The secret plan for a cross-district school in Brighton

My book has been officially out for three days now. It’s truly been a whirlwind, and I appreciate everyone who either listened to the Connections program or came to see me at the two launch events at Hipocampo Children’s Books — not to mention those who just quietly stayed home and started to read it. As I shared on social media, the first print run is officially sold out, but more are being printed very soon, so if you’d like a copy, please get your orders in and they’ll arrive before you know it. Alternately, I’ll have copies at a few upcoming events, including Monday evening at the Pittsford Community Library and Wednesday evening at the Penfield Public Library.

Today I’d like to share one of the most interesting things I was able to dig out in my archival research. It was at the New York State Archives in Albany and consists of a packet of correspondence from February 1970 between RCSD Superintendent Herman Goldberg and New York Education Commission Ewald Nyquist. The topic: “building a new school to be operated jointly by the [Rochester and Brighton] school districts.”

In particular, Goldberg asked the commissioner to “explore ways in which the legal and financial hurdles to such a joint venture might be eliminated.” He asked Nyquist as well to keep the matter private, “because this is a very delicate situation.”

Delicate is, if anything, an understatement. RCSD at that point was in the middle of a pitched battle over its own internal reorganization plan for desegregation. And yet the idea about a cross-district school with Brighton shows that Goldberg may already have recognized that strictly intra-city actions ultimately would prove insufficient.

The Brighton superintendent, John Bennion, was also chairman of the Monroe County Educational Planning Committee Task Force on Reducing Racial Isolation. In his annual report for that task force in May 1971, he referred to a potential “regional demonstration school project … [that] would be a model ethnic mixture of the children of Monroe County and provide a facility where new educational concepts could be refined and demonstrated.”

Then as now, Brighton made sense as a district that might explore a progressive partnership with the city. Its teachers union in 1970 had written as much: “We can think of no community in a better position to exercise leadership in such a situation. We are a residential area dependent on the well-being of the city; we have a liberal community in Brighton of some size; and we have a school board that has in the past been sympathetic and sensitive to the problems of the city and its schools.”

Nyquist responded to Goldberg by asking him and Bennion to come to Albany to discuss the details further, and there the correspondence ends. The school was never developed, of course, and the cause never publicized. Surely it ran into the same roadblocks that other such proposals have faced, chiefly a lack of clarity on the source or manner of funding. (I discuss this proposal in somewhat more detail on pages 175-76 in the book.)

That problem persists to the present. The difference is that, 50 years ago, school leaders were engaged in trying to solve them. Now, the fight has been abandoned.

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