by James Brown
After less than three years on the job, Barbara Deane-Williams is retiring as superintendent of the Rochester City School District. Her last day on the job was Thursday.
Deane-Williams was appointed superintendent in the summer of 2016. She announced her retirement after a board meeting in October 2018. The next superintendent will be the district’s fourth in a decade, not including four interim superintendents. When asked why the district has had so many top administrators in such a short time Deane-Williams told reporters at a news conference at the district’s central office that it’s a symptom of how the district is managed.
“I think that we all know that superintendents serve at the pleasure of the board of education,.” Deane-Williams said. “Anytime there is transition in the board. There is the potential that the direction or the desires of that collective body will be different. So the solution to superintendent longevity rests with the governance structure.”
Governance structure is among criticisms in Distinguished Educator Jamie Aquino’s report. The distinguished educator was hired by the New York State Department of Education to provide a critical look at the Rochester City School District. Aquino’s report that asks for a “total reset” in district management, finances and educational outcomes.
Deane-Williams argues that district outcomes are on the upswing. The New York State Department of Education says just 48% of city school students graduated from city schools in June 2016, shortly before Deane-Williams was hired. June 2018’s rate is just over 53%. This number is still the lowest among major cities, the so-called ‘Big 5’ school districts, in the state.
Interim Superintendent Dan LowengardCREDIT JAMES BROWN / WXXI NEWS
Deane-Williams stressed that turning around the Rochester district requires improved processes inside the district, including encouraging African American students, who Deane-Williams says are among the district’s lowest performing students, to take more difficult courses. The district is 57.5% African American. That percentage equals 15,350 students.
“We have moved toward a more open advanced placement model where we encourage students to try the more challenging curriculum and then provide the support for them to be more successful,” Deane-Williams said. “As opposed to setting an artificial gate or barrier that prevents them from showing us what they can do.”
Deane-Williams said that the district’s efforts are only one part of improving city schools. She says she wishes she engaged parents and community partners sooner and more effectively. She points to her work with the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative and Roc the Future as examples of her community outreach efforts.
“Dialogue means more than communicating one way,” Deane-Williams said. “You need people to really start to really understand the collective approaches that are going to be required.”
“We need an approach in Rochester that focuses on the whole child. The whole school. And the whole family. It’s not enough to have teaching and learning conditions improve. We must improve living conditions as well.”
So who will replace Deane-Williams? That process has already begun.
Dan Lowengard will take over as interim superintendent on Friday. He has four decades of experience in education and is the former superintendent of Utica and Syracuse city schools. Lowengard was interim superintendent of Rochester City Schools for four days before suffering a stroke. He says he has no interest in the role permanently. He expects someone to be hired by mid-summer, and while he’s not involved with the search for a replacement, he would prefer a local candidate.
“Knowing this community is really the key,” Lowengard said. “Not just its schools but all its organizations.”
The Board of Education is planning community input sessions in February. School Board President Van White says the sessions will help a search firm hired by the district “write the job description” for the new superintendent.
As for Deane-Williams, she says she plans to stay in the area and be active in the city school district as a volunteer as she decides her next career move.