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Fellowship awarded to build community-centered change for public school systems

The Rochester Education Fellowship, led by a coalition of local child and family advocates, has named Shanai Lee as the recipient of its two-year fellowship to co-create and build a new community-centered vision for bold, transformational change for Rochester’s public school systems.

Lee brings 15 years of experience working in Rochester schools to address the long-standing, dynamic challenges presently facing Rochester’s students in the pursuit of a quality education — many of which were amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials noted.

Shanai Lee

“Growing up in Rochester and being educated in the Rochester City School District, my personal experiences have shaped how I will approach this unique opportunity to secure a brighter future for Rochester’s children,” Lee said. “I am committed to my community and I know the importance of having a high-quality education. I look forward to working with families and stakeholders to create real change in our education system that will have a lasting effect on our current students and parents as well as future generations.”

Lee brings to the role extensive experience working in urban education and local government and has held leadership positions in the Rochester City School District as well as a local charter network. She most recently worked as regional senior director of Uncommon Schools and previously held several positions within RCSD for more than 13 years including district clerk, assistant to the CFO and director of minority and women-owned business enterprises program.

Lee received an Ed.D. in educational leadership and administration, a Master’s Degree in educational policy and an MBA in finance and public accounting from the University of Rochester and a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Cornell University.

The Rochester Education Fellowship Selection Committee, co-chaired by Jerome Underwood, president and CEO of Action for a Better Community (ABC) and Holli Budd, executive director of the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation (Farash Foundation), led the extensive search and selection process for the Fellow beginning in January and will provide support for the duration of the two-year Fellowship.

In January 2021, the Farash Foundation, in collaboration with the selection committee, partnered with the Mind Trust, an education nonprofit organization, to lead the recruitment and selection process for the Rochester Education Fellowship. The goal of the process was to identify candidates with a thorough understanding of the needs of the Rochester community, experience navigating existing political systems and structures and the ability to build momentum and a coalition for a partnership with the local community. The committee received robust feedback from the Rochester community around the key qualities and experiences to take into account during the search.

“After a rigorous community-focused search, we’re excited to announce Shanai as Rochester’s Education Fellow and believe she has the ideal background to bring transformational change to our educational systems in the city of Rochester,” Underwood said. “The challenges that students and families in Rochester face are both unique and reflective of the inequities present in our nation, many of which were exacerbated by the pandemic. This is an opportune time to start this community-centered effort.”

Through her Fellowship, Lee will have access to a wide variety of support from both local and national partners, including leadership development, personalized executive coaching and a commitment of support and collaboration from anchor Rochester organizations.

“The Farash Foundation is committed to the long-term health and wellbeing of Rochester’s children and catalyzing a city-wide effort to transform Rochester’s education system through this two-year fellowship,” Budd said. “We’re extremely happy to continue partnering with local leaders and organizations in support of Shanai as she begins the Rochester Education Fellowship.”

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Collaborative helps keep children on track

Children’s Institute, Causewave Community Partners and a collaborative of child-serving organizations this week announced a new community campaign to ensure families are aware of the benefits and availability of free developmental checks for young children.

Organizers noted that just 20 to 30 percent of children with health, behavioral and development problems are identified and receive appropriate interventions prior to entering school. The Get Ready to GROW collaborative, led by Children’s Institute, features screenings designed to support a child’s doctor by providing complementary information that they would not get during a typical well visit.

In addition to height, weight, vision and hearing, the development checks will look at movement, dental, speech and language, thinking and reasoning and more.

“This campaign helps parents know about Get Ready to GROW’s comprehensive, convenient and fun checks – with trusted follow-up and support. Every parent should have as many people as possible in their corner and help at their fingertips, as growth is rapid during childhood and a worry can rise quickly,” said Children’s Institute Executive Director Ann Marie White.

Regional advertising agency Mower donated time and talent totaling more than $90,000 to develop the Let Their Greatness GROW campaign. The initiative is designed to raise awareness and educate parents about the screenings. The advertising acknowledges that parents often see things in their child’s behavior they are unsure of or think will go away with time. With the help of a screening they can uncover their child’s strengths and if a need is identified take action to ensure their development is on track. Additional pro bono production support for the campaign was donated by PushMP and dPost.

