Uncommon Partnership – Frequently Asked Questions

Follow RITNEWS on Twitter

Q: Who are the partners creating a charter high school in Rochester?

A: The partners are Uncommon Schools and Rochester Institute of Technology.

Uncommon Schools is a nonprofit organization that starts and manages outstanding urban charter public schools that close the achievement gap and prepare low-income students to graduate from college. Uncommon Schools currently manages 38 schools in five cities: New York City; Boston; Newark, N.J.; Troy, N.Y.; and Rochester. The 38 schools serve more than 9,900 students; more than 78 percent of students are low income and 98 percent are African-American or Hispanic. Uncommon Schools has been recognized as one of the top charter school management organizations in the nation, recently receiving the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools.

More information on the network can be found at: http://uncommonschools.org

Uncommon Schools’ schools in Rochester are called Rochester Prep. Rochester Prep opened in 2006, and since then has grown to serve over 1,000 students in grades K-8. The first Rochester Prep high school will open in the fall of 2014. At scale, Rochester Prep will serve over 2,000 students in grades K-12. Rochester Prep has consistently been among the highest performing public schools in Rochester since it opened in 2006.

More information on Uncommon’s Rochester schools can be found at: http://www.rochesterprep.org.

Rochester Institute of Technology is internationally recognized for academic leadership in business, computing, engineering, imaging science, liberal arts, sustainability, and fine and applied arts. Its cooperative education program is one of the oldest and largest in the nation. In addition, the university offers unparalleled support services for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

RIT, one of the largest private university in the nation, enrolls more than 18,000 full- and part-time students in more than 200 career-oriented and professional programs. Its students come from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

More information can be found at www.rit.edu.

Q: Why is RIT interested in partnering with a charter high school?

A: Universities need a stronger pipeline of future students who are prepared for the academic rigors of college. Until higher education contributes constructively to the righting of the K-12 ship, that ship will continue to founder and the futures that await our urban youth will continue to dim. Universities can’t afford not to be involved in the preparation of K-12 students for college; their help is critical in ensuring that students graduate with a college degree and have the tools for a successful career. This is a principle fully supported by the RIT board of trustees, who have enthusiastically endorsed the partnership plan.

Q: Why is Uncommon Schools interested in partnering with RIT?

A: Uncommon Schools understands that RIT shares its vision for college and career success for all students and recognizes the unique challenge of preparing low-income and minority students for college entrance and completion. RIT is forward- thinking, and Uncommon Schools believes that this partnership will give Rochester Prep students unique access to college facilities and programs that will help them to develop the habits of mind and familiarity with college programs and expectations that will help them to be even better prepared for their own college careers. In particular, RIT can provide substantial support in preparing these high school students to explore, pursue and succeed in STEM (science, mathematics, engineering and math) subjects and careers.

Q: What is Uncommon Schools and Rochester Prep’s philosophy?

A: Uncommon Schools and Rochester Prep are dedicated to the premise that all students can and should complete a bachelor’s degree. To help students achieve that goal, college prep for Rochester Prep students begins in kindergarten. Rochester Prep has a longer school day and year, a supportive system of training and coaching for teachers and leaders, a focus on data-driven instruction and a commitment to the right balance of joy and rigor in the classroom. Uncommon Schools currently operates three successful high school programs in Newark, N.J., and Brooklyn. The Rochester Prep High School will be modeled after those programs.

Q: What will the partnership look like? How will RIT be involved?

A: This will be a tremendous opportunity for RIT students, faculty and staff. RIT has a history of extensive involvement in K-12 programming. For many of the RIT faculty and staff already involved with K-12 activities, this partnership will offer an extension of their current work. We expect RIT students to be involved in tutoring and mentoring of the high school students, who will also have access to RIT classrooms, laboratories and other facilities. The collaboration will also allow RIT faculty to advise the charter school staff about the latest developments in their fields.

More information on RIT’s K-12 involvement can be found at http://www.rit.edu/academicaffairs/k12/.

