RCSD Commissioner Judith Davis: I’d like to clear a few things up that I’ve noted in various media reports


The outcomes of the existing dysfunction among the adults who govern the District is evident: the disproportional suspension of African American boys, the over identification of children of color for special education and, one outcome we don't discuss, the minimization of grandparent, parent and community engagement.

Commissioner Davis

Friday, I sought to disrupt this pattern of minimization and call for a reset of the superintendent search process. The attached picture I received of yesterday’s Parent and Student Forum supports my belief in the need for this call.

The media’s own pan of all the empty chairs at the Community/Employee Saturday community forum supports this call. Are 90% empty chairs not concerning to anyone? Why would the majority of the Board whose members have been elected to represent the will of the people not be in an uproar over the absence of "the people"?

Why would a Board accept this and declare its plans to roll on with the search process as if the attached picture displays an acceptable level of engagement?

I do not believe the lack of engagement is the fault of the community but the Board's/District's ongoing dysfunctional pattern of working to minimize authentic grandparent, parent and community engagement.

Unfortunately, once the Board rejected a process that would have had the community at the table of decision from the beginning, I made the mistake of, and I apologized to the community on Friday for, co-operating with the ongoing planning instead of continuing to fight for inclusion. It is the community that pulled my coattail and said, "No, we need you to continue to fight for our inclusion."

I'm not cooperating any further and I'm calling for a reset of the search process.

This is not infighting. This is not hidden conflict or competitiveness with Board colleagues to which the term "infighting" eludes. This is not further dysfunction.

This is disrupting the longstanding, ongoing, dysfunctional status quo among the adults who have implemented systemic processes that for decades have and continue to produce community exclusion in major decisions involving the children of this City.

I did not contact my Board colleagues because they have been and continue to be among the adults who create and implement processes that minimize community input. As the Distinguished Educator mentioned in his report, "We have an adult problem."

*More From Commissioner Davis, Statement to the public on May 3, 2019:

I thank everyone for being here today. My name is Rev. Judith Davis and I have been a Rochester City School District Board Commissioner for four months. I want to start by sharing what led to this press conference.

Mid-April I said to myself none of what I’m doing matters. It’s not making a difference. I couldn’t understand why. I’m going to meetings, I’m studying, I’m meeting with staff to have processes explained to me. With all that effort, it doesn’t matter.

While I was having that epiphany, I started having come to Jesus meetings with the Coalition that helped to get me into office. They felt I had been sucked into the dysfunction of the Board I had agreed on behalf of the community to take a stand against. They started asking more in-depth questions about the superintendent search process.

Their inquiries were followed by another Coalition of parents, professors, principals, superintendents, and teachers asking why a well-known local candidate was not interviewed, though they had once been an RCSD Interim Superintendent. Their inquiries were followed by individual parents and community members concerned about the lack of community input in the search process itself, including what the role of students, parents and community would be, the unilateral decision of the Board that they would choose the four finalists themselves, the exclusion of well-known candidates from the interview process, etc.

Each time I realized that due to confidentiality, I couldn’t answer their questions.

My first experience of Executive Session was the Board going in and out of Executive Session, each time opening and closing the door and it was rote to them. It made sense to them. When people asked me questions, I had to think was the door open or was it closed when we talked about that.

I was told Board members are required to be careful to maintain confidential information they acquire in executive session. However, the term confidential is not defined. I was told that according to a "judicial decision" of the Commissioner of Education, "confidential" refers to "information that is meant to be kept secret".

I till this date do not know what is confidential and I recommend an investigation into the Board’s use of Executive Session. It seems “confidential” is at the discretion of the Board member and follows no rule but the Board members.

I’ve heard members of this Board say, “We’re the Board.” It was not stated, in my opinion, from the perspective of seeking to carry out the will of the people. It was stated in hubris, in extravagant pride, we’re in control. In all the busyness of getting acclimated to the Board, I joined a long-standing power relationship that in actuality needs to be interrupted.

I have to agree with the Coalition. I have in four short months, in an effort to follow the rules, been sucked into joining a longstanding power relationship between the Board and parents and the community. I started working from the perspective of the Board instead of the perspective of the people. I must admit I participated in developing this weekend and for that I apologize.

I forgot to keep in mind always that there is a long-standing power relationship between the Board and the community with the Board historically acting to shut the community out or, if present, ensuring the community is uninformed, confused and as far away from the decision-making table as possible. This was displayed at the beginning of the Superintendent Search Process.