“This was a complex challenge as parents have a lot on their plates, and it can be scary to think about your child needing help in order to thrive,” said Causewave President and CEO Todd Butler. “We needed the team at Mower to come up with a messaging strategy that was clear, focused, optimistic and empowers parents to take action for their child. They really delivered.”

The Get Ready to GROW comprehensive screening model is more than just a one-time check. A GROW navigator partners with the family, school, child care providers and physicians to better understand a child’s developmental path. Navigators will assist parents and work with the support network to help ensure the child is prepared for success in school.

“Get Ready to GROW screenings are more comprehensive than what I would normally be able to do in the office and provide links to services and navigation support not typically available,” said Sarah Collins-McGowan M.D., a pediatrician with Rochester Regional Health at Genesee Pediatrics and the Center for Refugee Health. “It’s so easy to work with the GROW team as a provider. They figured out what our office needed and personalized processes for maximum efficiency and value.”

Initial funding came from Rochester’s Child, Rochester Area Community Foundation, Greater Rochester Health Foundation, United Way of Greater Rochester Inc., the city of Rochester, New York State Education Department and Rochester City School District to launch the development of the screening model and has been vital in getting the initiative to where it is today, officials said. Value-based payment in healthcare also is a source of funding, recognizing the value of early intervention and reimbursing screening costs.

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EnCompass receives $1.7 million grant for afterschool programs

EnCompass: Resources for Learning and its partner Rochester City School District have been awarded a $1.7 million grant to fund the Extended School Day programs at three Rochester elementary schools in the next five years.

The grant is from the New York State Education Department and will fund afterschool programs that address learning loss at RCSD’s John James Audubon School No. 33, Andrew J. Townson School No. 39 and World of Inquiry School No. 58.

Extended school day programs provide safe, enriching experiences for students and families, and they address opportunity gaps and below grade-level proficiency, which are serious concerns within Rochester schools, EnCompass officials noted. Because of school closures, remote instruction and shuttered programs during COVID-19, some experts estimate students will suffer up to four years of learning loss.

The EnCompass program operates three days per week for 2.5 hours per day and includes targeted tutoring, hands-on learning and projects, healthy meals and snacks, afterschool clubs (including step-team and art club) and safe bus transportation from school to home. EnCompass delivered the afterschool program remotely during the 2020-21 school year.

Now in its 11th year, the EnCompass ESD program selects schools based on School Safety and Educational Climate (SSEC) data and evidence of factors that negatively impact students’ achievement including high rates of chronic absenteeism, high percentages of economically disadvantaged students and/or large populations of students with disabilities. Students who attend are in the greatest need of additional time for academic intervention, social-emotional learning and health-benefiting opportunities.

Since 2004, EnCompass has worked collaboratively with RCSD to provide evidence-based academic enrichment and intervention programs. The organization serves 2,400 students and their families each year in a holistic, pre-K through graduation pathway of service and supports. Students come from 37 different Rochester public schools, and programs are delivered by EnCompass staff educators and navigators within local schools and on EnCompass’ 16 Lakeview Park campus.

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Food pantries open at several city schools

A $20,000 grant from the William & Sheila Konar Foundation has enabled seven Rochester City School District schools to open food pantries.

“I am very proud to join with the RCSD and our faith and business communities to address the food disparities that far too many of our children are living with,” said Mayor Lovely Warren. “Through our partnerships, we are transforming the systems that support our students and our schools as a whole and these food pantries will provide an additional sense of security for many, many families. I want to thank the William & Sheila Konar Foundation for their generosity to our most valuable gems – our children.”

The grant was used to purchase refrigerators, shelving, bins and food at the following city school-based food pantries:

• Edison Tech
• John Walton Spencer School No. 16
• Dr. Charles T. Lunsford School No. 19
• Henry Hudson School No. 28
• Joseph C. Wilson Academy School No. 68
• Franklin Upper School
• Leadership Academy for Young Men

The project is the result of the Business in Action – Adopt a School initiative, a partnership of the Mayor’s Office of Constituent Services, RCSD and the local business and faith communities, designed to facilitate connections between schools and businesses to provide students with food and other essential items.

