New York State Exposed Education: Who killed East High School?

Posted at: 05/01/2014 6:26 AM
Updated at: 05/01/2014 7:16 PM
By: Berkeley Brean

What if the state showed up one day and said your school is not improving enough and it has to close? You'd probably be angry and you'd want to blame someone. The question is, who do you blame?

That's what parents at East High School are wondering now. After five years under the state's microscope, the school did not show enough improvement and so the East High that we know, the East High with alumni all across Monroe County, is dead.

So who killed East High?

There are all kinds of suspects. 

The school leadership. Teachers and their union. Students. Their parents. 

Our investigation lays out the evidence so you can decide who the prime suspect is in the end of East High.

Was it Superintendent Bolgan Vargas?

He makes $195,000 a year and his job is to make schools successful. 

Was it the principal -- Anibal Soler? 

After all, he was brought in five years ago to fix East High when the state said it was on life support.

Watch here to see the evidence against them. 

Suspensions at East were cut in half from 2010 to 2011. But attendance? There are 1,800 students at East High. On average, 82 percent show up to class. That leaves approximately 350 East High students on the street or at home every day. Compare that to suburban high schools that border the city: Brighton, Eastridge and Gates Chili all have attendance rates in the mid-90's. 

So, the result for East? In subject after subject, the school did not meet what the state calls annual yearly progress or AYP.

Was it the teachers?

The graduation rate is 44 percent, but teachers say when you include students who graduate in five or six years, the graduation rate at East is over 50 percent and here's what the teachers are up against.  Less than one percent of the students entering ninth grade are proficient in English and math, 25 percent of the students at East High either speak English as a second language or have special needs. At Brighton High School, it's 10 percent. 

"People who think that it's the teachers' fault, I have a proposition for them," Rochester Teachers' Union President Adam Urbanski said. "Let's take all the East High teachers and put them at Brighton High School and take all the Brighton High School teachers and put them at East High School. Let's see if the results are different. It's not the teachers."

There is a serious achievement problem. Only 59 percent of East High students meet basic standards in English, only 66 percent in math. Brighton, Eastridge and Gates Chili all score above 90. 

Watch here to see the evidence against the teachers

Was it the students and their parents?

Ana Santiago is a high achieving junior at East High with a GPA above 4. 

"It's the lack of parent and student involvement," Santiago said. "It's a lot of parents not enforcing their kids to go to school. Not telling them, 'you have to be someone in life.'"

Was it poverty?

"I would just ask you to look at the data, find schools with very little poverty, look at their results," Howard Maffucci, retired East Rochester Superintendent and blogger of Common Sense NY, said. "Find schools with lots of poverty and look at their results."

At Brighton High School, the percentage of students that meet basic English and math standards is in the upper 90's. The percentage of students eligible for free lunches is eight. 

At East High, only 59 percent of students meet basic standards in English. Only 66 percent in math. The percentage of students eligible for free lunches is 82. 

Watch here to see the evidence against poverty

So poverty killed East High. 

"Well the patient is not dead," said Van White, President of the Rochester City School Board. "This is not an autopsy. We have someone, if you want to use that analogy, who is critically ill, but there are signs of life."

The Rochester City School Board is in the process of examining the state mandated options for East High including making it a charter school or hiring an outside group to run it. 

"I think with a dedicated surgeon, someone who is committed to prevention, right? Not just remediation after that fact, I think East High School can be brought back to life," White said.