Center for Urban Education Success

A community partnership for school transformation

How a university-school partnership transforms school culture

In 2015, the University of Rochester and East High School (Rochester, NY) entered into a unique partnership to transform East – the UR-East EPO (Educational Partnership Organization). Six years later, both partners have realized significant change in school culture, student outcomes, and university approach.

Supporting Meaningful, Lasting Change in Urban Schools

Message from the Director

Thank you for visiting the Center for Urban Education Success (CUES)! 

At CUES, we believe in equity and excellence for ALL students. In order to meet this demand, we must consider questions such as: Who will begin to change systems so this work and accountability is shared? And, under what conditions can this change take place? At CUES, we work daily to explore innovative approaches to tackle persistent challenges which hinder educational systems.  More from Director.

Focusing on Key Topics in Urban Education

CUES studies best practices in urban education and produces various resources for interested educators and scholars: research articles, practitioner briefs, videos, professional articles, and resource guides.


Absenteeism is a persistent problem, particularly acute in urban school settings. According to the US Department of Education, six million students (one out of seven) are missing at least 15 days during the school year, increasing their likelihood for lower achievement and dropping out.

Restorative Practices

As more and more schools are realizing that the traditional approach of punitive discipline is not only ineffective in improving student behavior, but resembles the culture of prison systems, they have been turning increasingly to a restorative practices approach.


Bullying, which involves an intention to do harm, repetition, and a power imbalance between bully and victim, has become a public health concern not only in the U.S. but worldwide. Alongside the increased attention to bullying, a related phenomenon of cyberbullying has emerged.

Distributed Leadership

In a distributed leadership structure, leadership roles are supported and shared among many individuals in the community. By expanding accountability and voice to teachers, staff, students, and families, distributed leadership shifts leadership more widely and horizontally.

East High students celebrating

New York extends university partnership with East High

Partnership extended through 2025 to build on improvements in student outcomes

The New York State Education Department approved a three-year renewal of the partnership between the University of Rochester and East High School. The extension allows the Educational Partnership Organization (EPO), managed through the Warner School, to continue and build on the successes that have dramatically transformed the school’s culture and educational outcomes for East’s scholars.


Literacies of power in a high school English class

How a research-practice partnership amplified marginalized voices

CUES researchers designed and implemented curriculum to mobilize students’ powerful literacies to affect change in their communities. This design-based research connected literacy theory and classroom practice to expand youth advocacy through literacy instruction and practice.

Anti-racist curriculum for Monroe County schools

CUES leads effort in collaboration with county districts

In the wake of a summer of violence against unarmed Black men both nationally and locally, East High Superintendent Dr. Shaun Nelms, discusses how to make systemic changes in countywide educational policies and the creation of an antiracist curriculum to help students learn about and discuss Rochester’s issues with racism and injustice. In two separate interviews, Dr. Nelms explains how East and how Rochester can do both.

Visit: East High’s Elevated Educator website for access to unit plans that are culturally sustaining for students of color. You can also watch this video introduction to the website.

Collaborating for Equity in Urban Education

Comprehensive Reform in an Innovative University/School Partnership

June, 2021 — New research out of CUES answers questions: How do comprehensive changes in infrastructure, policies, leadership, and instructional practices shape school culture? What role do shifting power relations and authentic trust play in developing shared ownership of outcomes? Using data from a participatory ethnography of an urban high school slated for closure, this article examines the impact of comprehensive transformation on the university-school partnership’s goal to change from a culture of underachievement and negativity toward a culture of collaboration and excellence.

CUES gives presentation to UR Community

CUES team shares research, programs, and impact with the university community

October 27, 2020 –The CUES team gives an inside look at emerging research and how the center is poised to activate broader systemic progress in our region and on the national stage. Watch presentation here.

Cover of Educational Leadership with heart and hands

A school-based behavioral therapy intervention builds resilience for students with high levels of trauma

CUES collaborates with UR Medical Center to tell story of trauma intervention at East in Educational Leadership

In the heat of an altercation or even in the regular busyness of a school day, educators feel pressure to manage student behaviors and meet academic achievement goals. This is understandable. But why do we so often think something’s wrong with a student (and react accordingly) rather than wonder what happened to her?

At East High School in Rochester, New York, we have started asking questions of ourselves and of our students that get to the heart of our students’ lived experiences. We know there are reasons—good reasons—why a child might act out, keep his head on his desk, or refuse to do homework. This article describes a school-based behavioral therapy intervention, one of the many ways a university-school partnership can serve students.

East high building

$2.5M NSF grant will build upon UR-East’s partnership to bolster STEM programs for historically marginalized students

August 11, 2020 –East High School’s partnership with the University of Rochester is paying another dividend as the two will work together to explore ways to build a challenging mathematics program.The university’s Warner School of Education received a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The task: Work on overcoming barriers for students in a high-poverty setting, identify resources and make sure they stay in place to keep the program going. The idea is to create a model that can be used in various settings.