“We are extremely grateful to the William & Sheila Konar Foundation for supporting our children and families,” said RCSD Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small. “Proper nutrition is critical not only for a healthy body but also for a healthy mind. This partnership embodies what can be accomplished with the true spirit of teamwork. It fills me with great hope to see our community coming together to raise up city families.”

The Business in Action – Adopt a School initiative is encouraging other leaders in the Rochester business community to use the program as a vehicle to provide support to city students and families.

“We are changing lives for the better because the students at these schools won’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from, and therefore, they can learn more effectively,” said the Church of Love Faith Center’s Pastor Terrance Youmans. “The Church of Love Faith Center invites all houses of worship and businesses to come on board in partnership with one of our schools to help stock even more pantries and to help keep our students fed and healthy.”

Houses of Worship that want to become involved in the initiative can visit

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ROC the Future releases State of Our Children Report Card

Students in the Rochester City School District continue to trail their counterparts statewide in third-grade English language arts proficiency, high school graduation rates and kindergarten readiness, an annual report from ROC the Future shows.

ROC the Future, a nonprofit alliance of more than 60 local organizations dedicated to improving outcomes for Rochester children, on Tuesday released its eighth annual State of Our Children Report Card, which details student-level achievement, as well as data on school and community systems and examples of how the coalition is working to change and create systems to support cradle to career outcomes.

The Report Card also addressed the pandemic and systemic racism and the effect both have or will have on student learning.

“The short-term and long-term effects are not yet known,” the report said of COVID-19 and remote learning. “What we do know is we must be ready to step up in new ways to support our children and families as they recover from lost learning and work through social and emotional impacts.”

In examining school and community systems, ROC the Future also is intentionally focusing on race equity.

“We recognize that racism is embedded in the structures, policies and practices of our institutions and communities,” the report states. “Taking a systems-level approach will disrupt structural racism and build racial equity, ensuring that all children have the opportunity to thrive from cradle to career.”

In terms of kindergarten readiness for RCSD and community-based programs, the percentage of children ready fell in 2019 to 52 percent. Readiness among African American children improved to 51 percent, while the percentage of white children ready for school fell to 64 percent. Some 49 percent of Hispanic and Latino children were ready for kindergarten last year, unchanged from the 2017-2018 school year.

ROC the Future has set a goal of 80 percent readiness across the board.

Some 18 percent of RCSD students showed third-grade ELA proficiency in the 2018-2019 school year, up from the previous year but still far below the 52 percent statewide. The lowest-performing school reported a 3 percent proficiency, while the highest reported 48 percent.

Forty percent of non-economically disadvantaged students showed third-grade English language arts proficiency, compared with 16 percent of economically disadvantaged kids. Among African American students, 18 percent show third-grade ELA proficiency, down from the previous year, while among Hispanic and Latino children that dropped to 14 percent.

High school graduation rates improved to 63 percent in 2019 but remained far behind the 83 percent statewide. The lowest graduation rate was 30 percent, while the highest was 95 percent. Students of color had a 63 percent graduation rate, while white students fell to 64 percent. Asian students had the highest graduation rate at 76 percent.

RTF has set a goal of 80 percent of all high school seniors in Rochester graduating with their ninth-grade cohort.

Additionally, the report card shows:

• Student achievement varies greatly from one school building to another.
• Family support for pre-K children and adolescents is strong, but adolescents report little sense of support at school or in the community.
• Pre-kindergarten programs continue to provide high-quality classroom environments but supports in elementary and secondary schools vary greatly.
• The need to be attentive to community factors, including child poverty, youth employment, family mobility and access to transportation.

“Systems-level change in schools is not only about making the current education system work better. It is also about transforming the system for the future. Our children, especially the youngest, are learning for careers and a world that do not exist yet,” the report states.

To meet that challenge, RTF has formed the Community Commission on Education. Chaired by Melanie Funchess and Dirk Hightower, the planning group has introduced its goals to community stakeholders and content experts for feedback and interest. The commission will launch this year with a focus on creating a framework for its work over the next two to three years.

“We need the entire community to support the education of our children,” said RTF Director of Research & Analytics Stephanie Townsend. “Our region’s larger employers can play an important role not only through their philanthropic contributions but also through their own organizational practices.”

