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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

School resource police officers axed in the Syracuse district

Districts around New York State have to trim and balance their budgets, while the Commissioner of Education John B. King told them they had to do more with less differently.
So, Syracuse school Superintendent Sharon Contreras didn't hesitate when she told the school board at a Wednesday night meeting back in September they had the resources to keep the schools safe and wanted to ax six  middle school School Resource Officers from a fleet of 15 inside the buildings.
Contreras  argued the nine School Resources Officers assigned to the high schools can respond to the middle schools as well, while the district already had  31 in-house uniformed security guards plus hall monitors. And no other school district outside of New York City had police resource officers exclusively in the middle schools.
So the six officers were reassigned to community policing positions, continuing to respond to the middle schools as part of their duties.
Buffalo City School District  had only four police School Resource Officers in the schools until last May when Mayor Byron W. Brown and former Superintendent of Schools James A. Williams increased the fleet to 16 including a Chief of Police and a Lieutenant with two off-duty officers assigned to Bennett HS (daily), two off-duty officers assigned to East HS (daily) according to WIVB-TV  and the Buffalo News coverage of the expansion.
Also, the Buffalo Schools Police  School Resource Officers worked in a successful partnership with the Attendance Officers in the AIM Team (Attendance Intervention Mobile) until both were cut in 2005 and 2002.
One of the powers and duties of Attendance Officers under school law 3213 is the arrest of truant students. And in January the district recalled three  Attendance Officers laid off in 2005, and eight additional ones in September, increasing  the number of Attendance Officers to 13 in the Buffalo Schools.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving from a Native American point of view...

"For me, Thanksgiving serves as another remembrance of how my Native American ancestors were maltreated; annihilated; ousted from their land; and consigned to reservations, eradicating every trace of their pre-existing life. Thanksgiving reminds me of how my great-grandmother had "to pass" as a light-skinned black person to avoid being forced on a reservation..."

Are the Buffalo Schools ready for change?

As  leaders of the  Buffalo Public Schools move forward in their  efforts to transform their persistently lowest-achieving schools (PLA), it's important to take a sankofa view of what others have done to turnaround and transform low performing districts into high performing ones. But if there are any lessons learned from the early efforts of the the New American Schools started in 1991 to transform low achieving schools to high performing ones it was the contributing factors that had made the difference founded in the selection process, the design teams, the school structure and site factors.
And " higher levels of implementation were associated with school districts that had stable leadership, lacked political crises, had a relationship of trust between the central office and the schools, provided more resources for professional development and training, and ensured more school level autonomy."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Can Buffalo Say Yes to Education?

Nearly twenty-five years ago George Weiss started the Say Yes to Education Program, offering to pay the college education of a group of 112 sixth graders that graduated from Belmont Elementary School in West Philadelphia.Back then Say Yes to Education "guaranteed  a college education to all the youngsters... paid for every bit of it," if they graduated from high school.
Say Yes to Education is coming to Buffalo following the program model  established in the Syracuse City School District.

Today the funds don't directly come from Mr. Weiss but from local  foundations such as the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the John R. Oishei Foundation both had been working on the idea for the last four years. The way it works is that local students graduating from high school apply for college financial aid and Say Yes to Education fills in the gap for what is not covered.
The initiative in Buffalo has garner the commitment of a diverse group of stakeholders including Phil Rumore, President of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, and from Mayor Byron W. Brown who has donated $500,000 seed money over a three-year period.
Say Yes requires cooperation and collaboration from the partners involved, including the consultants managing the program. These consultants help to review the budget how funds are allocated district wide to determine how effective it's being done while they pull all the stakeholders together to support the students.
In Syracuse consultants of Say Yes  recommended cutting most of the teachers aides during budget problems which was not received well by the union though the collaboration has worked out well for them Kevin Ahern President of the Syracuse Teachers Association noted. And it's "not always happy talk at their regular meetings," he added.
And in the BCSD there are  union contracts that still need to be settled,on-going teacher step litigation in federal court, while a superintendent search RFP process is  still in progress with a permanent one possibly appointed next year. Still the State Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King, Jr has yet to appoint a "distinguished" educator and the persistently lowest-achieving schools (PLA) in Buffalo frantically  are involved in writing turnaround proposals due in central office by Wednesday, November 23rd.
Yet, Amber Dixon, interim Superintendent of Buffalo Schools is hopeful Say Yes will provide a blueprint for her own ideas of turning around the Buffalo failing schools.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Attendance teachers needed Buffalo Schools should be included in contract negotiations