Read article in Minority Reporter here.

Partners in fighting cyberbullying: Reshaping school climate and strengthening relationships

Marsh and Nelms contribute to School Administrator

Steady increases in both teen suicides and school shootings have heightened public concern about cyberbullying. This article documents how the University of Rochester-East collaboration is reshaping school climate and strengthening relationships at school to curb cyberbullying. We describe how three aspects of school life — beliefs, structures, and policies — have changed the climate at East High, in ways that better attend to cyberbullying.

Read full article here.

How student voice transformed East High

Marsh and Nelms write for Educational Leadership

This article documents how a collaborative group of teachers, administrators, parents, students, community members and university staff designed a model that built student voice into the foundation of school culture and practices.  The stakes were high. We faced both the pressure to prevent the school from closing and the opportunity to reshape it into a place that truly served young people and expanded their opportunities for advocacy.

Read full article here.

Addressing the needs of the whole child and family: East as a community school

New video released celebrates and documents East as a community school

Along the journey to transform East High School, the notion of becoming a community school became increasingly central. Community schools address the needs, interests, and aspirations of the whole child. They are places where students, their families, community agencies, teachers, administrators and staff work together to provide support for all stakeholders. This video tells the story of how East has become a community school from the perspectives of East staff, administrators, students, parents, and UR faculty. Their reflections can inform other schools seeking to collaborate with the communities they serve.

Chronic absenteeism: What research tells us about poor attendance at school

Marsh publishes in American Educator

Absenteeism links to low achievement in urban districts. And since urban schools comprise a higher percentage of students of color and students living with poverty, absenteeism can be understood as contributing to the achievement gap between students of color and their white counterparts. Thus, reducing absenteeism is a move to reduce inequity. Read more here

A commitment to inclusion at East: Developing a culture of change for students with disabilities

When ‘All’ means ‘All’: Two Warner centers partner to support students with disabilities at East

Schools only become “inclusive” once the school culture changes. At East Upper & Lower Schools, students with disabilities are starting to feel the change. Read entire article here.

For better schools, protect tenants

Larson contributes guest essay about housing insecurity and education in Democrat & Chronicle

CUES Associate Director of Research,  Joanne Larson contributed a contributed a Speaking Out essay that published as part of the Democrat & Chronicle’s Time to Educate” campaign. Housing insecurity is often overlooked in the education debate, but it’s key to understanding the challenges faced by parents and children in the Rochester City School District. Read the essay here.

The positive trajectory of the UR-East High partnership

Nelms writes essay published in Rochester Beacon

CUES Director,  Shaun Nelms contributed a guest essay on the positive trajectory of the UR-East EPO Partnership published by the Rochester Beacon. After years of low performance, East High School was designated a “persistently failing school” by New York’s commissioner of education. Having failed to achieve sufficient progress in the year following this designation, the Rochester City School District Board of Education was required to designate an independent receiver called an Educational Partnership Organization. In April 2014, the president of the board of education approached the University of Rochester about becoming East High’s EPO. The university accepted the challenge and welcomed the first class of students in the fall of 2015. Read the essay here.

Cover of East EOP Three-Year Report featuring mural of multicultural faces

All In at East Three-Year Progress Report

The EAST EPO has issued a report to communicate the progress of East High School in the first three years of the partnership with the University of Rochester. The Center for Urban Education Success supports and researches this partnership. Students, staff, and families have accomplished a great deal, and the trajectory for the future looks positive. Report in English. Report in Spanish.


CUES receives $2.5 million gift from William and Sheila Konar Foundation

The Konar Foundation’s gift creates a new endowed directorship position to lead CUES, and Dr. Shaun Nelms, Superintendent of East Upper and Lower Schools in Rochester and formerly an affiliated faculty member of CUES, was installed as the inaugural director to fill this endowed position. Learn More

ALL IN at East.

Step in for a look at the people, programs, and vision that are driving change at East High under the leadership of the University of Rochester – East High EPO.

As featured in the November/December issue of the University’s Rochester Review in 2017.

Connecting Theory and Practice to Improve Urban Schools


We have a deep commitment to research that is collaborative, participatory, and emancipatory. By researching alongside the East community, our goal is to produce more authentic and useful accounts of school change.

Community Conversations

Each year, CUES organizes a major symposium designed to showcase and support the work at East and engage the larger community in a conversation and professional learning opportunity to promote quality education in our cities and support the transformation of community schools.

Practitioner Briefs

As a clearinghouse for research, we publish practitioner briefs that address particular topics, questions, and problems pertinent to urban education. We draw upon our network with other urban secondary schools to help understand how these schools are successfully addressing the challenges and questions they confront.

VIDEOS: Practices, Ideas and People Transforming East

CUES sat down with teachers, students, administrators, and staff to talk about the lessons they’re learning as they participate in this comprehensive project. The videos featured here share their successes, their struggles, and their plans going forward so that others who are interested in urban education reform may learn from their insights.