Townsend suggested the business community help in those endeavors by:

  • Offering paid time off for parents/guardians to attend school conferences and children’s medical and dental appointments
  • Providing high quality, on-site early childhood programs or a childcare benefit for employees
  • Paying livable wages
  • Offering high school internships and summer employment for youth

This year’s “State of Our Children” address that typically accompanies the report card has gone virtual and will take place from Nov. 16 to 19 with the theme of “Equity and Education: The Next Horizon.” Each day will offer a series of one-hour discussions focused on pertinent topics related to the digital divide, racial equity and education and educational access.

Each of the panel discussions will feature speakers who bring a wide variety of perspectives to each topic. Additionally, the final day will also feature the announcement of the winners of the Jacque Cady Annual Advocacy for Children Award, Parent Leader Award and the Organizational Partner Award. Each panel discussion will take place on Facebook Live.

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Groups collaborate to fund remote learning internet issues

The County of Monroe is teaming with ESL Federal Credit Union, Greater Rochester Health Foundation and Rochester Area Community Foundation on a solution to improve internet connectivity to help more students actively participate in their lessons throughout the school day.

Officials noted that the pandemic uncovered gaps in technology for students in the city of Rochester. Local and national foundations and other organizations responded quickly to ensure city students had laptop computers, tablets and devices to provide internet connections into the homes of students who needed them.

But the continuation of remote learning this fall has brought about another issue: Hotspot devices have not provided enough speed or consistent connection required for effective online learning.

“I am extremely grateful for the generosity and innovative spirit of our partners who are helping to ensure that our students receive the best education possible during a global pandemic,” said RCSD Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small in a statement. “For many of us, having reliable internet access is a given. For many of our students, getting this access will not only help with their education, it also brings them to a more equitable playing field.”

T-Mobile’s Project 10Million will donate 2,900 mobile hotspots to be distributed to RCSD students in kindergarten through high school who do not have reliable internet connections.

Monroe County has committed to using up to $175,000 of the federal CARES Act money to cover the $43,000 monthly connectivity costs for those devices through Dec. 31. The organizations will work together to coordinate among other area philanthropies to support the purchase of additional mobile hotspots for up to 2,000 more students. The county also will cover the $32,000 monthly unlimited data charges for the devices for November and December.

Local funders have committed to contributing and raising additional resources to continue to pay the $83,000 monthly unlimited data charges for all of the new hotspots through summer school.

“The collaborative work being done in our community across public, private and nonprofit sectors to address the critical needs of families during this pandemic is the exact kind of regional collaboration we need to solve Greater Rochester’s challenges,” said ESL Vice President/Director, Community Impact Ajamu Kitwana. “The collaboration between Monroe County and the city school district has motivated us to match the county’s funding as a show of deep support for that partnership.”

With ESL paying for two months of internet connectivity and GRHF and RACF committing to each pay for a month, that leaves four monthly bills not covered. ESL will help close that gap by matching additional contributions up to $350,000. United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. has offered $25,000 toward that effort.

“As we continue to navigate this unprecedented pandemic, we need to work together to ensure our students have the resources they need to learn and succeed. This is no small task,” said County Executive Adam Bello. “Thanks to the support of our community partners we’re able to ensure that RCSD students will have reliable WiFi for the rest of the school year.”

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Summer Meals program to be expanded

Foodlink Inc., the city of Rochester and the Rochester City School District are taking a new and innovative approach to ensure that children in the community have access to nutritious meals this summer.

As the COVID-19 public health crisis continues to limit food access and has shuttered traditional summer programs, the Summer Meals Partnership of Rochester, grab-and-go meal options will be provided and parents will be allowed to pick up meals without the children being present – which has been a requirement in previous years. The partnership also is introducing more “mobile meals” options for children due to the cancellations of summer classes and reduced enrollment for summer programming and camps.

The three organizations collaborate with community partners such as Common Ground Health and the Rochester Area Community Foundation to organize and promote Summer Meals each year. The Foodlink Community Kitchen and the Rochester City School District prepare and deliver meals to dozens of sites across the city.

