In his State of Our Schools address on Wednesday night, Schools Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas said he was committed to creating a school district that is highly disciplined and accountable.
"This is our last chance for this district...so we must turn the district around", he said.
Implementing the rigorous new national core curriculum, addressing attendance and graduation rates, reining in a $60 million transportation bill, and a commitment to extra curricular opportunities were all keystones of the Vargas speech.
Vargas outlined three principle values:
- Improve Student Achievement
- Allocate Resources More Efficiently
- Engaging Families and the Community
Vargas predicted that parents will see the district's 48% graduation rate to continue to go down as the district implements the challenging new core curriculum. It will then turn around, he said.
"Our goal is to get 95% of students attending on regular basis". He said that the current rate was around 60-65%. The Rochester School District has the ultimate responsibility but needed to be supported by the community.
Next year, 10 Rochester schools will have expanded school days thanks to funding from the Ford Foundation. Nevertheless the district continues to face a $50.2 million budget gap and 55 out of the 60 schools in the district are in need of major building improvements.
The Superintendent emphasized the need to ensure children are reading by Grade 3, supported by a call for more reading teachers. He also voiced broad support for the public library system in the city.
Vargas said that the enrollment process was often confusing for parents and that the school district needed to be more responsive to parent enquiries. He also promoted the ParentConnect software designed by the district to allow parents to monitor their children's progress from their home or workplace.
"Making neighborhood schools, the school of choice..." was the challenge he said, as the district tries to address the flight to charter schools.
Vargas also observed that he believed that Black and Latino males had less opportunity to engage with sport than they did 15-20 years ago. He also spoke several times about the need to retain arts, music and sport despite the budgetary pressures. Answering his own question, he said that this would be possible due to spending money differently.
He also flagged that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might play a role in improving the school system in the near future. He also put a 3-5 year timeframe on achieving significant reforms.
Introducing Dr. Vargas, the President of the Board of Education Malik Evans said that Vargas had brought stability to the district after several years of uncertainty.
His full presentation is below.