Mamie Till Mobley

"There was an important mission for me, to shape so many...young minds as a teacher. God took away one child but...(gave) me thousands. And I have been grateful for the blessing." Mamie Till Mobley

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Persistently Lowest-Achieving Schools Plans Unveiled

Superintendent James Williams and his staff unveiled the newest plans for the persistently lowest-achieving schools  (PLA) in the Buffalo Public Schools at the Buffalo Board of Education meeting on Wednesday night. The problem with the plan they have proposed to the state is the lack of parental involvement and other  stakeholders such as teachers, building administrators, unions and the community. The models specifically call for "parents and students to adhere to conditions"  as oppose to "agree or collaborate" on the plans.
And the Buffalo News education blogger Mary Pasciak wrote today, this is the reason why the state may reject the plans  submitted May 9th.  Even after  Deputy  Education Commissioner, John King, Jr. passed through town last Thursday, suggested district officials lock themselves in a room with stakeholders until a plan is hashed out all can live with, district officials ignored his  recommendation. He offered to come back and help out, still district officials did it their way, a strategy that may cause the state to reject the plans.
Plans for Bilingual Center #33 continue to emphasize a Transitional Bilingual Program similar to the one the district officials submitted to the School Board on at the April 13th meeting.  Student enrollment at this school is nearly 500,  composed of 285 Latinos (60%), 205 Limited English Proficient (44%), 121 whites (26%), and 60 blacks (13%) provides a unique opportunity to implement a dual language immersion  program similar to the one  for  gifted & talented students at the  Olmsted School #64
The  Olmsted 4th grade students immersed in the Spanish language since kindergarten  traveled  for one week this month to Puerto Rico, meeting pen pals, visiting Old San Juan, museums, the rain forest, and learning about the history and culture of Puerto Rico.
The plans for the Bilingual Center#33 instead of the turnaround model outlined on April 13th, the focus is a "restart" one with management provided by an Educational Partnership organization (EPO) in lieu of the Buffalo Schools superintendent.
Leaders in the Hispanic community earlier this week on Monday met with two Board Members to hear and to ask questions about what plans the district had for the PLA schools with large Hispanic student enrollments especially the English Language Learners that make up over 3,500 of the student population in the Buffalo Public Schools. 
Mr. Casimiro Rodriguez one of the organizers of the meeting at Hispanics United of Buffalo (HUB) asked about the turnaround plans for the Bilingual Center #33,  and why the popular Puerto Rican principal, Miguel Medina had to be removed.
Interestingly, International School #45 is under a transformation model while Lafayette High School is a turnaround model with a focus on "bilingual,  Student Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE), ESL and District Newcomer Center, sounding more like a hodgepodge of a plan.  And Riverside High School with a large Latino population is a under a transformation model with a focus on careers, nothing mentioned about any programs addressing the language needs of the students. 
Also, the focus of the Waterfront School #45, a turnaround model is French and ESL though there are only 30 students in the district listed as speaking the language.  So, the community is not sure why the emphasis is on French while the open classroom plan the school based in the past eliminated.
If any positive has happened in all the ruckus the changes have caused is that International School #45 finally has a new principal  Nadia Nashir, a Middle Eastern administrator, the first in the Buffalo Schools, replacing Colleen Carota transferred to Build Academy though there had been some protest from the African-American community about  her placement there. 
Still,  Puerto Rican and African-American leaders are troubled by the lack of  ethnic diversity in school buildings and central office especially of Hispanic appointments.
School Board President, Ralph Hernandez  mentioned at the meeting at HUB  how the programs for the English Language Learners appeared to be inconsistently offered across the district.  And this inconsistency shows up again in the new models the district unveiled to the School Board and community  at the Wednesday night  meeting whether the focus is turnaround, transformation or restart models
Also, Buffalo Teacher Federation Phil Rumore called the teachers to a rally downtown in front of City Hall before the School Board meeting to voice  his concern  about the  involuntary transfer  of 200 to 500 teachers in the PLA schools, teachers having to interview to keep their jobs,  as well as, supporting the teachers in the following areas:  Rumore's refusal to sign the district's SIG grant, Court of Appeals denial of teachers contractual steps after the wage freeze, stifling school curriculum,  reinstatement of the residency rule, and the continuation of the district's violation of their contract. Mr. Rumore outlined these concerns to the School Board on Wednesday night, specifically the damage of the involutary tranfers of teachers to school buildings

