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Childhood education successes, challenges highlighted in report card

From left, ROC the Future panelists Jennifer Leonard, president and CEO of the Rochester Area Community Foundation; Fran Weisberg, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Rochester; Van White, president of the Rochester school board; Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren; Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo; and Ajamu Kitwana, chair and executive committee member of ROC the Future and executive director of ESL Charitable Foundation, with moderator and RBJ Editor Ben Jacobs. (Photo by Matt Wittmeyer)

From left, ROC the Future panelists Jennifer Leonard, president and CEO of the Rochester Area Community Foundation; Fran Weisberg, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Rochester; Van White, president of the Rochester school board; Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren; Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo; and Ajamu Kitwana, chair and executive committee member of ROC the Future and executive director of ESL Charitable Foundation, with moderator and RBJ Editor Ben Jacobs. (Photo by Matt Wittmeyer)

Poverty is closely linked to how our children do in school and their future success as contributing members of society, so working to have every child ready for school and then supporting them through extended learning opportunities are important steps toward enabling our children to thrive.

image001The ROC the Future Annual Report Card 2017 shows improvement across a number of key indicators including school readiness, supports and graduation rates, but there is room for improvement in a number of other areas.

“We’re excited to see steady improvements in many of our key indicators and energized by the challenges still ahead, but it’s important for the community to know that big system changes of this magnitude don’t happen overnight,” said Ajamu Kitwana, ROC the Future chairman and ESL Charitable Foundation executive director. “As we conclude our fifth State of Our Children Address and look forward to the next, we’ll be working to improve our indicators, programs, and partnerships to further drive results.”

ROC the Future chair Ajamu Kitwama speaks at the RBJ's Power Breakfast event Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Wittmeyer)

ROC the Future chair Ajamu Kitwama speaks at the RBJ’s Power Breakfast event Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Wittmeyer)

The fifth annual report card was presented Tuesday as part of the RBJ Power Breakfast Series. Panelists and presenters included Kitwana; Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo; Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren; Rochester City School District school board President Van White; RCSD Deputy Superintendent Lawrence Wright; President and CEO of the Rochester Area Community Foundation Jennifer Leonard; United Way President and CEO Fran Weisberg; Center for Governmental Research Inc. principal Erika Rosenberg; and ROC the Future Alliance director Jackie Campbell.

“Look around this room,” Warren said. “Together we can change what’s happening in our school district, in our community and we can truly help families by working together.”

Warren noted that in her four years as mayor she has seen four school superintendents come and go.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren speaks as a panelist at the RBJ's ROC the Future Power Breakfast on Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Wittmeyer)

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren speaks as a panelist at the RBJ’s ROC the Future Power Breakfast on Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Wittmeyer)

“Stability at the top is the most important thing we can do for our community and our school district,” she said, thanking White for bringing in new RCSD Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams.

Warren acknowledged that the ROC the Future data presented Tuesday was bleak but the numbers were improving in many ways. She reminded the crowd of 300 that the data was more than numbers, that they represented children.

“Each one is unique, each one is special, and to solve this problem we must lift each child up, one child at a time and one family at a time,” Warren added.

ROC the Future works toward four overarching goals: every child is school ready; every child is supported; every child is successful; and every child is college and career ready. Benchmarks include kindergarten readiness, early grade reading, middle grade math, high school graduation, post-secondary enrollment and post-secondary completion.

“When we look at the data from our community, we’re all reminded of the importance of our mission, which is to help kids succeed,” Wright said. “We have challenges ahead of us for sure, but in our struggle there’s an opportunity, an opportunity to make our schools and to make our communities better places.”

Kindergarten readiness improved 4 percentage points from 2016 to 2017, while early grade reading was up nearly 2 percentage points. High school graduation rates were up 2 percentage points this year from 2016, while there was no change in middle grade math scores.

Two areas that showed a decline this year include college enrollment and college completion, down 2 percentage points and 1 percentage point, respectively.

As an event panelist, Dinolfo took the opportunity to highlight the county’s eight-point plan, which includes funding for 30 new child protective services workers in 2018’s budget, as well as an upgrade to CPS caseworkers’ salaries to help with recruiting and longevity, among other things.

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo discusses the county's eight-point plan at RBJ's ROC the Future Power Breakfast on Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Wittmeyer)

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo discusses the county’s eight-point plan at RBJ’s ROC the Future Power Breakfast on Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Wittmeyer)

“Our caseworkers do incredible work. It’s rewarding work. It’s important work,” Dinolfo said. “It’s important that we provide all of the tools necessary in our community so that our children have the best opportunity to grow and flourish and remain safe in our community, and our families have the best opportunity for success.”

Rochester has made critical investments in early childhood education to help our youngest learners prepare for school. Some 96 percent of 4-year-olds access high quality Universal preK through Rochester City School District and Head Start sites, and more than 1,000 3-year-olds are in Early PreK programs.

The number of 3-year-olds attending the SummerLEAP program—which helps to stem the disastrous effects of summer learning loss for low-income students—doubled in 2017.

Academic progress during the school year is supported by summer and other extended learning opportunities, without which students lose ground over the years, ROC the Future officials said. This is especially difficult when students also face high levels of stress, violence and trauma due in part to the high level and concentration of poverty in their neighborhoods.

RCSD has increased its investments in staff development that better supports the social and emotional well-being of students, such as Restorative practices, and has improved school climate by developing “Help Zones” in schools, which help students decompress in stressful situations and help them focus on learning.

To improve school attendance, RCSD will reinforce the “Every Minute Matters” best practices to all schools and grade levels, adding quarterly attendance blitzes for PreK and will target supports in three high schools with the highest chronic absence rates.

“One thing we must do as community leaders is we must listen to the people,” Warren said, referring to a number of new programs that target city children and their families.

Erika Rosenberg, principal at the Center for Governmental Research, presents this year's report card at RBJ's ROC the Future Power Breakfast on Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Wittmeyer)

Erika Rosenberg, principal at the Center for Governmental Research, presents this year’s report card at RBJ’s ROC the Future Power Breakfast on Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Wittmeyer)

ROC the Future engages more than 100 organizations and individuals to work together to improve academic outcomes for students. In addition to its collective work on shared goals, ROC the Future works collaboratively with several other collective impact networks including the Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, Community Advisory Council and the School Climate Task Force, among others.

To explain the collective impact model, White channeled Marvel’s the Avengers movies and DC Comics’ Justice League, noting that in both series a group of characters with different abilities and talents come together to improve the lives of others, with no one character better than another.

“It’s a model of leadership. It suggests that we benefit most if we collectively take advantage of each individual’s powers and abilities and talents. That’s when we are at our best,” White said.

White noted that in 2012 RCSD had no reading instructors. This year the district has 105 reading instructors.

White closed his discussion by quoting the Avengers’ character, Nick Fury: “There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, to make them work together when we need them to, to fight the battles that need to be fought, to fight the battles we never could win. You, my friends, are those remarkable people.

“If we work together, drawing upon our remarkable strengths and our collective powers, to fight the battles that we have not been able to win against poverty, illiteracy and racism,” White added. “If, no, when we do that we will ROC the future.”

Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.

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