To help increase healthy food access in Rochester, the partnership will be collaborating with Regional Transit Service (RTS) to deliver meals to select neighborhoods that do not have an established Summer Meals site, such as an R Center, school or church. This new model, similar to an ice cream truck, will circle select neighborhoods and provide free meals all summer long.

“RTS has a long history of partnering with organizations in the Rochester region to connect people to important destinations and services,” RTS CEO Bill Carpenter said. “The Summer Meals partnership has always done a great job providing healthy meals to children each summer. During this COVID-19 pandemic, the team at RTS is happy to be a part of such an important program and looks forward to working with the partnership to find new ways to reach more children in the community.”

The city of Rochester and Foodlink also will increase the mobile meals program, which sends vans with meals to locations such as libraries and parks, where families often gather during the warmer months.

Last year’s Summer Meals program served nearly 250,000 meals, with an average daily participation rate of more than 3,920 children.

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Literacy Rochester pilots technology program

Literacy Rochester has received funding to launch a new pilot program that will help cross the digital divide.

“Getting Technology in the Hands of Those in Need” will provide Chromebooks, tablets and internet service to participants in the organization’s instructional and digital literacy programs. Participants will receive a Chromebook or tablet in addition to internet service for three to six months.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been much uncertainty and wondering what is next for each of us. With so many parts of everyday life on hold and in flux, the challenges of literacy did not get put on hold and our students still needed to work towards achieving their goals,” said Joshua Stapf, development director for Literacy Rochester. “We, at Literacy Rochester, took our traditional hands-on face-to-face tutoring, classes and computer help and redesigned it to work in a social distancing world.”

The program is being made possible through Literacy Rochester’s partnership with Spectrum and the Office of Adult and Career Education Service (OACES) at Rochester City School District, which provided funding for the purchase of the materials and Wi-Fi hotspots for adult learners to take advantage of the virtual classes online.

“Equipping our residents with the tools they need to be digitally literate is essential to making sure that every citizen can fully function in today’s high tech society,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren in a statement. “I want to thank Literacy Rochester and their partners for creating this new pilot program that will supply technology to those in need, and for their ongoing commitment to help more people in the Rochester community connect to the ever-expanding virtual world we live in.”

Through the loan program participants receiving the technology can continue on their pathway to success in a time when access to computers are limited due to libraries and community centers being closed, officials said. The hotspots and tablets also will provide internet access for everyone in the participant’s household.

“Charter is proud to lend support towards Literacy Rochester and the launch of their pilot adult online learning tool,” said Camille Joseph, global vice president of state government affairs for Charter Communications. “We continue to support broadband education, training and technology with grants to nonprofit organizations that are interested in providing the necessary tools and training to help communities excel in the digital age.”

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RMSC, RCSD collaborate on African-American history initiative

rmsc_rgbThe Rochester Museum & Science Center will offer a new program aimed at Rochester City School District kids to immerse them in African and African-American culture and history.

The collaboration, “A Journey Through Time in African-American History,” will take place Feb. 27 and includes six artists chosen by RMSC and RCSD who will share their particular art as a strand of the African and African-American experience. Artists include:
• AKOMA, the African-American Women’s Gospel Choir
• Bradford Britton, visual artist
• Yahaya Alhassan, Ghanaian drummer and instrumentalist who also crafts glass bead necklaces, which benefits a school he founded in Ghana
• DJ C-Melz, sound artist
• Alfred St. John, Trinidadian steel pan drummer and founder of the Trinidad and Tobago Steelband
• The Baobab Cultural Center

rochester_city_school_district_official_logoThe goal of the program is for students to learn about each of the artists and their art, how they came to it and what they try to communicate through it, officials said. The collaboration is designed as a celebration of the contributions Africans and African-Americans have and continue to make to the American culture.

RMSC for several years has hosted Haudenosaunee Days, in which students come to the museum and rotate through a set of sessions with artists and storytellers to learn about Native American culture and its ongoing traditions. In November, a project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, “Learning Local-The National Network for Folkarts in Education,” held its culminating event at RMSC.

The project matched local artists with local teachers and provided both with professional development on how to have the artists come into school classrooms and share their art and their culture. Three of those artists were asked to participate in an event structured around African and African-American culture targeted at RCSD students.