Monday, April 25, 2011

The education of Hispanic children in the Buffalo Public Schools topic of community meeting Monday night

"At a community meeting held at Hispanics United of Buffalo  (HUB) on Virginia Street, many said they're fed up with the failing grades schools are receiving, especially where English Language Learners make up a high percentage of the student population." And many of the schools are on the list of the "persistently lowest-achieving" schools in the district recently in news especially the ones under turnaround plans such as the Bilingual Center #33 on Elk Street.
“A lot has been said in the last several weeks regarding the current crisis in the Buffalo Public School system, and nothing is being said about the population of English language learners, [who] account for 3,500 students, pretty much 10 percent of the school [district] population..." said Casimiro Rodriguez an organizer of the meeting. 
 Mr. Rodriguez wants  more improvement from what he believes are "lots" of   state and federal grants coming into the district for English Language Learners who have a graduation rate of 21% in the Buffalo Public Schools in comparison with 55% for this population in New York State public schools.
Dr. Eleanor Paterson, from Erie Community College believes the bottom line is these students are not getting the language skills they need to progress, causing them to fall further behind  frustrated because they are unable to catch up. While Carmen Melendez, an employment counselor, a board member of HUB said how she sees the same issues over and over and wonders if it would help to have more Latino representation on the school board.
Mr. Rodriguez brought up the problem at the Bilingual Center #33 asked the only two board members who attended the meeting, School Board President Ralph Hernandez, West District and Christopher Jacobs, at-large about the recent changes at the school especially replacing the first Puerto Rican principal Miguel Medina.  Others  cited the Council on Great City Schools study about "the Academic Achievement of English Language Learners in the Buffalo Public Schools" presented to the school board last year.  The report cited principals at schools with English Language Learners didn't know about the programs to provide the direction needed and the community superintendents overseeing these programs didn't have the knowledge to guide them. While others spoke about the importance of the Buffalo Public Schools having  bilingual and diverse school leaders.
The meeting  was a major press blitz , drawing WIVB-TV 4, WBEN Radio, WKBW--News 7, the Buffalo News,  YNN  and the Insurgent Teacher blog.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Buffalo Schools Superintendent James Williams said New York State force kids to drop out

Superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools James Williams said in February that  "public education was never designed to educate black people. It's still not. And I look at New York State. New York State is structured to force kids to drop out of school."
Parent groups responding to Superintendent James Williams sounding the alarm called local and state officials to a meeting on May 3rd, threatening to stage a city-wide protest if it doesn't produce any results on May 16, including keeping children from going to school with local churches opening their doors to take students in for tutoring during the school hours.
Joining the chorus for better schooling in the city of Buffalo is the group VOICE-Buffalo, "sponsoring a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, at the CAO-JFK Community Center, 114 Hickory St., to discuss "next steps" for improving education. The meeting is open to the public."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Parent alleges applications in District 16 Brooklyn for Community Education Councils discarded to give them no voice

"The city is having trouble finding enough parents to run for seats on local Community Education Councils. As of Friday, only 341 applied for a total of 425 seats, according to the Department of Education." But a parent is refuting there is a lack of interested parents. She said the  story in the WNYC News is misleading. While others believe they have no power only an advisory role after the old community school boards abolished under mayoral rule in 2002.
According to this parent her version is, "the article it's misleading. I teach in D16 and am a parent of a child who attends school in D2. I applied and got no response, nothing. But they're complaining about low to no response in D16. I think they discard D16 applicants so they will have no voice. D16 is a DINI and has been for the past 20 years."
And another stated, "the system is design to turn away parents of children that truly care about their children's education and that's why Charters have gained in popularity. While a school like mine has a large number of children whose parents either don't care or don't know what's happening with their children in school you have parents who are turned away when they want to do something. I believe that this is the way they want it-the powers that be that is."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dennis Walcott, "I am your chancellor, plain and simple..."

