On a very rainy Monday, when my allergies were in high flare and a persistent cold rain had forced day four of the 2019 Rochester Lilac Festival to close I told myself that despite every reason to stay in bed I would push myself to attend Rochester Beacon’s sold out forum titled “ Rochester Schools: The Elephant in the Room. As a regular reader of Rochester Beacon, I was excited for this forum for many weeks. Given the digital newspaper’s mission and commitment to fact based reporting and bringing a different voice to Rochester’s media line up, I had high hopes for the forum event.
I was optimistic and anticipating a real “truth to power” session. Something that would call out the status quo and make what has for decades impeded true progress in the Rochester City School District abundantly clear. I was hoping for an outline that would detail what changes need to happen to not just move the needle but affect true systemic reform at the individual, institutional, and systemic levels. When I learned that Mayor Lovely Warren and Jackie Campbell of Roc the Future would be panelists my interest was only heightened. I had this event on my calendar for weeks and I intended to be present with bells on.
Naturally, the day came and even after careful planning, I found myself running late. The rain, coupled with more rain and public transit made me about 30 minutes late to the forum. I arrived soaking wet but energized (in my head) and ready to engage.
After about 45 minutes I found myself forcing myself to sit through a languishing and lengthy presentation by Chris Cerf, the forum’s keynote speaker and former commissioner of education for the state of New Jersey.
Chris Cerf’s keynote didn’t lack data, facts, or good information. The true problem is that everything he shared I’d already heard before. In fact, I have no doubt that every single person in the room already knew everything he was presenting . Those of us who have lived for any length of time and discussed the decades old challenges of the Rochester City School District ad nauseam; know that teachers matter. We know quality evidence based curriculum matters. We know that teaching and instructing that is aligned to said curriculum matters. We know that parents and the community must be engaged. We know that all decisions should center students and not put adults first. In Rochester we know all of these things and more; so the goal shouldn’t be to tell us what we already know, but to ask why the district, why the community elected board, and why the community at large isn’t doing what research shows is best. This is (1) of the elephants I came to this forum wanting to be called out. It never was.
By the time the first panel came to the stage (yes there were two panels) I was hoping that the monotony of Chris Cerf would be livened up by questions and answers from the large audience.
All questions that I have asked at every single panel that I’ve ever attended about The Rochester City School District and here I was asking myself these same questions. Again.
Each panel member was allowed to speak individually on what was basically a reiteration of what Chris Cerf had already presented for nearly an hour. Thankfully Mayor Warren kept her words very concise saying only that she agreed with everything that Chris Cerf shared in his presentation. Most of which I can barely remember since it was nothing I haven’t heard before. Chris alluded to the elephant in the room, maybe mentioned but still this elusive elephant wasn’t very clear from his words. So, you can imagine my continued frustration that after each panel member spoke their interpretation, there was still little clarity on said elephant.
Unfortunately there was no one from the State Regents or Department of Education present to answer this profound “elephant in the room”. What frustrated me further was after all the time spent on the panelists reiterating what we had already heard for an hour, we barely got through any of the audience questions. The ones that were shared were heavily paraphrased by the moderator Kent Gardner.
And just when my body seemed to be at the height of rebelling against my mind; a second panel was called to the stage. All I could think was ” Not another panel” However, this panel seemed to make sense for the forum. I couldn’t help but keep thinking to myself why the second panel wasn’t placed first since it was made up of leaders that are beacons of change in the district. This second panel included:
This panel although encouraging and further reinforcing the idea that transformative change actually works when quality schools and leaders are given the autonomy and finances to do change work, it only emphasized what we already knew.
The elephant in the room is why isn’t the school district replicating and scaling what works?
These quotable gems although powerful were stated at the very final final hour of the event literally as folks were checked out, leaving, or just about checked out. I so wish these content experts and their quotes framed the beginning of the decision rather than said in passing at the very end of a long three hour forum.
“And just when my body seemed to be at the height of rebelling against my mind a second panel was called to the stage”
I didn’t learn much really. This forum like so many before it reinforced much about what I already know about Rochester and the Rochester City School District
(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton aka theglutenfreechef (www.theglutenfreechefblog.com) is a digital content creator, social entrepreneur, and educator whose areas of expertise includes antiracism, diversity, inclusion, K-12 curriculum writing and teaching, gluten free plant based living, and higher education.