Last March, the New York State Education Department published the statewide graduation rate for 2009. In New Rochelle just 66% of students earned even a "local" diploma including just 55% of black students and 51% of latino students. New Rochelle ranked third from the bottom, ahead of only Mount Vernon and Yonkers.
Responding to the news at the time, New Rochelle Board of Education President Sara Richmond expressed her unhappiness and declared the board was ""disappointed". She informed the community that the Board had requested that Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak come back to the board in May with plans for addressing the abysmal performance. Because the Board was going to hear from Mr. Organisciak in May, Richmond announce a ban on any and all discussion of the graduation rate issue at school board meeting. May came and went without any presentation from Organisciak who told the board he needed more time to prepare a set of recommendations on how the district would move to address the problem. May turned into July and, after last night's board meeting, the community is still waiting to hear from Mr. Organisciak about proposed changes designed to address the collapse in graduation rates for minority students.
As predicted before the meeting, the New Rochelle Board of Education conspired with administrators to simply whitewash the issue, reverting back to its "business as usual approach".
The agenda last night stated that New Rochelle Superintendent Richard Organisciak would discuss "high school completion and college acceptance rate" but not a single word was heard on this topic from the Superintendent. He did not address either issue at all.
Instead, New Rochelle High School Principal Don Conetta, made an absurd powerpoint presentation. Mr. Conetta is a man with a long and proven track record of lying under oath, denying students and parents their civil rights, lying to state investigators, and filing falsified reports to the State Department of Education. He more appropriately belongs in prison than running a high school. So, it was no surprise when he came forward to present an utterly meaningless, entirely misleading and irrelevant mish-mash of unconnected, incoherent, random data points and various laundry lists -- none of which addressed the supposed purpose of the meeting.
The Conetta presentation basically made three claims:
(1) that the low graduation rates were not really low.
(2) since the graduation rates were not really low, there was no need to do anything differently.
(3) the district has not done nothing over the past 5-10 years
In other words, Conetta and Organisciak thumbed their nose at Sara Richmond's "request" that the administration present ideas on how to fix the problem by declaring their was no problem -- and the board simply nodded in agreement -- and then thanked them!
For those who have been listening to this clap-trap long enough, you know it is the same rhetoric Conetta, Organisciak and the Board of Education have been feeding to parents, students and the public for years. The result has been the third worst graduation rate in Westchester county.
The response? "Full speed ahead! Damn the torpedoes!"
Yet who can blame the school leadership from simply ignoring the low graduation rates for minority students when parents of minority students show not the slightest interest in demanding better from the Board of Education and the administration. Not a single parent of a minority student, other than yours truly, came forward to address the Board of Education on this topic. While I cannot be certain as to who was who, it appeared that two latino parents attended including Martin Sanchez who left shortly after the Conetta presentation. Not a single parent of a black/African-American child attended the meeting let alone addressed the board.
All in all, the BoE Meeting last, ostensibly to discuss the abysmal minority graduation rates for NRHS reported by the SED in March, was a disgrace. The entire evening was farce but I was particularly struck by the fact that what little time was spent on addressing the actual topic of minority graduation rates was focused on hispanic students (they got 2 pages out of 12 in the slide show). There was zero discussion about black/African-American students. In fact, a discussion of gender-gap data in the presentation (not even on the agenda for discusion) got more time than what the district intended to do to turn around deciding graduation rates for black/African-American students.
In my mind, I look around New Rochelle and see leaders in this community who are black such as Richard St. Paul, James Stowe, Ron Williams, Mark McClain, Pearl Quarles, Pastor Hentz and others. Some I have seen at past board meeting but when I looked around last night not a one of them was present. Not a single "civilian" parent of a black/African-American student showed up last night. Obviously, not a single parent of a black/African-American student spoke at the meeting. Of course, there are a few black/African-American board members but except for Jeffrey Hastie they had not a word to say on any of this. Quay Watkins, who should know better was nothing more than a potted plant. Other than the board and one district employee, not a single black resident came to a meeting last night intended to address the failure of the school district to educate their children.
Is it any wonder then that in the fact of a drop from a historical graduation rate of about 70%, the Board of Education spent not a single minute talking about specific needs and solutions tailored to black/African-American students, a subgroup within the school population whose graduation rate as suddenly dropped to just 55%. On the current trend, in the next 1-2 years, less than half of New Rochelle's black/African-American students will graduate on time but the black community is silent.
The hispanic community no better. The only hispanic board member said little and the only other recent member of the board of hispanic descent left before the public comment period began.
Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak, the administration and the Board will console the community by telling them that if you consider August graduations and 5 and 6 year graduations then the numbers are better. Well, Duh! That's true everywhere. The issue is far deeper than that. It is not just that these kids are not graduating on time but it suggests that even those who ARE graduating are barely squeaking through. And what does that say of the number of black/African-American students are achieving what is consider the bare minimum for the vast majority of white families -- acceptance at a four-year college? In the presentation last night, the district projected the results they expect the SED to announce next March for the 2010 class. That they can do this begs the question, how many of the students who are not going to graduate on time are even applying for college? As those not graduating on time are almost entirely black/African-American and Hispanics, what does it say about the prospects for minority students in New Rochelle -- even if they do eventually graduate.