Q: Will the creation of this charter high school affect any of RIT’s other affiliations with the Rochester City School District?

A: No. RIT remains committed to the programs it has established.

These programs include:

  • The RIT Science and Technology Entry Program, or STEP, is a state-funded grant program that provides academic enrichment and college and career exploration to students in grades 7– 12. STEP exposes students to a variety of careers in science, technology, math, health-related fields and licensed professions.
  • RIT’s Middle College program, a 9th-12th-grade initiative, designed to offer college readiness skills to academically eligible students in the Rochester City School District.
  • Rochester City Scholars Program, a scholarship program established in 2010 that covers full tuition for graduates of the Rochester City School District who are admitted as freshman to full-time study in baccalaureate programs at RIT. Students must meet entrance and financial eligibility requirements. This fall, 22 students from nine high schools in the Rochester City School District will be part of the program, bringing the total to 74 scholars in the first three classes. The program has an 81 percent retention rate, and 42 percent of its students have earned a 3.0 grade point average or higher. The first class of scholars is expected to graduate in May 2014.

Q: When will Rochester Prep’s High School program launch?

A: Rochester Prep plans to launch its high school program in the fall of 2014. The high school will enroll students from Rochester Prep’s existing middle schools, allowing for a seamless K-12 educational program for Rochester Prep students and families.

Q: Where will the charter school be located?

A: Rochester Prep and Uncommon Schools are examining a variety of options in and around Rochester.

Q: How will the charter school be funded?

A: Charter schools are funded based on a calculation outlined in state education law regarding per capita operating costs; the districts allocate a set proportion of this amount to the charter school. An important principle of Uncommon Schools’ operational philosophy is that its schools, including Rochester Prep, be self-sufficient on public funding and not require ongoing philanthropic support for their operation after start-up and facility needs have been met.

Q: How will the collaboration be funded?

A: Ronald L. Zarrella, a long-time RIT trustee, is contributing the funding necessary to support the development and delivery of RIT’s contributions to the partnership. No RIT operational funds or tuition dollars will be used for funding. Zarrella is chairman emeritus of Bausch & Lomb, having served as its chairman and chief executive officer from 2001 to 2008. Prior, he spent seven years with General Motors Corp., most recently as executive vice president and president of General Motors North America in Detroit.

Q: Is it rare for a college to be a partner with a charter school?

A: Many charter schools have some level of relationship with nearby colleges, but a partnership of this depth and extent is unusual, which is why we are calling this an “Uncommon Partnership.” Examples of such extensive partnering can be found between the Preuss Charter School and the University of California at San Diego and between the LEAP Academy and Rutgers University.

Q: The number of charter schools in Rochester has been steadily climbing in recent years. As many as 10 more have indicated to the state that they plan to submit charter school proposals in the near future. Will there be demand? What makes this one so different?

A: We believe there will be a strong demand for the high school, as there already is a natural pipeline with the three Uncommon Schools in Rochester, including the middle schools. Rochester Prep currently has an almost 2:1 demand for participation in its elementary program. Entering students are chosen by random lottery; those not chosen remain on the waitlist. Rochester Prep’s waitlist in grades K-8 currently totals over 1,000 students. Students from Rochester Prep’s elementary program will progress through the middle school and ultimately to the new Rochester Prep High School, offering a seamless K-12 education program. At scale, we anticipate that almost 2,000 students will be enrolled K-12, with approximately 600 students in the high school.

Q: The City School District is already seeing enrollment declines and will likely lose more with the growth in charter schools. Won’t this proposal hurt the City School District?

A: When students and families choose to enroll in a charter school, the monies that the district would otherwise have spent on those students is paid to the charter school. True, the loss of those monies decreases the overall revenues for the district, but the number of students the district serves also declines. Ultimately, we believe that the most important interests are those of the parents and children who should have the opportunity to choose the best education program that will prepare their students to enter and successfully graduate from college.