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Superintendent Choice Clarke on First Impression of Rochester Schools: 'Wow'

The Rochester school board's pick for its next leader said he was impressed by what he saw when he visited several schools last week.

Frederick Clarke was thrilled when Rochester Board of Education President Barb Cenko called him late Friday to tell him he had been of .

"I felt pure excitement," Clarke said from his home in Albion, where he has been superintendent of schools since 2007. "I was extremely honored."

Clarke was selected Friday night . Board members extended him an offer, which is contingent on a contract agreement. Negotiations are expected to begin this week. Clarke would replace retiring Superintendent David Pruneau.

Clarke said he has relatives who live in the Rochester area, but he got his first real feel for the town when he and his wife, Iracema, visited two weeks ago. He said he ate at while he was here and that he attended a church service, where he met "wonderful people" who spoke highly of the school district.

"I really found out that Rochester and Albion have a lot in common," he said.

He praised the board and the interview process.

"I saw a real passion for the children of Rochester," Clarke said. "The whole entire process was long but extremely valuable, because it let everyone know the board and everyone else cared so much about this."

Clarke grew up in Saginaw and graduated from Eisenhower High School there. He and his wife have two sons, Fred, a 15-year-old sophomore, and Andy, a 9-year-old fourth-grader.

Clarke has a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan and a master's degree from the University of Houston. He is working toward his doctorate at Western Michigan University. 

Clarke was a high school science teacher and an assistant high school principal before he moved into administration.

While in Rochester on Friday, he visited , and and elementary schools. He spent time with principals at all of the schools.

"I know that I only experienced a fifth of the district, but all I can say is 'wow,' " he said. "The teachers — I watched such active learning in the classrooms. I was impressed with all of the teachers I met, and I can't wait to start working with them."

The school board members had requested that each of the three candidates submit a draft of a vision statement for Rochester, without regard to constraints of the school's operating budget. Clarke's vision was bold and included a Montessori-style early childhood program, a year-round school calendar and an extension of the school day. He also supports all-day kindergarten, increased technology and a foreign language requirement.

But those ideas were in a money-is-no-object world. Clarke has acknowledged the the district is facing.

"I am going to be trying to do everything I can to help the school district excel in the midst of adversity," he said.

Clarke said his first day with the district will likely be July 1. His last day in Albion will be June 30. He said he and his family plan to move to Rochester.

Clarke said his learning process about Rochester begins now. He was busy this weekend reviewing what he called "a tremendous amount of documentation" about Rochester schools and said he would be spending most of his free time, when he is not working on his graduate school work, studying the district.

Patti Holloway is a former teacher who attended the board's interview of Clarke. She said she was pleased with Clarke's emphasis on collaboration within the district and with his ideas that foster critical thinking, but she had some concerns with his support of pull-out programs, where students would be taken out of the classroom if they were learning at different levels.

"My family welcomes Mr. Clarke to our district and community," Holloway said. "He has big shoes to fill on top of a major budget crisis, but he will be supported by strong parental involvement and top-notch teachers and building-level staff."

Jeremy Nielson is a Rochester parent who attended all of the candidate interviews during the past two weeks. He said this weekend that he is "cautiously optimistic" about the board's selection of Clarke.

"Some of his ideas are pretty good ones," Nielson said. "They are ideas that will get kids thinking more critically, and he's talking about improving the academic rigor."

However, Nielson cautioned that Clarke's plans "were given with the idea of unlimited budget. We clearly don't have that."

He said he expects Clarke will experience a ramp-up period to transition from a district the size of Albion to Rochester's larger one. Albion's school enrollment is fewer than 1,000 students; Rochester's is almost 15,000. He said that regardless of the size of a district, the same management skills will apply.

"Dave (Pruneau) has been behind this momentum of greatness that we have been experiencing in Rochester, and he (Clarke) will have to come in on this momentum and go forward," Nielson said.

Patti Holloway March 28, 2011 at 12:12 PM
I would like to see emphasis placed on smaller class sizes with more support WITHIN the classroom, i.e. paraprofessionals and learning consultants. This would allow teachers to provide additional necessary one-on-one instruction. My experience has been this approach is more effective, with less valuable time spent on movement and refocusing.
Joshua Raymond March 28, 2011 at 02:11 PM
Within RCS, additional parapro and learning consultants always appear to be assigned to assist the struggling students. The advanced and gifted students continue to be largely ignored. For example, the Learning Consultant at my daughter's school is completely dedicated to remedial and special needs children, despite Asst. Superintendent Moore's statement that LC's are supposed to be spending 1/2 their time with each end of the spectrum. The school also seems to have added a parapro to each classroom, but again only to assist kids who struggling. If class size is reduced or additional resources are added, what is to say that advanced and gifted students will see any benefit from this? While advanced and gifted students may be passing the MEAP, they aren't learning at a pace appropriate to them. Many are not making Adequate Yearly Progress because they are being slowed down. On the other hand, Grosse Pointe Schools have implemented magnet classrooms for gifted students and clustering for advanced students, all at no additional cost to the district. This helps to attract advanced and gifted students back from private schools and increase funding to the district.
Kristin Bull (Editor) March 28, 2011 at 03:29 PM
Patti, I think it would be helpful for readers for you to explain, from your experiences as a teacher, how a classroom might work if there were added LCs and paraprofessionals. What, do you think, is the appropriate ratio (within budget constraints) of LC/paras to teachers in a school?
Mike Reno March 29, 2011 at 12:13 PM
http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com/article/20110328/NEWS01/303280010/1002/NEWS01 ALBION — Albion Public Schools Superintendent Frederick Clarke has been named superintendent of Rochester Community Schools... Clarke is in his fourth year at the struggling Albion district, which has faced steep budget cuts after declining enrollment and Albion High School has struggled to make federally mandated academic progress. Nonetheless, Clarke said today he was proud he’d helped start Albion on the upward swing and said he was confident the staff there could continue the climb in his absence. The district is navigating its way through a state-mandated transition plan that includes extra academic support for struggling students, extra training for teachers and could include a longer school day if the district receives school improvement grants. Albion has applied for $850,000 in help from the state, and Clarke said the district expected to hear a yes or no last Friday, but had not heard if the district was approved for the grant. He said parts of the school improvement plan would go forward even without funding. 1 comment Doremus_Jessup 5:53 PM on March 28, 2011 Don't let the door hit you in the nether region as you leave. Clarke's been in Albion 4 years and the last two he's been trying to find another job. It was just last year, 2010, when Clarke was AWOL, during a winter storm that should have shut down the schools, going to interviews. Albion deserves better.

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