways to break down a neighborhood is to bus children all over the city; this limits the ability of parents to be involved in their children's education.

  • Bruce: Current model is not working; Rochester's student performance is the worst in NYS.

  • This Education Committee has demonstrated the power of a neighborhood in their work to keep School #16 open. Lots of power when community is invested.

  • Charter Schools have the ability to "cherry-pick;" just before State testing, students who are likely not to do well, are dropped from the roles.

  • Recommendation: Host some focus groups that elicit parent information regarding what expectations they have for a school.

  • School #17 - stays open till 9 p.m. via City Rec; building designed to permit close off main school building and permits resource spaces for community (gym, kitchen, auditorium, etc.).

  • Poverty today - no support systems; more mean spirited. Have never seen more "fractured" children. High levels of stress; Level 4 = hyper-vigilance; traumatized children have triggers (e.g., loud male voice) that make their memories return to the stress-inducing events. Same for adults and children. Need clinical therapists; all classrooms must be trauma-informed.

  • Rosemary: Typically, same people who build prisons, build public schools buildings.

  • How do we pay for the needed services? Co-location. Medicaid; fee for service. Raise private funds to provide building for medical services using a private organization (e.g. Unity, UR, etc.), as a private organization they build the building at lower cost and donate it to RCSD with an agreement for use (tax write-off). Partnership results in partner able to operate business with no overhead (no cost to them for parking, rent, heat, snow plowing, etc.).

  • Ralph is working with Mike Moss, educational consultant, who, among other resource information, has significant research on effective architectural structures that promote high-impact learning.

  • Principal should be the "servant" of the community. Relationships turn front porch conversations into kitchen table conversations. Ibero has a good track record for making this happen.

  • Center for Continuous Learning proposed for School #17 that would include the City, agencies, academic institutions, etc.

  • Must be able to provide students with a safe, consistent environment before we can expect children to be able to meet Common Core Standards.

  • School #17 had worst attendance in the District when he came back to the School. This year, has concentrated improving attendance in K-8. All except for 2 grades are now in the green (above 90%); 2 are in the yellow. To do this the school is using multi-faceted approach (e.g., highlighting it, praising students in announcements, letters to parents, attendance committee, Americorps workers to help, targeting areas, attendance charts, teachers call home to find out what the barrier is, etc.).

  • Rosemary will meet with Ralph to get input on how to initiate attendance "policy" changes.

  • Community should set the expectations for the school. Ralph believes that Bolgan Vargas will support community-driven school design.

  • Eleanor reminded group of the history of Madison (now Wilson Foundation Academy). Many years of community meetings were held to determine the design and support services for the school. Dr. Ray was selected with community input yet was removed without the same community input. It was promised that there would always be less than 1,000 students in Madison; the first year started with1,200. Through a comprehensive data collection system and a skilled staff person, Dr. Ray was able to obtain show data analysis that determine students entering the school at 6th grade had 3rd grade reading levels. He warned Central Office that they had to stop putting rival gangs into one building; his request for more sentries was not met. When Wilson was brought in, security and administrative staff were doubled (with significantly fewer students). Another instance of Central Office ignoring input was when they asked the School-Based Planning Team to tell the District what type of model they'd like to see at Madison (now Wilson Foundation Academy); no one considered suggesting K-8 yet we were told to come up with such a design as a choice. Guess which one they chose?

  • The power the principal has is limited particularly when fighting with the District. The community can have great power. The community has to be united to ensure the District follows through on agreements. Also the community has to insist on having control on who the principal is and insist the principal works with the parents and community.

  • An individual is supposed to be assigned to School 17 to apprentice with Ralph this year to ensure continuity when he leaves. Unfortunately the district has not found that person yet.

The meeting adjourned at 8:30 pm.

Minutes submitted by Eleanor Coleman

Past meeting minutes can be found in www.Location19.org in the SW Education Forum located at http://www.location19.org/group/sw-education-forum

Our next meeting will be November 19, 2014 at 6:30pm at the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, 929 South Plymouth. Map: Link

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