There were two proposals on the table for the search process.

One put the community at the table from the beginning to the end of the search process.

The other put the community at arm’s length only able to offer comments for a Superintendent profile and an opportunity to ask questions in a controlled environment, i.e., the community forums this weekend.

Only two people, myself and President White, voted for the plan that put the community at the table from the beginning.

We have about 28,000 students add two caregivers per student and we have a total of 84,000 students and caregivers but only a spattering attended the Superintendent Profile forums held by the search firm and one evening was cancelled due to weather and never rescheduled.

One session the firm left after waiting for participants only 20 minutes, created a video for participants to view and I am told called Rochester Richmond at least three times.

Some of the problems with the process this weekend as shared with me by the community are:

• A lack of direct engagement with the candidates. One parent stated: “We’re entrusting our precious children to the care of the next Superintendent and we have to sit and watch other people ask our questions? Don’t I deserve more respect than that? You have my child!”

• What if the question we have isn’t asked?”

• Questions are being received online when many families may not have a computer or internet.

• Questions are being vetted and chosen by persons unknown to the community.

• How can the community evaluate if the candidate is able to address concerns off the cuff when the Board has set up a controlled environment? How can the community get a feel for a candidate when they can’t engage that candidate directly?

• How is 1 hour and 15 mins. sufficient?

• Why are interviews on Sunday when the community is in church?

• How did the Board arrive at these four finalists?

• Why did the Board weed out community picks like Bill Cala who possesses credentials the four finalists do not?

• If the community had been at the table, what is the probability these would be the four finalists?

Now that the community has awaken me from a stupor of busyness that doesn’t matter, I’m holding this press conference to state that I believe we need a RESET of the superintendent search process with the community at the table of decision. I believe we should allow the community to offer a community candidate unilaterally as the Board picked four finalists unilaterally. I believe the Board’s use of Executive Session should be investigated as I believe the Board uses it to shut the community out of decisions of which they should be a part. I believe the Board should apologize for its hubris and disrespect of this community.

I believe the Board itself needs a RESET and we have an opportunity June 25th to RESET the Board starting in 2020. That’s why I’m holding this Press Conference with my running mates for the School Board. Four seats are up for election. This means four persons of like mind who are community oriented could lead the agenda of the board as they would be the new Board majority. We need persons to come out June 25th and vote for the Slate, Min. Clifford Florence, Ms. Andria Bryant, Mr. Howard Eagle and myself.

I want to end addressing a quizzical look I continually received last year when campaigning for this position. I shared my platform is Community Organizing for School Reform. I shared I need you the community member. The response was, “I’m electing you to do the work. What are you looking to me for? Why should I do your job?”

I’m not asking the community to do my job. I’m asking the community to help disrupt a long-standing power relationship between the RCSD Board and this community. This I cannot do by myself. One of the aims of community organizing is to disrupt long-standing power relationships because they produce failing schools in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

If we as a community do not now address this long-standing Board - Community power relationship, I’m telling you any reform proposed with either disappear in three years or be so diluted it can’t be effective.

You are the only source of power historically that has had the ability to make an institution such as the Rochester City School District say, “Yes, we’ll do what is necessary to improve student achievement, when the District wants to continue to say No.”

Instead of a State or City entity taking over the schools, or a single Coalition declaring itself the best to lead, I would like to see the community given an opportunity it has never been given, to become that leadership, that stabilizing force from the outside in that exerts pressure to forge within the District the political will to fulfill its moral imperative to provide a high quality education to our children.

We need to bring together a collective of City Officials, Board members, Central Office personnel, principals, teachers, CASE coordinators, psychologists, social workers, parents, grandparents, students, businesspersons, non-profits, faith communities and concerned everyday citizens into a unified body of one mind and heart whose aim is to equalize power between the school and District administrators/Board members and low-income parents and community members, the latter of whom, as Dr. Aquino notes in his report, feel marginalized or powerless to effect change that actually results in improved student outcomes.

Again, as a body, the Board of Education has full authority to carry out the will of the people of its district in matters of education. When you view this current Board, I ask you to ask two questions, “Do you believe they know what the will of the people is? Are you sure their idea of “the people” includes you?”

Judith Davis, Commissioner

Commissioner Judith Davis

131 West Broad Street

Rochester, NY 14614

(585) 262-8525 (phone)

(585) 262-8381 (fax)

[email protected]
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