Bolgen Vargas has a clear vision for the future of the Rochester City School District, and with two recent high-profile hires the superintendent now has the team he believes will make it happen.
The district last week announced his hiring of William Ansbrow as chief financial officer and Patricia Malgieri as chief of staff. Ansbrow comes from the city of Rochester, where he has served as budget director, while Malgieri, a former deputy Rochester mayor, joins the district from Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection, where she was named president in 2010.
Vargas said he has three overarching goals for the district: making the operation of the district more efficient and effective to focus all energy on student learning; giving students more time and support; and improving internal and external communications.
Since taking over as interim superintendent following the departure of Jean-Claude Brizard last year, Vargas has worked to tighten the district's strategic focus, paring a list of several goals spread across dozens of sub-goals and instead focusing on the three major areas.
He came up with a plan that would strengthen the district's relationships with the business and non-profit sectors and would call for drastic changes to the school structure. Vargas is working at the state level to give the district the authority to lengthen the school day.
But the goals come against a backdrop of difficulty for the district. Vargas said the district is facing a $33 million budget deficit going into the school year, making it that much more important that he has the most effective team in place.
"It's going to be extremely helpful to the district to have a team of people with talent like Bill and Patty," Vargas said. "We are facing significant challenges around building achievement and allocation of resources. Those are challenges that are difficult and present some serious problems for us, but we think we can overcome it with the right talent."
Both lengthening the school day and funneling more resources toward students will require a more efficient district, Vargas noted.
"We believe if we give students more quality time and more academic, social and emotional support, that they will achieve," Vargas said. "But in order to do that, and to expand the school day, we need to make the system more efficient in its allocation of resources."
Ansbrow's skills will be pivotal, Vargas said. He comes with experience in the same situation facing the district, having confronted a $50 million revenue gap as city budget director in 2011-12.
The city's revenue gap came as a result of significant expense increases, including wages and benefits for city workers and pension costs for non-uniform personnel that doubled in two years. To keep from borrowing to make up the difference, Ansbrow and the city crafted a plan to delay some major capital projects and add money from the midyear budget and from federal funds.
Closing the district's budget gap will require extra caution as any action taken must keep students in mind, Vargas said.
"We want to be able to close that gap and we can close it, but at the same time we want to make sure we don't do any harm to the learning opportunities for our students," he said.
Vargas noted Ansbrow's work with the city is also important, as many of his plans involve partnering with the city. Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards had said the loss of Ansbrow was significant, but he took solace in knowing Ansbrow was going to the district.
Malgieri's experience in both the public and private sectors also will be an asset, Vargas said. She worked as deputy mayor under Robert Duffy and before that as president of the Center for Governmental Research Inc. Since 2010 she has served as president of Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection, where she worked closely with district officials.
HWSC worked with students in the district, providing support services to keep them on track to graduation. Vargas noted that in 2012 close to one-third of all graduating students were involved in the program.
"It goes without saying that this program is very effective," Vargas said. "Just like what we want to do in the district, that program understands that if you give students enough time and support they will learn and achieve."
Dennis Richardson, president of the Hillside Family of Agencies, said he was disappointed to lose Malgieri but excited for her to be moving into a position of significant influence.
"She brings great ideas to educational reform and she'll be able to do good work there," Richardson said.
HWSC is looking to capitalize on the work Malgieri did, especially her data-oriented approach that grounded the organization's growth in solid metrics of what was proven effective, he said.
The organization is being led on an interim basis by Clyde Comstock, Hillside chief operating officer, while the board starts the process of looking for a replacement for Malgieri, Richardson added.
Malgieri noted she has been working closely with the district since her work with CGR started in 1978, but this is her first chance to drive change from within. She also said she looks forward to the opportunity to expand her work to include all students-HWSC focused exclusively on high school students.
"What excites me about this is the ability to look at the operations of the district and free up more resources so we can devote more quality time to kids," Malgieri said. "That's what Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection is all about, and my work here is the perfect preparation for implementing the priorities of the superintendent."
Vargas has made other additions to his management team, bringing on Anita Murphy as deputy superintendent for administration and Beverly Burrell-Moore to serve as deputy superintendent for teaching and learning.
Murphy comes to the city schools with more than 20 years of experience in different districts and at the state level, serving most recently as the state's associate commissioner of education for curriculum, instruction and field services.
Burrell-Moore spent more than 30 years in the Rush-Henrietta Central School District, where she was a principal and central office administrator. Recently she had been serving in a consulting role.
"They have a track record of building strong relationships with stakeholders and come in with an enormous reputation," Vargas said. "We desperately need people with the skill sets they have so we can improve student achievement and deliver on our goals."
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