Justin Murphy, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
The Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation announced this week the creation of a two-year Rochester Education Fellowship, the latest reform-oriented effort to fix what ails the city’s schools.
The fellowship will support one “exceptional entrepreneurial leader” as he or she develops a “bold, innovative vision for education,” according to the fellowship website.
The inspiration comes from the Mind Trust, a school turnaround and charter school incubator in Indianapolis with which local education reformers are particularly enamored. Its founder, David Harris, is on the fellowship selection committee.
The ideal candidate will be not just a visionary but a community leader as well, according to the stated goal: “We aim to build a coalition to select an exceptional leader to support community partners … to develop a bold and innovative vision for the future of education in Rochester.”
Other partners in the fellowship include Action for a Better Community, the Children’s Institute, Ibero-American Action League, Connected Communities and the United Negro College Fund.
“It was just extraordinary to see first-hand what (the Mind Trust) had been able to do – but not in a short period of time,” said Holli Budd, executive director of the Farash Foundation and co-chair of the fellowship selection committee. “These things take time, and there’s no silver bullet.”
She would not put a figure on the Farash Foundation’s investment but said it was significant and long-term.
Action for a Better Community Executive Director Jerome Underwood, the other selection committee co-chair, said he expected the fellow’s final product would include a strong emphasis on culturally responsive pedagogy.
The premise of the fellowship, and its inspiration in the Mind Trust, is firmly based in the education reform mindset. That includes an embrace of charter schools, though Budd was quick to say the fellow will have no specific restraints in his or her work.
“It’s not just one thing,” she said. “This isn’t necessarily about creating schools – it’s about having a system of schools, not a school system.”
Underwood, a former top RCSD administrator, said the team had briefed both Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small and Mayor Lovely Warren about their plans. He noted the presence of significant “structural impediments” to change in the city school district.
“It might be a charter school or two or three,” he said. “It might be, ‘Hey, the district is doing a great thing here, if we can just (expand on it).’ … But I suspect it’ll be something different.”
The appointment of the fellow, expected to be announced in July, will leave Rochester just one education thought leader short of a relay team.
Jaime Aquino served one year at RCSD as Distinguished Educator, while Shelley Jallow currently does essentially the same work as Academic and Fiscal Monitor. The fellow, by contrast, will be privately appointed and supported and will focus on education in general, not only RCSD.
Some of the organizations represented on the fellowship selection committee — Action for a Better Community, the Farash Foundation, the Children’s Institute — were also signatories to the ambitious intervention staged by ROC the Future in 2019.
Then, too, the goal was to “co-develop a shared vision, solutions and strategies that improve outcomes for our children.” The current effort is not intended to dislodge ROC the Future, Budd said.
“I think it’s a good idea and something that we in the community have been needing in terms of focus on the best of the best as far as a PK-12 education system,” Jackie Campbell, the director of ROC the Future, said of the fellowship.
More recently, Monroe County and the city of Rochester convened a committee on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE), including an education subcommittee.
The idea of an educational solution that extends beyond city lines has not come up in initial conversations, Underwood said. The racial and economic segregation between the city and suburbs in Monroe County is, by some measures, the starkest in the country.
The fellow should be a “political entrepreneur” with a strong Rochester background and “experience pursuing and achieving improved outcomes for underserved students and/or communities.”
The application process is open now, with a priority deadline of Feb. 26 and a final deadline of March 26. More information is available at www.rochestereducationfellowship.org.