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Rochester Unveils `Shared Accountability' Plan

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The superintendent of the Rochester, N.Y., schools is winning applause from teachers and community leaders for advancing an ambitious set of goals for the 35,000-pupil district.

The four-year, 29-point plan, unveiled last month, sets benchmarks not only for schools to raise student achievement, but also for business and community partnerships to improve student safety, health, and access to scholarships and jobs. It also calls for an independent "community round table" to help monitor the plan and issue annual progress reports.

"We have a design for shared accountability that wasn't featured in previous reforms in the district," said Superintendent Clifford Janey, who was the chief academic officer of the Boston schools before taking the Rochester post in July.

Rochester leaped into the school-reform limelight in 1987 when its teachers signed a landmark contract that assigned new duties to higher-level teachers, increased salaries overall, and gave teachers more decisionmaking power while holding them more accountable for student welfare.

Critics have contended, however, that those and other reforms have failed to muster significant gains in graduation rates or test scores in the past decade. Educators have argued that they need the support of the community to achieve those goals but that they have sometimes felt left out of discussions about what the community should expect from its schools and vice versa.

Last year, the teachers' union and the school board refused to sign on to school-reform recommendations issued by a study group convened by the mayor--in part because they were not involved in shaping the report. (See related story, 1/11/95.)

The benchmarks outlined by Mr. Janey lay out specific roles for the schools and various community partners. "We're emphasizing results, and we have a proper perspective on how reform fits into the equation for results," he said.

Involving Local Groups

The benchmarks state that the number of students who drop out of school annually--currently 650--should fall to 250 by 1999, and that nine out of every 10 students should meet or exceed reading, writing, and mathematics standards. They also call for boosting the number of high school students passing New York state regents- or higher-level courses and eliminating all non-regents-level courses for core subjects by 1998. (See related story, .)

Other goals include instituting a school-safety plan, violence-prevention curricula, and programs to teach peaceful conflict resolution. Another provision praised by the Rochester Teachers Association calls for a new facility to educate and offer broad support services for chronically disruptive and violent students.

The benchmarks rely on the local United Way and Monroe County to expand the number of family-wellness centers in middle schools, health clinics in high schools, and preschool programs. And they look to the university and business communities to offer eligible students more scholarships, jobs, and internships.

The proposal also targets such district-level reforms as cutting administrative costs and tying budget allocations to program results. One of the goals is to craft a plan by next June to link individual employee evaluations and organizational incentives.

Tone of Accountability

Archie Curry, the president of the school board, pointed out that Mr. Janey's contract directed the superintendent to come up with clear objectives that would be used to evaluate his performance. He also suggested that such a process could set the tone for more specific accountability language in contracts for other school employees.

Mr. Curry and others praised Mr. Janey last week for developing the benchmarks with the backing of the mayor and other community leaders and announcing them in a public forum.

"Rochester has invested heavily in its city school system, and the community has been anxious to have a superintendent that was willing to be accountable back to the community," said Joseph Calabrese, the president of the United Way of Greater Rochester.

"The superintendent has put standards of achievement in their appropriate place and is trying to tell various constituencies in the university what they need to do to help accomplish those goals," said Richard P. Miller, the vice president for external affairs at the University of Rochester.

Adam Urbanski, the president of the Rochester Teachers Association, also praised Mr. Janey for spelling out both school and community responsibilities. "He can count on our support whenever he intends to raise standards of conduct and standards of achievement for all students and build in shared accountability," he said.

Mr. Urbanski also noted that the superintendent's attention to student conduct--including his call for a new alternative setting for students who jeopardize the learning atmosphere--complements the American Federation of Teachers national campaign for safe and orderly schools. (See related story, .)

He and others acknowledged, however, that specific steps to reach reform goals and agreements with agencies to provide services have not been fleshed out.

"The real litmus test for all of this will be in the details of how are we going to do all this," Mr. Urbanski said.

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