The first program was held on Feb 10 with four artists and some 70 students. Both RCSD and RMSC are financially supporting the program, and a grant proposal has been submitted to host the event next year.

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Coalition forms to improve city schools

Roc the Future, an alliance of more than 60 leading Rochester institutions, on Monday launched a new initiative to transform the Rochester City School District.

Our Children, Our Future is a community partnership committed to working with the state’s Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and the Board of Regents to develop a process of engagement designed to improve the school district.

“We understand that the voices of children and families, community, civic, business and nonprofit leaders must be represented and engaged at all essential decision-making tables,” said Roc the Future Director Jackie Campbell. “Roc the Future steps forward to actively assure that these voices are represented during the months ahead.”

In a letter to Elia and the Board of Regents, Roc the Future addressed the Distinguished Educator’s Report that was handed down last fall suggesting that, among other things, RCSD improve relationships among all stakeholders by establishing a community engagement team to review pertinent data, including chronic absenteeism rates, and develop an action plan to address any areas that need improvement.

“The Distinguished Educator’s Report describes and focuses the attention of essential stakeholders and decision-makers on the irrefutable breakdown of public education in Rochester,” the letter states. “The system is broken and must be replaced. Its cumulative failures have evolved over decades. They are systemic failures; certainly not failures of our children, nor of any one leader, teacher or board. They are failures that combine to perpetuate inequality based on race and income in our city and region. Systemic and transformational change is needed now, and into the future. The Distinguished Educator’s Report and your call to action compel us all to reflect upon how we can best serve the children entrusted to our care, and to take action on their behalf.”

Roc the Future Chairman Ajamu Kitwana on Monday said the conveners and institutional partners recognize that their success is tied to the success of the community’s children.

“We are asking for the commissioner’s help to end the decades-long treadmill of finger pointing, revolving door leadership and consistent, unacceptable outcomes for our children,” Kitwana said. “We need a chance to stop the cycle and take the time to work with our school district, teachers and administrators, parents and students to co-create a solution, then share accountability for excellent results.”

A petition asking the community to join Our Children, Our Future in support of a new governance structure that can “transform Rochester’s schools” is available at Roc the Future’s website.

“Quality education is fundamental to our children’s success—and right now, we are failing them,” said U.S. Rep. Joseph Morelle, D-Rochester, who took part in Monday’s event. “We need bold action to address the crisis in our city schools. We can only accomplish this by working together as a community, and that is why I am so proud to partner with ROC the Future, Mayor (Lovely) Warren and leaders throughout Rochester to strengthen our schools and put our students on the path to success.”

Warren said Roc the Future is best positioned to help the community quickly determine how to transform the city schools.

“Our children are not just our future, they are our right now,” Warren said. “We can’t afford to wait. We can’t lose another generation of our children to a broken system.”

Separately, on Friday, state Sen. Robert Jackson, D-Manhattan, joined RCSD officials and parents for a fact-finding tour of Rochester schools, part of a statewide tour that aims to document student needs and school funding inequities in preparation for the state budget.

The tour is a collaboration between Jackson and the Alliance for Quality Education. Currently, the state owes RCSD $97 million, or $2,900 per student. The Board of Regents and the Alliance for Quality Education have called for a $1.66 billion increase in Foundation Aid this year, and a three year phase-in of the $4.1 billion in Foundation Aid owed under current state law, which is targeted to high-need school districts like Rochester, officials said.

The Foundation Aid formula was designed to ensure that all schools statewide have the resources needed to ensure every student receives the “sound, basic education” that New York’s constitution guarantees. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing a $338 million increase in Foundation Aid and opposes a full phase-in of the funding.

“Through these visits to schools across our state, I am finding in each instance that the paltry $338 million in Foundation Aid that Gov. Cuomo’s budget offers is truly an insult to our children,” Jackson said in a statement Friday. “These districts are not getting the resources they need from the state. My colleagues in the Senate and I will continue fighting until our schools statewide are given the $4.1 billion they are owed to ensure a quality education for all New York children.”

Alliance for Quality Education Legislative Director Jasmine Gripper said districts like Rochester “are exactly why New York State needs to renew its commitment to funding the Foundation Aid formula.”

