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Fast Start: High expectations for city students

The 31-year-old president of Rochester’s school board says a good attitude is "the most important thing."
Given the state of the district, Malik Evans needs all the good attitude he can get. The Rochester City School District has a huge budget deficit, spiraling costs and a low graduation rate. It is coming off three and a half years of ill will between former Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard and the teachers’ union. In April, Brizard departed abruptly for a new job in Chicago; interim Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, whom Evans describes as "a healer," is settling in.
It’s been a wild few years. Evans was elected to the board in 2004 (he was the youngest member in its history) and has been its president since 2008. A self-described mediator, he has grown accustomed to being in the center of the storm.
"Ninety percent of your attitude is based on how you respond," Evans says. "It’s a challenge that I welcome because it’s life. People thought I was crazy. ‘Why are you doing this?’ The answer is you can complain … or be part of the solution. And I wanted to be part of the solution, because I know how important it was for my education."
Evans grew up in Rochester. His parents, Gwen and Lawrence Evans, were strict about homework; good grades were a mandate. Each of their six children went on to earn a college degree.
Evans believes most city students are not expected to succeed because they are poor. While concentrated poverty needs to be addressed, he says, its effects can be overcome.
"All of those kids want to be held to a higher standard. Poverty is a factor, but it can’t be an excuse. When we set the bar high with a little bit of tough love, our students do well."
Evans’ parents were involved in the community and in their children’s schools. He attended school board meetings with his father from a young age. His mother was at School 12 so often that people thought she was one of the teachers.
Their fourth child did not expect to go into education. And, in fact, Evans is a banker by trade. He graduated from the University of Rochester in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and entered the management development program at M&T Bank.
He went into banking only after seriously considering a broadcast journalism career, which was his first dream. Ed Bradley and Bryant Gumbel were his role models. Evans held broadcasting internships at WHAM-TV 13 as a student at Wilson Magnet High School and in college and was accepted into American University’s journalism program.
But he balked at broadcasting’s odd hours, envisioning a better balance between work and personal life. Still, he doesn’t rule out pursuing it somehow, someday.
"Right now I’m happy being a banker," Evans says. "I’ve learned you can’t predict things and kind of take things as they come." He shrugs and grins. "Who knows?"
Evans has worked at M&T for nine years. As a vice president and senior branch manager, he handles business development and says he likes seeing customers’ business ideas come to fruition. He recently was transferred from the Waring Road branch to oversee a larger location in East Rochester.
He may not have pursued a broadcasting career, but still Evans’ balance between work and home life is tested regularly, and he keeps his cell phone close. He is on the boards of the Catholic Family Center and Rochester Area Community Foundation. Last year he ran for a state Assembly seat, losing the Democratic nomination to Harry Bronson. Looking back, he calls it a blessing in disguise. He and his wife, Shawanda, have a 4-month-old son named Cameron. And community work keeps him running.
"I like to be busy. I work better when I have more to do," Evans says.
He is reminded of what he calls his mission whenever he is around city students.
"The best thing, I’m telling you, is when you’re at an event where there are students. It reminds you of why you’re there. I really get refueled by that."

6/10/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.



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