"... Rumore says the No. 1 impediment to progress in the district is not him -- it's staggering student absenteeism. He works daily with district officials to improve the schools, he says.
"Did I block the stupid 50 percent solution [to move teachers]? Yes. That's the only time I had any kind of power at all," Rumore said. "I really wish I had the power people think I have. I don't. I really don't."
This quote appeared in the Buffalo News story today  " A Growing Divide."
Yet what the article in the Buffalo News didn't discuss is the on-going contract negotiations of  Buffalo School teachers that expired in 2004.  Phil Rumore the Buffalo Teachers Federation President has the most power during contract negotiations, a topic woefully neglected in the Buffalo News story.
And he has the power to do something about absenteeism in ensuring adequate staffing in the buildings, including class sizes.
So in the case of student absenteeism Rumore has the power to negotiate with the district that a certain number of attendance teachers are needed in order to ensure daily school attendance of Buffalo Schools students especially after the Regents Reform Agenda proposed and the Board of Regents adopted the new principal teacher evaluation system where teachers will be evaluated on the academic progress of their students.
No matter how highly effective a teacher is in the classroom if a student is absent daily, it has an impact on their academic achievement and progress as well as how they are rated.
Therefore, it's important the attendance teachers are adequately represented in the staffing of school buildings particularly in those designated failing schools. And more Buffalo Schools 14 were added on Monday after the state education department released its latest list of failing schools.
Therefore it is imperative for the head of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, Mr. Rumore to insist and to include an adequate number of attendance teachers in the Buffalo Schools  in contract negotiations, otherwise, many teachers will be wrongfully evaluated because of student absenteeism, while he has advocated it as a fundamental problem.
Several times an attendance teacher asked Rumore to consider it as a topic in contract negotiations but he continuously has said he can't do it.
So it's time Mr. Rumore revisited this timely topic and consider negotiating attendance teachers into the contract talks, otherwise, what happened on August 2005 when the district laid-off most of its attendance teachers may happen again not only jeopardizing the career of good teachers but the instruction of Buffalo Schools students.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Christopher Jacobs at-large school board member to step down soon if wins erie county clerk race

He was one of former Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Williams most fervent supporters responsible for ensuring his long embattled tenure with the Buffalo Schools.
Yet at-large school board member Christopher Jacobs, a candidate for the Erie County Clerk office is in a heated battle  with former Majority Leader of the Erie County Legislature Maria Whyte for the highly coveted seat vacant since Kathy Hochul  elected to Congress in a special election in May this year.
Governor Andrew Cuomo could have appointed Maria Whyte the Democratic contender for the vacant seat but media pundits speculate the Jacobs family contributed large sums of money to the coffers of Cuomo in his bid for governor reason why he didn't appoint a Democrat to help Jacobs a Republican win the race.
But Chris Jacobs leads the race by nearly 4000 votes and it would be difficult for Whyte to overcome this lead. And she has not conceded the vote her campaign lacking the financial advantage of  Jacobs, a millionaire.
There are still over 8,000 absentee and military ballots to open yet in this race that will determine the winner.
Republican Elections Commissioner, Ralph Mohr says "mathematically it's possible but what we have seen traditionally is the absentees as well as the provisional ballots follow along the similar path as votes in the general election."
The Buffalo School Board will have to appoint an at-large candidate if Jacobs steps down.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

School board approves contract of Professional, Clerical & Technical Employees' Association

Professional, Clerical & Technical Employees’ Association known as PCTEA contract approved at the Buffalo Board of Education meeting tonight. Chief Financial Officer Barbara Smith said the savings for the district is in health care and the elimination of summer hours she called significant.Current employees pay 1.25% into their health care benefits, cosmetic rider and summer work hours eliminated, but any new employees to contribute 20% to health care insurance and 25% when they retire. Future employees less personal days from 5 to 4 while sick days  reduced from 15 to 13 days. And $2,500 added to the base pay of all PCTEA employees. Saying they are looking at long-term structural changes, the contract through 2012-2013 provides a net cost of $7.3 million overall $9.4 million with a $2.1 million savings to the district. It's future savings they expect to realized as new employees are hired and retire and current ones retire.