“High-need communities are dependent on state aid to meet the educational needs of students,” she said. “When state aid falls short, these students are the ones who suffer most. Every year the Foundation Aid goes unfunded is another year of systemic educational neglect. We have to break this harmful cycle by enacting a state budget that fully funds our schools.”

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RCSD student graduation rate improves, other metrics slip

brochureThe high school graduation rate in the Rochester City School District is projected to improve this year. Early grade literacy is trending up, and so is middle grade math. But there is much more to be done, and community leaders and educators say it will take a collective effort to make it happen.

“This isn’t about new programs; it’s about making what we do more effective by making sure we’re all playing to the same rhythm, that we all understand the development milestones critical to our children’s success and that we work together to help our children grow and achieve,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren in a statement read during the sixth annual State of Our Children Address held Thursday morning at Monroe Community College.

The annual progress report found that the number of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in Pre-K or Head Start increased from 2017 to 2018; the percentage of ninth-graders with at least six credits improved year-over-year; and the projected 2018 high school graduation rate improved to 59.3 percent.

But chronic absence in elementary school has increased; the percentage of third-graders reading above the national norm declined and the percentage of students completing post-secondary schooling within six years fell.

“When we talk about collective impact, it’s about leaders coming together from across sectors: policymakers, educators on the ground, philanthropy, all of us who are committed to our shared goals,” said Ajamu Kitwana, executive director of ESL Charitable Foundation and chairman of ROC the Future, which produces the report. “For us at ROC the Future, it’s that every child enters kindergarten ready, that every child is supported through their journey through school, every child is successful in that journey and ultimately that every child leaves (high school) college and/or career ready.”

Thursday’s event featured keynote speaker Shaun Nelms, East High Educational Partnership Organization superintendent and the first William and Sheila Konar director for the Center for Urban Education Success, who discussed the impact a few small changes at East High have made on student outcomes.

“The transformation process really began the moment that we interviewed parents and students and allowed them to identify the critical needs that were impacting them, and then built a system and plan around those identified needs,” Nelms said. “Typically organizations start with the comprehensive plan that is, with all good intentions, designed to support the community, but often lacks the community’s voice.”

East High has been run by University of Rochester since 2015. One of the main goals UR set in its plan was to double East High’s graduation rate from 42 percent to 84 percent over the five-year partnership.

“When the University of Rochester conducted its assessment of East prior to year one of implementation they surveyed teachers and students and families and administrators to determine what was working well here and what were some areas for growth,” Nelms said. “Students consistently said there were broken relationships between them and the adults in building.”

So school leadership began to allow students and families to have a voice in certain initiatives, one of which was the collection of student cellphones at the beginning of the school day.

“It was the parents and students who supported the initiative, because they saw (cellphones) as distractions in the academic environment,” he said. “So we made that change this year and it’s paid incredible dividends in allowing kids to be more engaged in the classroom setting and less distracted on social media.”

The move also has led to fewer infractions because the drama isn’t carried into the classroom, Nelms said.

Nelms added that by asking for parental input, the school discovered that its parent-teacher conference attendance was low primarily because they were held at times inconvenient for those taking public transportation. Attendance at the conferences immediately rose when adjustments were made.

Van White
Van White

“Until we authentically listen to parents and students and then make decisions around that, we’ll continue to find opportunities to justify that parents or students aren’t engaged because they’re not following our path,” Nelms said. “Instead of us going to parents and asking them to support our initiatives, we should be going to parents with the expectation that we’re going to support their initiatives. Once you put parents and students at the center, their actions start to change drastically in a very positive and effective way.”

RCSD Board of Education President Van White echoed that sentiment.

“Heroes are all around us. And they don’t wear capes and they don’t have X-ray vision. They are the grocer and the grandma, the preacher and the teacher, the mother and the father, the college professor and the school principal, the custodians and the counselors,” White said. “Everyone has a different superpower. Data is power. Data provides us the ability to understand what is happening to our children, whether our powers are having an impact.”

The data shared Thursday with the community will help drive the initiatives and the collective impacts of the future, he said.