Newly confirmed chancellor of the NYC Schools, Dennis Walcott said, "I'm your chancellor, plain and simple..." And "I am at your call. You pay my salary" Thursday. When asked about overcrowding at his alma mater, Francis Lewis High School, Chancellor Walcott responded,  simply by creating "excellent schools" nearby.
Is he for real? How near by? Why not make Francis Lewis High School an "excellent" one either build a new high school or renovate the current building?
Walcott still defended the  lay-off of 4, 667 teachers and supports ending "Last in First Out"  policy for laying off teachers. The United Federation of Teachers in March sent a letter of cease and desist to the state when it discovered the NYC Department of Education involved in a petition drive to sign up parents to help them abolish the  law.
He is qualified for the job compared to Cathie Black, but  many in the educational community such as the Deny Waiver Coalition would not say as the panel that he was "exceptionally qualified," except to work for Mayor Michael Bloomberg who earlier called Walcott his "point person."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

To rescind or not to rescind residency rule? it's time to change the dialogue, what do you think?

Less than  two weeks after the Buffalo School Board rescinded the residency rule the debate is again making headline news in Buffalo. This time the Buffalo Common Council passed a resolution last Tuesday asking the Buffalo Board of Education to rescind its vote on the issue. And the School Zone blogger from the News Mary Pasciak revisited the debate today.  Mayor Byron W. Brown even got into  the debate saying in the News article Brian Meyer wrote,  "it's something he would not have done." And "I have always supported residency, and I think the vast majority of people in the City of Buffalo support residency." 
There is talk in the Council of withholding the $70 million in property taxes the City provides to the district or not increasing it. But the Buffalo Teachers Federation president said the Board would have to start all over again if it rescinded its vote legally, grandfathering in all of those district employees before they took the vote on March 23, 2011,  applying  only to the new hires.
The moral of the story is the Board of Education and the Buffalo Common Council should try to come up with incentives to lure district employees back into the city, something they should have done a long time ago. If  it could not be legally retroactive if residency is reinstated, it's best to offer incentives. 
Since teachers are under the gun so to speak these days everybody wants to develop an evaluation system for them from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the NYS Assembly and Senate, the NYS Board of Regents, as well as, other reform agendas, teachers certainly would be "all ears" to hear someone offer to them any proposals to increase their salaries or put more money into their pockets, including moving into the City of Buffalo.  With all the rhetoric and hype about teachers, the discussions rarely ever are about increasing their pay.
So start putting some incentives on the table to entice teachers and administrators to live in the city with all of its ills--increasing crime rate, lack of options in schools, high insurance premiums, garbage fees, water fees, increasing property taxes, etc., certainly there has to be something to lure them here. What about a bonus $5,000 to $10,000 extra to teachers who live in the City? Or what about giving teachers a property tax break like the one given to the wealthy buying condos along the Buffalo Waterfront

A health sciences charter school relocating to the Buffalo Medical Corridor, offering internships and field trips

While  high schools offering vocational and occupational  careers were closed in the last decade in the Buffalo Public Schools--Emerson, Kensington, Seneca---others turned into comprehensive high schools such as McKinley, and rumors of Burgard High School closing, a new local charter school is filling in the vacuum.
The new Health Sciences Charter School is offering a curriculum with a college prep and health sciences focus, moving from the Town of Tonawanda to the Buffalo Medical Corridor.
What makes it  unique is the partnerships it has formed with the most important institutions in the local health care industry such as the Catholic Health System,  Erie County Medical Center,  Kaleida Health,  and Roswell Park.