The district touts data which they claim shows that 95-96% of New Rochelle graduates go to college. Like much of the data put forward by the district, this claim does not pass the smell test. Asked last month (by me) to support this claim (and show the actual data), Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak put "college acceptance" on the agenda last night and then failed to mention it all let alone demonstrate the claim is true.
The guidance department at New Rochelle High School struggle each year to get information from current students during senior year as to what school, if any, they plan to attend. So, how is the district getting college acceptance information from students who are going to night school, doing a fifth or sixth or even seventh year? The 95-95% claim is simply not credible.
If 66% of the students do not graduate on time, what happens to those students who are accepted at colleges but have not obtained their high school degree. What does it even mean to say that 96% of your graduates go onto college when you do not define what you mean.
When people outside the educational bureaucracy talk about graduation rates and college acceptance rates what they mean is how many of the students in a particular class graduated on-time, in June, and then went on to a four-year college in the fall. Where is that data? Rest assured that the number is not not anywhere near 96%. It is not even half that number. It is certainly less than half the students in a class graduate on time and then go to a four-year college in the fall; and if you break that down by race and ethnicity you will get a true picture of the racial, ethnic and thus geographic divide in New Rochelle.
But, and I am going to keep saying i, so long as the district is run by a board that is almost entirely from the North End and majority white, run by senior administrators who are entirely white, in a district that is a majority-minority district you can expect they will take care of their own. And since the "pie" is fixed, it is a zero sum game -- when they win, South Enders, especially South End minorities lose.
You can watch the video on cable access TV in the coming days but here are a few slides to give you a sense of the sort of garbage that was presented by Conetta as part of an effort to both deliberately deny and obscure that there is any issue. Keep in mind that the declared purpose was to address the low minority graduation rates reported in March and propose ideas on how to reverse the declining minority graduations rates.
Slide on Graduation Rates: Dopey Don spends most of his time using a laser pointer to direct the board's attention to the WRONG DATA. He keeps talking about the total graduation rate of 66% for the 4 Year 2005 Cohort which was reported on in March 2010 (students who graduated in June 2009) but he keeps pointing to the 66% for the 4 Year 2004 Cohort. This is the sort of mistake that a presented with no miliarity with the slide would make, the first indication that Conetta is unprepared despite the four month prep time.
Slide on Graduation Outcomes: Gotta love how Conetta the Magnificent is now able to PREDICT THE FUTURE! He assures the board there is no need to worry about those low graduation rates because in the future it's all good! No one on the board bothers to ask why he was not able to predict the March 2010 announcement of the 2005 Cohort graduation rates and prepare the board for what was going. The board rolls over like a trained seal and gladly accepted the "news" that next year will be much better. Sure! No reason not to trust Dopey Don. Everyone knows his word is his bond...except when it is not.
Slide on Accountability and Achievement Gaps: Part of a pair of slides which tells the board nothing about what will be done to address the low minority graduation rates but to simply recite various, random academic programs that have no particular orientation towards the needs to minority students. Of course, why would you need that when, in the first slide, Don has already declared the low graduation rates are simply a mirage. One of my favorites hear is that Don lists having an author come into talk about a book he wrote about the gender gap in school performance. This was supposed to be about Black and Latino students but Dopey Dan cannot resist telling the board about how he discovered "The Trouble With Boys" at a quant little bookshop in South Hampton. Must be nice to spend your weekends in the Hamptons while your school slides into the abyss; talk about fiddling while Rome burns.
Slide on Enrollment and Expansion: The second of the pair of laundry lists. Between the two not a single new program for 2010-11 that is designed to specifically address the needs of minority students. My favorite here, and perhaps of the whole slideshow, is listing the construction of the new wing at the high school...in 2005! Huh? What the heck does the building -- which everyone knows is primarily the hang out for the white kids at New Rochelle -- have to do with anything? Maybe it is because it is the home of the PAVE program? Except that PAVE is an another White/North End enclave within the school where most every student comes from Albert Leonard Middle School.
Slide on ESL and Hispanic Students: More out-dated laundry lists. But hey! At least the Latino kids get a slide. The black kids got nada on the entire presentation.
Slide on AP/Honors Minority Enrollment: Saving the best for the last it he slide I address in my public comments. An absolutely disgraceful manipulation of the data to convey the completely false notion that 27% of the kids in the AP/Honors classes are minorities. The actual figure is closer to 5%. They love to play this trick. They count kids multiple times if they are in more than on AP or Honors class and then divide the number by the total number of "kids" in AP/Honors classes but then talk about it as if the slide shows that minorities account for 27% of the kids in the AP/Honors classes. If you break this down further and look at how many minority kids are on the "honors track" the number will drop even lower than 5% and if you look at South End minority kids on the honors track even less.
DISCLAIMER: By previous written policy directive, Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak has ordered administrators and building principals in the City School District of New Rochelle not to respond to requests for information from Robert Cox and/or Talk of the Sound. Further that Robert Cox is banned from school property except for purposes of attending a public meeting or event or for matters related to a child enrolled in a particular school and that the school district refuses to comply with FOIL requests made by Robert Cox -- both of which are violations of New York State law. Talk of the Sound makes a reasonable effort to get official, on-the-record comment from school officials but this is made all but impossible due to district policy.