EdD ’87, Educational Administration
East High School (EHS) in Rochester, NY was facing possible closure due to a long history of failure to meet New York State Education Department (NYSED) benchmarks in 2014, but Stephen Uebbing (EdD ’87, Educational Administration) and the University of Rochester (UR) were approached by the Rochester City School District and asked to oversee EHS. Uebbing and UR agreed to collaborate and took an aggressive approach to support the EHS students.
“If not us, who else is going to step up?” Uebbing said. “If we really believe the stuff that we teach in our classes, how can we say no?” Uebbing is humble about the transformation he has made in East High School, as he credits the product, work and passion of the people who are at East High School every day in helping to make it a better place. “Without the help and dedication of everybody, change would not be possible,” Uebbing said. “Teachers, administrators, professors and kids are the ones who deserve all the credit because they do all of the work.” Uebbing specifically identified Buffalo native and Superintendent Shaun Nelms, principals Marlene Blocker and Tanya Wilson, and fellow professors Susan Meier and Joanne Larson for their contribution.
After negotiations with NYSED and the board of education in Rochester, the Warner School of Education at UR developed a partnership with EHS, called the East Education Partnership Organization (EPO). Uebbing was named the EPO project director and he moved swiftly to appoint Nelms as the superintendent. There were many objectives of EPO to ensure a positive turn-around at EHS. The main goals included expanding the emotional/social support of the students, raising attendance rates, improving graduating rates, improving academic engagement and decreasing suspensions.
Prior to the creation of EPO, there was a 33 percent graduation rate at EHS, but after using research-based best practices, the school doubled its graduation rate to over 60 percent for the class of 2018. In the 2014-15 school year, there were 2,468 suspensions as compared to only 369 suspensions in 2017-18. The attendance rate of students also increased from 77 to 85 percent over a four-year period.
“Our students report that they feel safe in the school, participation in extracurricular activities increases every year and the total number of athletic teams and student participation on those teams have also increased,” Uebbing said. “Given the success at EHS, increased passing rates at EHS and lower dropout rates at EHS, we can expect the graduation rate to continue to improve.”
Parents and guardians have also found ways to get involved. There has been a significant increase in parent/guardian committee participation, from one or two in the first year to 11 in 2018-19. “When UR accepted the role of EPO at East High School, we did so under the stipulation that we would be able to create conditions necessary to turn around a very low performing urban high school, which is why believe that urban education, by its nature is more costly,” Uebbing said. “The number of students living in poverty, having experienced trauma in their lives and the disproportionate number of students for whom English is a new language creates challenges unique to urban education.”
When it comes to Uebbing and his role as the project director of EPO, not all heroes wear capes. He was recognized by the Graduate School of Education for his heroic efforts, receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2018. “I was very surprised when I was told I was receiving this award, but I was very much honored that UB would recognize my best accomplishments and it was certainly a very significant event in my life,” Uebbing said. “Our mission at EPO is to continue to take charge of our future by being tenacious, thinking purposefully and advocating for self and others.”
Uebbing was also named the New York State (NYS) School Superintendent of the Year in 1999, received the Distinguished Service Award in 2008 when he was on the NYS council, and he wrote a book titled The Life Cycle of Leadership: Surviving and Thriving in Today’s Schools. “I appreciate the honors and everything that was given to me, but you can’t relish in those things because you have to keep moving forward with different accomplishments,” Uebbing said. “In the end, the awards don’t count as much as the work you put in."
The biggest lesson Uebbing has learned about himself is that he had to find out who he truly was over the course of his career to be true to himself. “There are so many pressures and such a variety of issues that come at you simultaneously, and recognizing your purpose is so important,” Uebbing said. “I became a superintendent when I was 32, so it takes a long time to understand who you are and what you are capable of."
Family is very important to Uebbing and he plans on retiring within the next few years, so he can spend time with his family. Until then, he wants to continue his work as a professor to help create the next generation of school leaders.