The battle for space at P.S. 9 in Broolyn, a lesson on how charters move in

This story in the New York Times is a familiar one about the way the Bloomberg administration through its Department of Education takes space from public schools for charters and the battle that ensued. This one is an interesting tale similar to the others but with a different twist, the behavior of the actors especially state commissioner of education David Steiner who tendered his resignation for later this year, that shows how the charter forces and the NY State Education Department work hand in glove. Commissioner Steiner listed former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein as a reference on his application for the state top job in education two years ago. 
"...on Dec. 20, city officials unveiled a holiday surprise. The department said it planned to move a middle-grade charter school — Brooklyn East Collegiate, a member of the Uncommon Schools charter chain — into the space opening up at P.S. 9."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The hiring of exempt employees lacking proper credentials in Buffalo Public Schools causing community uproar

The Buffalo News  educational blogger disclosed on Sunday how several exempt employees "failed to meet district requirements" for their positions, including two associate superintendents who "have no certification or experience in the areas they oversee." The developing scandal includes the director of human resources submitting a letter of resignation sources told the news.
Responding to the story is Dr. James A. Williams, Superintendent of Schools who said, "there's no one on my staff who is not qualified. Our kids deserve the best and brightest. That's how I operate." "I don't get into years of experience. If you have the certification and you have the knowledge, you can work for me."  
The newspaper posted the resumes of the exempt employees who  didn't meet the requirements of the job postings. But the most troubling  ones cited are two persons serving in administrative positions where one lacks any credentials in school administration though the job posted required the certification, while the other an associate superintendent  can't document ever having been awarded tenure in any school district yet overseeing a cadre of professional employees with tenure  as an asssociate superintendent of elementary teaching and learning with only six years of teaching experience. Also, a person hired as assistant legal counsel not passing the bar or ever working as a practicing attorney before hired in a job posting that required it.
And this is happening in tandem with  the Regents Task Force on Teacher and Principal Effectiveness" report released this month based on the new implementation of Education Law §3012-c, New York State’s teacher and principal evaluation statute tied to  an Annual Professional  Performance Review (APPR) for all teachers and principals. 
And by law, " the APPR is required to be a significant factor in employment decisions such as promotion, retention, tenure..., termination, and supplemental compensation. If a teacher or principal falls under one of the ratings "developing" or "ineffective" a TIP  or PIP (Teacher or principal improvement plan) is created. Under this new law tenure teachers or principals with two consecutive annual "ineffective"  ratings may be charged with incompetence  ushered through an expedited hearing for termination. 
And the law provides that "all evaluators must be appropriately trained." This takes effect beginning in 2011-2012 with full implementation by the 2012-2013 school year. Even collective bargaining agreements must be consistent with Chapter 103 with laws 2010 as early as July 2010.
Thus,  news about the "exempt" employees in  the Buffalo Public Schools is troubling, something that behooves immediate attention as this new law §3012-c takes effect  September 2011. So district needs to "get more into the experience" of its  employees in administration consistent with the implementation of this new law. Moreover,  Central District school board member, Ruth Kapsiak, a retired school administrator in the same news story said, "I don't know how we're going to turn the district around if we don't have the right people in the right places."  And she said,  "I just feel we're paying an awful lot of money for people not to know what they're doing."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Group demands open search for a new chancellor at press conference

According to a Facebook message on the Wall of former gubernatorial candidate and NYC Council Member, Charles Barron, "Cathleen Black is out ! Dennis Walcott is in ! We're not looking for personality change; we're looking for policy change. Walcott pledges to continue the Mayor's failing policies; school closings, teacher layoffs, charter school preference, turning schools into test taking mills, etc. We will not be fooled by a Black face ! We say open up the process and conduct a search for a chancellor who doesn't need a waiver. No more Mayoral control and dictatorial appointments. Join community leaders, parents and education activists in a PRESS CONFERENCE on TUESDAY, APRIL 12, 2011 at 12noon on the steps of CITY HALL. The struggle continues !"

