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State extends University of Rochester's partnership with East High

State extends University's partnership with East

On November 15, the New York State Education Department approved a renewal of the partnership between the University of Rochester and East High School, extending the unique university-school partnership through 2025. The extension allows the Educational Partnership Organization (EPO), managed through the University’s Warner School of Education, to continue and build on the successes that have dramatically transformed the school’s culture and educational outcomes for East’s scholars.
Prior to East’s slated shuttering in 2015, after struggling to meet state standards for several years, the University of Rochester stepped in to partner as East High’s EPO, a State of New York infrastructure giving the University the right to manage and oversee operations of the school, revise the curricula, and renegotiate labor contracts. Since the creation of the partnership, a school transformation model that can be replicated in urban school settings across the country, East has adopted several new approaches and practices, and is seeing results in several areas, including:

  • East’s four-year graduation rate has risen from 33 percent in 2014-15 to 85 percent in 2020-21.
  • Annual suspensions dropped 90 percent, from 2,468 recorded suspensions in 2014.
  • The dropout rate decreased from 41 percent in 2014-15 to 15 percent.
  • Attendance increased from 77 percent in 2014-15 to 90 percent.

“I’m not certain everyone involved in the creation of the EPO six years ago truly believed that such educational and cultural success and turnaround would be possible given the circumstances, but the point we’re at today is a testament to the power of community, partnership and determination to create meaningful and sustained change in an urban educational environment,” says University President Sarah C. Mangelsdorf. “The University is very proud to be a part of this EPO and the Rochester community, and we look forward to continuing to work with all of our partners to demonstrate even more progress in this mission. Most importantly, I want to recognize East High’s community of scholars, teachers and parents who every day drive the success of this model.”
“In government, oftentimes the success of an initiative is measured in terms of quantifiable results,” says Rochester City School District (RCSD) Board of Education President Van Henri White. “Accordingly, by multiple yardsticks (graduation, drop out and attendance rates), most would have to concede that what has happened at East is a remarkable success. But to truly measure and gauge why East High School’s transformation has been so successful, one must begin by looking and counting up the endless number of collaborative partnerships - between the RCSD and the University of Rochester, management and unions, teachers and parents, businesses and nonprofits - which help create and reveal on a daily basis what success looks like for the students and families of East.” 
White adds, “the Rochester Board of Education is thankful to New York State’s Education Department for recognizing the effectiveness and worth of those partners and the impact of their work.”
Within the Warner School, the impact of the partnership has been equally transformational.
“The partnership with East has fed the Warner School and created new energy and momentum,” says Sarah Peyre, interim provost of the university, who is dean of the Warner School. “When I look at the research agendas, when I look at how we define community partnership, what we've done at East has set this whole other standard within Warner. Our major research grants are anchored at East, and we're doing forward leaning, great work around pedagogy and content there. The work happening at East represents what the mission of a school of education should be about.”
The East partnership serves as the foundation of Warner’s Center for Urban Education Success, which was established in 2015 to support the success of K-12 urban school settings. The work of the center, led by Shaun Nelms, superintendent of the East EPO, has evolved to leverage the successes of East to provide services and support to other urban schools.
Nelms was named the first William and Sheila Konar Director for CUES, where he continues to lead efforts to improve education outcomes in K-12 urban schools, both locally and nationally, through a combination of research, relationship building, and an ongoing commitment to pursuing and sharing best practices.
“We have worked tirelessly over the past six years to create a system that is responsive to our students, staff and families of East, and that improves outcomes for our scholars,” says Nelms, who also serves as an associate professor in educational leadership at the Warner School, “but COVID-19 has created a new set of challenges and opportunities to recreate how we engage scholars, staff, parents and the community. An additional three years will not only allow us to continue to drive improvements and systemic change for our school community, but to be able to share that success with other schools. I look forward to what the next couple of years bring for East and as we shift our presence at East into other schools.”