Transforming education for futures ever better.

Transforming education for futures ever better.

In 2014, a Rochester high school was on the brink of closure. Since then, a partnership with the University’s Warner School of Education has helped East Upper and Lower Schools to forge a new culture and commitment to revival.

Seven years ago, the University of Rochester was asked by the Rochester City School District Board of Education to enter into an Educational Partnership Organization with East Lower and Upper Schools (formerly East High School). At the time, only 20 percent of the senior class was on track to graduate on time, the dropout rate was 41 percent, and there were over 2,000 suspensions.

The University’s Warner School of Education assumed a leadership role in a transformative partnership at East, working with the school’s educators and staff to improve outcomes for students and build a healthy learning community. Today, every adult who works at East has been trained in restorative practices. Students are called “scholars” and meet regularly in small groups with adults to develop trust with one another. The school hired more counselors and social workers to help the students who need academic and social-emotional support. In addition, the University runs a school-based health center and dental clinic at East, and the David T. Kearns Center for Leadership and Diversity partners with the school in their College Prep Centers.

“School has to heal the heart and the mind,” says Shaun Nelms, superintendent of East Upper and Lower Schools, noting that “it takes a community-wide effort to support anyone. We have a unique opportunity to be the hub.”

A major predictor of whether any student will graduate from high school is if that student passes the ninth grade. At the end of the 2014–15 school year, fewer than half of East’s ninth graders did so. But since the partnership, that number has climbed above 75 percent. In turn, graduation rates have increased by 145% over the last six years, and suspensions are down by 90%, reflecting an important and positive transformation in the school’s culture and student experience.

People who’ve worked at the school for years point to a discernable change in the whole culture and feel of the place. It’s less chaotic, says a social worker. The kids say “hello” more—and leave fewer messes in the cafeteria, a custodian observes. More than 90 percent of students reported in a survey that they feel safe at East and families have responded positively to new initiatives designed to support students socially and emotionally.

In an interview in 2017, Nashalie Guzman (10th Grade) said, “I’ve seen a big change. There’s been less drama, I feel like we’re learning more than we used to, and they are giving us more options, like career classes.”

In that same interview, student Chase Ward (8th grade) added, “I feel a sense of community, because this is kind of like our home. We all work together, and our teachers help us become successful in life, and they get us ready for high school and college.”

Learn more about the program directly from East’s students and educators:

All in at East

Amid New Atmosphere, Some Challenges Persist

See also Warner’s Center for Urban School Success, for detailed updates, research, and stories about East and urban education more generally.