Bloomberg asked Steiner for another waiver

New York state education commissioner, David M. Steiner is resigning effective this year. Mayor Michael Bloomberg once again has asked Commissioner Steiner to issue another waiver  for his chancellor-designate, Dennis Walcott. He appointed Walcott to the post Thursday after he asked Cathy Black to step down only three months in office. In a letter he sent to Commissioner Steiner, Thursday immediately following Black's abrupt resignation,  the Mayor cited Mr. Walcott as his, "point  person" throughout his tenure as Mayor.  Mr. Walcott certainly  is more  qualified for the position than his predecessor Cathie Black. If there is a problem with Walcott it's his relationship to the Mayor, the idea that he has been his "point man" since his tenure in office, helping Bloomberg to wrestle control of the schools in 2002 from the people of New York City. While his other problem is that he is not viewed as an educational leader or  experienced at the helm of a large educational corporation such as NYC Schools, one of the  largest in the nation. But the problem is not so much Walcott but Mayor Bloomberg and mayoral control of the NYC Schools.  The major challenge facing Mr. Walcott is assembling a leadership team after four or five  top officials  jumped ship under the dubious three months tenure of Cathie Black where her public gaffes got to be so embarrassing she had to be accompanied to events while others sometimes spoke for her or on her behalf.

School Board member Pamela Cahill resigning called board dysfunctional

Pamela Cahill, Ferry District representative on the Buffalo Board of Education resigning at the end of  May citing in a Buffalo News story, "I think the state needs to step in and take over,” Cahill said. “I think this board really needs to be shut down. I don’t think it’s a functional board. I don’t think it’s good for the district.” She added, “I don’t think we have a professional, functional board,” in the same News story.

NYC chancelloer-designate layoffs based on seniority "one of the most crippling policies on the books"

Chancellor-designate Dennis Walcott viewed as a mouth piece for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, while some fear he is too close to the Mayor to be independent from him. Recently at a NYC Council hearing, he is said to have " repeated a mantra of the Bloomberg administration, that the state law protecting the most senior teachers in the event of layoffs was “one of the most crippling policies on the books.”

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Student leaders at Francis Lewis High School hope new chancellor joins them at a rally to help him save the school that got him where he is today

Khaair Morrison,
Francis Lewis High School
By Khaair Morrison
We are all excited at Francis Lewis High School about the new Chancellor's appointment. At the same time, we are hoping that he brings the change the school system in NYC needs. With all the politics and false hopes over the past few years, students like me can't help but be a little worried and a bit anxious to see what this means for the city. 
I recall a couple of students and I reached out to Cathie Black and the new Chancellor Walcott. After only a weeks time they came to our school, and most of us students in the meeting agreed on the fact that we thought he should have been the Chancellor in the first place. Walcott came prepared with a pen and a pad ready to take notes on what the students had to say. Walcott was real in all his answers, and by the way answered most of the questions due to Black's inexperience. He said "he likes tough fights."
On April 29th many of us at Francis Lewis and educators around the city are planning a rally outside the school for reform in the education system, to stop overcrowding, help our school, and to stop cutting teachers. 
We are hoping we can get the new Chancellor out there to help him save the same school that got him where he is today. We are at a turning point in this city. We have a lot of work to do, and we cannot wait a week, a month, or a year. It must be done now !

Top officials stepped down since Black appointed chancellor

Five top officials of the NYC Education Department have left or resigned since Cathie Black appointed NYC Schools Chancellor. Chancellor designate, Dennis Walcott faces many challenges ahead as he takes the helm of the largest public school system in the nation.

Francis Lewis High graduate appointed chancellor of NYC schools

Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked Cathie Black to step down.

State Education Commissioner David Steiner quitting top education post

What a day for New Yorkers! First Cathie Black steps down as chancellor of the NYC schools and now it's the State Education Commissioner David Steiner quitting later this year.

Cathie Black stepped down Mayor Bloomberg appoints a chancellor designate for NYC schools

