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President of School Board (Rochester City School District – RCSD) asks Warner to consider EPO partnership.



What is an EPO? = Educational Partnership Organization. Under Education Law 211-e (New York State), districts with schools that have been identified as Priority have the ability to contract with Educational Partnership Organizations to turnaround the identified school. EPO partnerships are innovative reform efforts in that the school and its partnership organization become a “district within a district” with its own superintendent and unprecedented control over all processes and practices of the “district.”

Relationships foundational to the EPO – the backstory

Dr. Joanne Larson, University of Rochester, discusses how her long-standing relationships with members of a Rochester neighborhood community laid the groundwork conversations about the EPO: “How I came to be a part of the East EPO begins over 10 years ago when I began a University/community collaboration with Northeast Area Development (NEAD) and its executive director, George Moses. Through our ethnography of NEAD’s initiatives in the Beechwood neighborhood of Rochester, I developed long lasting, trusting relationships with area residents. While I do live in the city, I do not live in this neighborhood; however, I became a member of the community nonetheless. Over the course of this work, I came to know Van White, the current president of the Rochester City School Board. We first met at a research team meeting at NEAD and saw each other frequently at NEAD Freedom School events. After a few years, he asked me to co-lead an RCSD task force on curriculum. I gladly agreed. This work resulted in a report to the Board which then implemented many of our recommendations. Mr. White came to trust me and my dedication to RCSD. This trust led him to call me one Saturday afternoon in February 2014 to ask whether the University would be willing to serve as the EPO for East.”

Simultaneously, East High School was struggling to meet academic benchmarks set by the state.  East became a “priority school.” This article covers the situation. Academic failures put East HS on chopping block, March 18. 2014. (ad block here)

East becomes an “out of time school”
 Out of time schools were forced by New York state into reorganization, facing five options:

  1. Close the school
  2. Phase-out current school; phase in replacement school
  3. Contract with an Educational Partnership Organization (EPO)
  4. Convert to charter school
  5. Enter into contract with the State University of New York (SUNY) or City University of New York (CUNY)

The Rochester City School Board chose to pursue #3. Dr. Uebbing elaborates on how what forms EPO’s can take here: is a third-party educational organization. Could be college, university, museum, a library, even, that would oversee, supervise the school and submit necessary applications to the state, have the plan be approved and then have authority over the school.”

audio link: Interview :29-1:31

Initially, the University of Rochester declined the school board’s request to take over as the EPO for East. Dr. Uebbing describes the University’s reasoning here:

audio link: Interview 1:32-2:44

“I was called to a meeting with the president of the board and the dean—Van White, who’s the president of the board, Dean Borasi and Professor Larson to listen to this request that we consider becoming the educational partnership organization. At the time my role was not clear to me what they would expect from me, and I listened to the request, and immediately afterwards I conferenced with the dean, and I advised her we didn’t have the capacity to be the educational partnership organization. This is a very complex undertaking, and they were asking for the EPO to take over. Now, remember, this is late March—to take over July 1. We had no plans. We hadn’t developed a strategy, and we didn’t have the people on board to do the work. We reluctantly declined. We declined, and that went away, and a couple weeks later there was a request by the principal, Annabelle Sorrell, who met with us, and, for the same reason, we declined again.

As negotiations and conversations ensued, an extension was proposed. Dr. Uebbing recalls his thinking at the time…

audio link: Interview 2:49-4:08

“Now we’re into early April 2014, and we have another meeting with the board president, who asked the question, “What would it take for you to do it? You said you don’t have—it’s not possible, given the time constraints. What if we got you more time? What if we gave you more money?” because one of the things I said is this is gonna be the same faculty, the same budget, the same building, the same curriculum, the same kids. Everything’s the same, same contract. Building’s different. Why would you think that would make a difference? There’s no evidence that would make a difference. The principal had said earlier that the law allowed us to change faculty. We hired new faculty, and then White in our second meeting said, “What if we gave you more time? What if we get you more time?” I said, “Well, yeah, your budgetary constraints are significant.” “Well, we would allow you to submit whatever budget you wanted. Well, we really don’t have the people, the capacity, to do this. I mean, there’s me. I’m the superintendent, so I know how a lotta this stuff works, but we need a lot more than me. We would need a year to plan, not a few extra months.”

University of Rochester President enters into discussions. With an interest in the University’s deeper involvement in education in the Rochester community, UR President Joel Seligman becomes involved. Dr. Uebbing describes how the negotiations began to focus on the specifics regarding timing and labor unions.

audio link: Interview 4:09-5:05 (change this)

“The next request went to the president of the university, Joel Seligman, who was intrigued by the opportunity to play a major role in urban school reform. After some discussions, he agreed to intervene directly with the commissioner and request up to a year to plan.”