Adam Urbanski’s sphere of influence

Apr 14, 2013 by

Superintendents come and go but one man’s sway has been steady during era of city’s schools decline

Rochester’s struggling City School District settles on a plan to give teachers more authority over what happens in their classrooms — and more money to go with it.

The contract, negotiated with Rochester’s dynamic young teachers union leader Adam Urbanski, comes with an unprecedented 40 percent raise for educators.

That was about 25 years ago.

Special section: Rescuing Rochester’s Children

Today, the district is one of the state’s lowest performing and most expensive, making it hard to see what good came of that early, ambitious reform effort. And while superintendents and school board leaders have come and gone, some who have worked closely with Urbanski say his influence over that period makes him just as responsible: A co-superintendent who answers not to school board members or superintendents or voters, but to the district’s teachers.

“Well I think I’m the one who caused that,” said former superintendent Peter McWalters, who negotiated the landmark 1987 teacher contract that was aimed at improving city schools. “Whenever you agree to share authority you get that. Someone else starts running the system.”

Emails acquired by the Democrat and Chronicle through the Freedom of Information Law and interviews with many who once worked closely with Urbanski provide a new perspective on the influence he has wielded in his three decades as president of the Rochester Teachers Association.

Urbanski for his part says judging the schools’ progress and performance is not as simple as looking at test scores, and finding someone to pin blame on.

Rochester city students’ performance decline follows a sharp rise in the number of children living in poverty, and research consistently reinforces a correlation between poverty and success in the classroom. Rochester now has one of the highest child poverty rates in the nation.

Adam Urbanski’s sphere of influence | Democrat and Chronicle |

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