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Superintendent seeks community ideas in coffeehouse setting

Rochester schools Superintendent Michael Munoz attends a public meet and greet Saturday morning at Dunn Bros on Elton Hills Drive.

At local coffee shop, Rochester Superintendent Micheal Muñoz listened as a dozen people shared their thoughts about how to improve education in Rochester.

"We don't take advantage of technology," said Max Sullivan, a local real estate broker, holding up a Nook reader and boasting of its power to download millions of books. "If I had a choice of buying a thing like this or have my kids carry six books around, I'd buy this."

Sullivan appeared to have a sympathetic listener in Muñoz, who shared his experiences using iPads in his previous district. Students not only accessed their books online but their assignments too, Muñoz said.

Saturday's gathering was the first in a series of monthly listening sessions the new Rochester leader says he plans to conduct during the year. This one was held at Dunn Bros Coffee, 120 Elton Hills Dr.

Above the whir of coffee-making machinery, conversational topics ran the gamut: Would Rochester benefit from offering all-day, every-day kindergarten to all children; should the high schools adopt a later start time; how the more academically advanced kids in the middle schools are lulled into complacency by an abundance of focus on minimum standards; how schools can do a better job of engaging parents.


With a couple of exceptions, most of those who discussed their concerns were teachers, principals or staff employed by Rochester Public Schools, but some also brought their concerns as parents.

Muñoz, who became superintendent less than than two months ago, returned to what is becoming a common theme of his: how teaching has to change from a lecture-style approach to one that is more hands-on, collaborative and student-focused.

"We can no longer sit up in front and lecture. (Students) shut down, and when they shut down, they become a disruption," he said.

Afterward, the Rev. Don Barlow, pastor of Rochester Community Baptist Church, said the idea of holding listening sessions was a "great idea." But noting the large percentage of Rochester district staff at the first session, he said he hoped to see more community members and parents at future events.

"I think there needs to be more of a concerted effort to inform the community," Barlow said.

Muñoz said some of the comments he heard echoed thoughts and confirmed in him policy directions he was considering for the district. Without being specific, he said technology was one area where he saw room for potential and improvement.

"I think the whole focus on technology and how we have to use that in teaching, that's going to be part of my conversation with the entire staff," he said.

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