ROCHESTER, N.Y. — From researching courses to extracurriculars and academic success, finding a school is never easy. For Maria Cruz, a former foster parent of nine with two biological children, the task seemed impossible. 

“I have children with different abilities, different needs, and trying to match a school that meets the needs, but also enhances those abilities has been very challenging,” parent Cruz said. 

Understanding the struggles firsthand when it comes to navigating the perfect educational institute, Cruz looked for guidance through the non-profit organization READY.

“This is going to be a group of parents, parents from the community that experienced similar situations where you can not have a one-size-fits-all type of education for the children,” Cruz said. “I am very excited to see what is going to happen with this new project.”

With a mission to increase access to high-quality education for Rochester's K-12 students, Dr. Shanai Lee, founder and executive director of READY, launched a resource hub that facilitates the school search process for families across the area. 

“I myself am a Rochesterian and I am a proud Wilson Wildcat,” Lee said. “I'm a graduate of our city school district. I have worked in education for just about two decades, and there is a need that has to be filled. And now we are embarking on our community-based design work where our families are front and center in the driving seat designing schools that they want for Rochester.”

The tool assists community members and parents in searching for schools based on their personal selections as well as exploring school options by looking at information such as academic performance data, school models and extracurricular offerings.

“I actually have parents that constantly reach out to me and say, 'I don't have a placement for my child,'” Cruz said. “They can go in that tool and that will give everything that you need to know to make the right decision for your children.”

Lee says the organization anticipates to triple the number of students in quality schools by 2032 — from 3,000 to nearly 10,000. 

“I spoke with industry leaders,” Lee said. “I spoke with, of course, our families and our educators. I really wanted them to, first of all, define what high-quality education is and also I challenge them to tell me what has to change from their perspective.”

READY has put parents, educators and students at the forefront, in hopes of providing accessible education, breaking cycles of poverty and positively contributing to society.

“Rochester is a very particular community where poverty and trauma have hit very, very hard,” Cruz said. “I'm hoping that after this program, we are able to redesign education for our children.”

The organization and its members are excited about the community-based approach to center parents and students in decision-making about the education landscape.

“Rochester is ready for quality schools, and we are ready to help our school system leaders,” Lee said. “This could be how we transform public education, not just in Rochester, but across the state of New York.”