Dennis M. Walcott, chancellor-designate

 Dennis M. Walcott, who joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration in 2002, serves as deputy mayor for education and community development...
Mayor Bloomberg said, “I take full responsibility for the fact that this has not worked out as either of us had hoped or expected..."
 “But now it’s time to look forward, not back,” after he dismissed Cathie Black former NYC Schools Chancellor.
Walcott lacks the certification for the position, requiring Mayor Bloomberg to apply for another waiver from the State Education Commissioner David Steiner.
Steiner announced his resignation today effective sometime later this year. In a NY Times article, Robert Jackson, chairman of the City Council Education Committee expressed his preference for someone with more experience as an educator. Mr. Walcott only worked two years as a kindergarten teacher though has a master's degree in education and social work. He has prior managerial experience from the years he headed the Urban League.  His  experience as an administrator  has  not included anything as large and complex as the NYC public school system with  1.1 million students, a $22 billion dollar budget and 121,000 employees. 
Pedro Noguera a professor of education at NY University said he had to "surround himself with  very capable people and sadly a lot of those have left. " So  his most challenging   work ahead is to assemble a team. 
Yet,  student leader Khaair Morrison from Francis Lewis High School commented positively about the chancellor to be when he show up at a meeting with Black to hear their concerns.
Morrison said, "I recall a couple of students and I reached out to Cathie Black and the new Chancellor Walcott. After only a weeks time they came to our school, and most of us students in the meeting agreed on the fact that we thought he should have been the Chancellor in the first place. Walcott came prepared with a pen and a pad ready to take notes on what the students had to say. Walcott was real in all his answers, and by the way answered most of the questions due to Black's inexperience. He said "he likes tough fights."

Monday, April 4, 2011

Attendance a problem in the "turnaround" Buffalo schools

I had to read the Buffalo News story, "Buffalo Plans to Move 200 Teachers" a few times wondering how it's all going to play out. Yet,  the teachers and administrators being removed seemed fearful of what's going to happen to them concerned and troubled by the drastic changes. And the children left behind fearful as well in a building where half of the staff  will be  gone, having to adjust to a cadre of new teachers they don't know. Compounding the problem are the 15-minute interviews teachers have to submit to in order keep their jobs to stay  in their schools, presenting a lesson to a principal that might not be at the school because their jobs have been posted too.
The school reform plan the Buffalo Public Schools chose for seven of its persistently lowest performing schools required they remove the administrators and half of  the teachers as stipulated in  guidelines of the U.S. Department of Education. Why this one chosen? Don't know except the Deputy Superintendent  Folasade Oladele was quoted in this same Buffalo News article saying it came from the input of the joint school intervention team  that earlier  reviewed the schools.  Dr. Oladele told the News, "one recommendation said that unless there were structural changes in these schools that affected teachers and administrators, they did not believe these schools could be changed." 
Yet, those involved making the "turnaround"  decisions from central administration in city hall remain intact, a  school leadership team that many say is the cause of the structural problems in the district. A building administrator wondered when the Buffalo Board of Education would likewise review these folks and start asking the same questions. What about them? Who turns them around?
But "turnaround" has taken on a different meaning here as a teacher   anonymously spoke to the Buffalo News education blogger Mary Pasciak  said how a city hall administrator told them they had to "step up" if they want to be agents of change and "willing to work 12-to-14-hour days" if they want to keep their jobs. And some of the teachers in these schools pointed out that other issues are involved here such as poverty, the high number of students in special education classes, and lower attendance rates as examples they cited in the Buffalo News article. For example,  teachers believe that "in many of the struggling schools, student attendance tends to be very low. In one school, during a recent two-week period, for instance, attendance ranged from a low of more than 25 percent of students absent on a given day to as many as 55 percent absent on another day."  The Buffalo News published a data base of the attendance rates of other districts and Buffalo Schools. Here are the attendance rates of the seven persistently lowest achieving  Buffalo Public Schools. The question is of what benefit is it to "turnaround" a school with persistently low attendance rates  when the district laid-off most of the attendance teachers in 2005?

Bilingual Center
Harriet Ross Tubman Academy
PS 37 Futures Academy
Buffalo Elementary of Technology
East High
Burgard Vocational High
Riverside Institute of Technology

Whitney Tilson (3rd background)

Whitney Tilson (3rd background)
"Let’s be honest: we need a lot more well-off, well-educated white folks with a personal stake in both charter schools and education reform in general if we’re going to take reform to the next level, both politically and operationally.Whitney Tilson, hedge fund manager and major funding angel for the school privatizing Democrats for Education Reform, thinks there’s not enough rich, educated white folks.( Preaprez) click photo to his blog.

Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan
U.S. Secretary of Education, click photo