Interim superintendent Amber Dixon says, "people want to believe in our children again"

In her characteristic optimism for the Buffalo Schools and the staff interim Superintendent of the Buffalo Schools Amber Dixon opened the Attendance Summit yesterday at the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts
She told about 400 district staff, students and community stakeholders  "people want to believe in public education in Buffalo again," while the clapping of the audience resonated throughout the auditorium to her  message of optimism. And, " People are ready to believe in our children again," she added.
She pointed to the work of the BAVPA Gospel Choir under the direction of George L. Brown as an example"...  in the faces of the children we saw today.  She said "it was a important day for the Buffalo Public Schools."
And she shared a personal story about a student she saw leaving a school building as she walked out. She said, " I saw a young man spilling out the door and I spilled him into my car. He was headed to his girlfriend's house things not going right for him at home." And she told him about a whole lot of people in the schools building that can help him.  " I talked to this young man and brought him back to the school." She asked the principal to talk with him.
She said, "the other side of attendance is we care about you.  This is the right place for you to be. You belong in school gaining skills." And "next time a child wants to walk out the door make sure someone is there to talk to them," Dixon said.
Dr. Will Keresztes, an Associate Superintendent provided the introductory remarks and shared the strategies the district has embarked upon to solve the high absenteeism rates where an average of  more than 40% of Buffalo Schools students are absent at the chronic or severely chronic levels. It  included recalling seven attendance teachers laid off in 2005.
He cited Buffalo School award for implementing the PBIS  nearly district wide along with the Safe and Civil Schools program at the secondary level. And he thanked John Crabbe, Supervisor of Attendance for his help in assisting with the Summit, while Hedy Chang appreciated his readiness to share data that made her work possible.
Jane Ogilvie, Director of School Support Services at Erie 1 BOCES was a facilitator and organizer of the Summit. She said Buffalo Schools the only one of the five big school districts in New York combining both PBIS and Safe and Civil Schools.
A panel  all from New York City composed of  four members from the Children's Aid Society National Center for Community Schools, the Mayor's Interagency Task Force on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism School Engagement and a school principal from PS 149 Danny Kaye in Brooklyn talked about the strategies they used to combat absenteeism.
Regent Robert Bennett, and board members Ralph Hernandez, Mary Ruth Kapsiak, and School Board President Lou Petrucci attended the event.
Ten attendance teachers met with the group at BOCES the following day to meet with Hedy Chang and share their ideas about absenteeism in the Buffalo Schools and their efforts to combat it.

Hedy Chang attendance consultant says real issue student suspension

Hedy Chang,  director of Attendance Works was the keynote speaker at the Attendance Summit November 8th at the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.
Chang presented information based on the attendance stats she got from the district earlier this year when hired as a consultant. She noted at the end of the Summit that her figures didn't include the suspension rates of students in the Buffalo Schools and warned the 400 parents, district staff and leaders this is an area they need to worry about and address.The most interesting part of the Summit were the presentations Buffalo Students shared with the participants on Tuesday about 10 students from various schools in the district.

They said students don't attend school because of:
  • lack of motivation
What they offered as solutions to the barriers:
  • more opportunities to express themselves to get experience with career paths to help them in the future
  • There needs to be more after school programs
  • more opportunities created for them to be motivated
  • less detention and suspensions
  • parental involvement
  • and programs to address teen pregnancy
  • communication, collaboration, cooperation between district, students, parents, teachers the community
  • stop bullying, students get scare don't come to school, students want teachers to intervene, they need to talk to someone in the school, stop bullying at home

The students mostly secondary represented Hutch Tech, Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, Lafayette High School, and Build Academy.
A Lafayette High School student spoke about the need for more parental involvement in the schools and programs for  pregnant teens.  The Buffalo Schools had a school for pregnant and parenting teens it closed down about  10 years ago at Fulton. Erie County has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the nation.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Race to the Top needs to reform itself lack of Latinos troubling

The RTTT "Staffing at a Glance" is in  the Regents Reform Agenda report published on January 2011. Buffalo has been criticized for many things including failing schools and a dysfunctional board but the Race to the Top  Regents Reform Agenda Report showed the staff in Albany is composed almost exclusively of whites overseeing the reform efforts state-wide-- 86% of the RTTT employees are white, 11% African-American, 4% Asian and 0% Latinos. While 54% hired were internal candidates, 46% were external and nearly all are whites.
Ironically there are no Latinos in the group. Since the largest population of schools vying for the RTTT funds have large numbers of African-Americans and Latinos it's troubling few employees from these groups compose the RTTT in Albany.
While the lack of Latinos is not only unacceptable but difficult to reconcile with the mission of the Race to the top school reform agenda. So, who is the distinguished educator Commissioner John King is sending to Buffalo? Hopefully, a Latino to make up for the gross disparity in his own staff.

