By: Edwin Martinez
The selection of Barbara Dean-Williams as the new superintendent of Rochester schools signals big changes ahead, and that is just what the troubled school district needs.
“The students cannot wait any longer and neither can the city, finally experiencing a resurgence that can easily stall without a functioning public school system that can attract and retain families”.
Williams has her work cut out for her in trying to fix a district with lowest achievement and high dysfunction in the state. Her salary is a stunning $225,000, but she will be worth every penny if she succeeds in turning around the worst school district in the state system.
The Rochester’s School District is in desperate straits. Superintendents have come and superintendents have gone, with little change in results. It is easy to get jaded. Except, there is no time for negativity.
More than half of the city’s schools are facing an outside takeover, or receivership, within the next year or two. Rochester’s schools are suffering from a dismal graduation rate, hovering around 40 percent. English and math proficiency in many schools was below 10 percent – in some cases well below – in the most recent state tests for the lower grades.
These results stem from many issues common to large urban school districts, including high poverty rates, large numbers of students who speak little English and poor attendance. Williams is taking on a challenging task, to say the least.
She seems to have a strong base of support, at least for now. In a rare demonstration of accord by a fractured School Board, she was approved unanimously.
Deane Williams says she's been given a list of goals, including improved test scores and graduation rates. With 30 years of school administration experience, she's the former leader of the Greece Schools, and worked this past school year in Boston.
"She's a seasoned leader that will come and hit the ground running," said Malik Evans, of the RCSD Board of Education. "Obviously we all learn, but she's won't need to pick up a book and see how to run a school district. She knows how to do that."
The district embarked on its search after embattled former Superintendent Bolgen Vargas announced his resignation in October. The board tapped former Syracuse superintendent Dan Lowengard to serve in the interim, but in January he suffered a stroke and resigned. Ex-Buffalo school administrator Linda Cimusz became the third superintendent in three weeks.
Barbara Deane-Williams, three-year contract will pay her an annual salary of $225,000. She plans on quickly developing missing system, and developing organizational structures that supports teachers in the class room and in turn improves student outcomes.
The search for a new superintendent of schools had been done out of the public eye. Deane-Williams name didn't even come into the picture until last month.
Adam Urbandski, head of the Rochester Teachers Association, says Deane-Williams has received positive reviews from other labor unions.
"They're saying she's collaborative," Urbanski said. "She respects teachers. She respects the responsibility of teacher unions to represent teachers, and we think that will continue here."
"Frankly I believe my track record has been very productive and positive," Deane-Williams said.