By Deziree Garrick
In 2015 East High Schools graduation rate was at 30 percent and as of June 2020 the graduation rates at East had risen to 78 percent. We are going to take a look into how the University of Rochester helped our failing school as an Educational Partnership Organization. To help us understand East High’s journey, Dr. Joanne Larson explains the UR-East EPO.
Let’s start with the obvious, what is the “East EPO”? “Educational Partnership Organization is a legal status in New York State; it is one of the five options for failing schools in NY. The University of Rochester is the educational partnership organization as well as the receiver,” answered Dr. Larson, who is not only a full professor at the Warner School of Education, but also a co-teacher at East High (Critical Literacy and Hip-Hop).
With the University of Rochester as East High’s educational partnership organization, naturally changes were imminent. What were some of the changes made at East? Well, “there was a complete overhaul of the curriculum being taught, as well as how students were being instructed; also every East staff member had to reapply for their jobs and agree to the UR-East EPO plan if they wished to remain at East,” Dr. Larson explained, and went on to say that “distributed leadership, restorative practices, and Family Group were also key implementations.” Distributed leadership is when not just one group of people have a say in important decisions. Take the Governance Council for example: students, administrators, parents, teachers, and school union representatives are all present in the decision making at East. Longer class periods and Family Group were changes that were necessary to ensure that no student would feel ignored or unnoticed.
The UR-East EPO has seen many positive outcomes that students may not take into consideration. For example, “Going from 3,000 suspensions to less than 500, the shift from seeing students as a behavioral problem to being valued and important, and also the students no longer see graduation as something only a few students can obtain, but they now can actually see themselves graduating,” said Dr. Larson. She went on to talk about how the sense in school pride has increased tremendously, as well as student accountability. Back in the 2015-2016 school year students never cleaned up after themselves, or they used profanity openly without regard to the adults surrounding them. Now students will make sure that they are throwing their trash away, or they’ll say “don’t speak to her that way;” the school climate has genuinely improved from having the University of Rochester as an Educational Partnership Organization.
Dr. Joanne Larson describes the “East Experience” as “absolutely transformative in research life, an amazing learning experience. The East Experience is about relationships and truly valuing each other. It’s exciting!”