Buffalo schools superintendent search RFP out in October

Things are moving pretty fast in the search for the next superintendent of the Buffalo Schools.  Board President Louis Petrucci signed the RFP on October 20, 2011 with a cut off date of November 15, 2012. The board expects the consultant hired to help them appoint a candidate  by June 1, 2012. So there's only about five months for the board to choose a candidate. As it happened when James Williams had been chosen six years ago,  a committee of the board first interviews the candidates and present the finalist to the board in March.
Back in September Buffalo News blogger Mary Pasciak described it as an adhoc committee of the board with East District Rep. Rosalynd Taylor, Board President Petrucci and Central District Rep. Mary Ruth Kapsiak who suggested a fourth person come on board.
West District Board Member Ralph Hernandez expects at least the top five finalist  presented to the group. Funds from  security and charter schools used to cover the costs of the search according to James Kane, a district central office employee.
The comments from the community in the News suggested the process should have been started as soon as James Williams stepped down on September 15, to hire the next superintendent by January. While many of the comments are positive about interim Super Amber Dixon appointed to the position on September 16. Others think the net should be cast far and wide to recruit the best candidate though it may prove to be a challenging thing in a district the state expected to name a distinguished educator to run it alongside the superintendent.
Also, there are all the parties involved in the turnaround reform school process, something in progress now in the district that the new super inherits. And of course there is the money factor  Dixon accepting a salary lower than what other candidates may ask for. It will be interesting to see what happens if Dixon is a candidate it might discourage others to apply, especially competing with a candidate the board finds amicable. One thing the ad hoc board committee interviewing the first candidates needs is a person on board from the ELL community that is able to ask the candidate questions about their record with the students from this background, as well as a Latino. What about the community? How the consultants chosen plan to engage them in the search effort?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Parent groups draws a crowd to hear about the reform plans in Buffalo schools

Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon confidently took  the podium  to address 30 parent facilitators and the 100 people who attended the Monday night meeting of the District Parent Coordinating Council held at the Makowski School #99 on Jefferson Avenue on the East Side of Buffalo.
She told the group that she had just finished meeting with the principals of the persistently low achieving schools had challenged them to come up with their own turnaround plans, providing these schools additional resources such as teachers, administrators and community supports.
The meeting was a very informative one as well as tempestuous after Phil Rumore, President of the Buffalo Teachers Federation and Samuel Radford vice-president of the DPCC  engaged in a heated confrontation about the topic of the involuntary transfers of teachers at the PLA schools  the turnaround federal Race to the Top model required instead of the educational partnership organization (EPO) favored by BTF. Then from the back of the room  steps attorney Steven H. Polowitz, a co-founder of Tapestry Charter School to challenge what Mr. Rumore had said about  how charter schools are a drain on public schools.
Interestingly, Dixon told the audience why the New York State Education Department didn't fund the school reform plans the district sent to them back in May.  She responded the state rejected the plans because "...there was a sense that Buffalo was not serious about turning around the academic achievement in those schools."
Yet, Rumore provided his version of why the state rejected the reform plans saying they didn't think the district was prepared or in a position to oversee the EPO model.
The district submitted three reform plans based on the EPO model and four others were not submitted that troubled  Radford from the DPCC who had expected at least a turnaround one sent to the state. He  blamed Rumore, causing the angry discourse between the two leaders. Ironically, the meeting was suppose to be an "initial conversation to agree" to benefit the parent and students that's highly unlikely after what happened at the meeting last night.
Interim Superintendent Dixon's message to the parents  get involved! She told them to work through the DPCC to have their voices heard. Do something for our kids...make this happen...your recommendation has to reflect what you think is best for the children."
A committee will pick the best one similar to last year.  It goes before the board in December then back to the community before submitted to the state.
Ralph Hernandez, West District Rep discussed the Free lunch program for all students in the district.  A school official discussed the Contract for Excellence---reduce class sizes, LEP program, Alternative Ed and Counseling all found on the district website.
There was talk about  Buffalo State College involved in opening up a center on Grant Street for English Language Learners. Many at the meeting including the parent facilitator at Lafayette High School concerned about what's going to happen to the school as Super Dixon reiterated the state commissioner comments to close it if the plan submitted is not an adequate one.
Kudos to the chef who provided the meal at the DPCC Tuesday night.

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