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Horizons at Warner program produces 1st graduating class

The program at the University of Rochester Wednesday afternoon will look like the end of an intriguing summer camp, but the Horizons program’s “Animal Athenaeum” will be a whole lot more meaningful.

The exhibition for students to show the work they created over six weeks this summer also will signify the graduation of the first class of students to come to Horizons every summer from kindergarten to ninth grade.

The program is run by the university’s Warner School of Education and is designed to prevent learning backsliding over the summer for students in the Rochester City School District in grades K-9. Students actually end up having a two-month jump on their peers in reading and math when they return to their schools in the fall, according to the Horizons at Warner program.

The summer enrichment program, which began at the Harley School in 2010, started with 15 kindergarteners from School No. 33.  The program later moved to Drama House at UR, and then to the Warner School’s LeChase Hall, where it is headquartered today.

This year 155 students in K-9 attended, and 13 of those original kindergarteners will be graduating.  The students are exposed to a variety of cultural, academic and social enrichment programs, taken on field trips, and participate in swimming lessons and other sports.

Horizons is part of a national program that is 54 years old. UR was the first college campus to join the national network of Horizons programs.

Students from the city schools in the Horizons at Warner program considered animals, such as this millipede, this summer.
Students from the city schools in the Horizons at Warner program considered animals, such as this millipede, this summer.

One of the program’s graduates, Julissa Loucks, entered the program on the recommendation of a kindergarten teacher.

Julissa’s mother, Edith Muniz, told a UR writer, “I was looking for a place where my Julissa could spend time with other kids like her because she was so articulate. I needed her to be someplace where she could express herself, form healthy relationships, and make new friends.”

Today, Julissa is a student at the School of the Arts, blogs regularly and is writing a book online.

“She has learned skills here that you would typically expect your child to obtain in college,” Muniz said.

The “Animal Athenaeum” program will show libraries of books on animal subjects collected by the students, as well as exhibit their crafts and other work. Each year Horizons features a different subject to study in depth during the enrichment program. This year was all about amazing animals.

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Kodak employees honor Eastman by stuffing bus with school supplies

Eastman Kodak Co. employees "Stuffed A Bus" with school supplies for the Rochester City School district to Honor George Eastman's birthday July 12. (Photo provided)
Eastman Kodak Co. employees “Stuffed A Bus” with school supplies for the Rochester City School district to Honor George Eastman’s birthday July 12. (Photo provided)

More than 350 Eastman Kodak Co. employees honored the 164th birthday of their company’s founder July 12 by doing something he likely would have done himself: give back to the community.

“Stuff A Bus” was organized to celebrate businessman and philanthropist George Eastman. A school bus was “stuffed” with more than 1,200 school supplies from Kodak licensing partner Cra-Z-Art, as well as numerous supplies donated by staffers. Supplies included crayons, pencils, colored pencils, glue sticks and more. Kodak donated roughly 300 backpacks for the bus stuffing.

The school supplies are being donated to the Rochester City School District for the upcoming school year.

The event, which also included an employee cookout to celebrate Eastman, was in conjunction with Kodak’s Print for Good initiative, a program that was designed to help support literacy initiatives here in Rochester and around the world, company officials said.

In 2017, Kodak held a birthday party for Eastman, and during that event more than 2,500 books were collected and donated to the Urban League of Rochester and the Scott Spino Foundation.

School supplies were donated for RCSD's upcoming school year. (Photo provided)
School supplies were donated for RCSD’s upcoming school year. (Photo provided)

Born in 1854, Eastman began dabbling in photography at 24. From 1880 to 1889, Eastman worked on his Eastman Dry Plate Co. and Eastman Dry Plate and Film Co. He formed the Eastman Co. in 1894 and it has been known as Eastman Kodak since 1892.

But Eastman was known not only for founding the company that bears his name, but also for being one of Rochester’s foremost philanthropists at the time. His gifts were instrumental in the founding of the United Way of Greater Rochester, as well as Eastman School of Music and Eastman Dental Dispensary, among many others.

“If a man has wealth, he has to make a choice, because there is the money heaping up. He can keep it together in a bunch, and then leave it for others to administer after he is dead. Or he can get it into action and have fun while he is still alive,” Eastman once said. “I prefer getting it into action and adapting it to human needs, and making the plan work.”

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