Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: The New Majority Majority’s Strategic Plan?

On July 1st, the Buffalo School Board convened for its annual organizational meeting swearing in two new members and a new President and, presumably ushering in a new era with a New Majority Majority membership.  Actually we didn’t have to wait long to learn what is being planned for the new era.  In fact, in less than 24 hours newly elected President James Sampson issued a six page paper entitled “A Vision for Buffalo Public Education”.  While Sampson stated in his accompanying email that he hoped the piece would “guide our discussions and decision making over the coming year”, two things are clear:  (1) the publication of this “vision” came as a complete surprise to at least four members of the Board, and (2) it was obviously something that has been in the works for some time.  The introduction is peppered throughout with references to “we”.  For example, one statement notes that “what we imagine for the BPSD over the next five years is the transition to a robust portfolio of high performing schools….”.  In another section, Sampson states that “Our guiding principle will be that effective teaching counts the most.”  This raises questions as to who the “we” are and who wrote this or contributed to this “vision for Buffalo public education”.

My response to Mr. Sampson shortly after receiving the “Vision” statement and reading it is as follows:
“I’ve read your vision statement.  It’s comprehensive and certainly offers many issues/concerns for discussion as you suggest.  Given that this was developed without the full input of Board members, I expect that the opportunity for discussion, indeed healthy debate, will be forthcoming.  If all Board members are to feel included, have their ideas respected and believe that all can have input into the final vision statement, then I expect you will want feedback in various forms, e.g. written, verbal and I look forward to the dialogue beginning immediately. “
Mr. Sampson’s response to me was quick and concise:  “Of course”, he said.

Ms. Belton-Cottman’s response to the Sampson document was even more pointed.  She asked:
“Since you have advocated for "good governance" and "transparency".... please explain who the term "we" used in this document defines or represents and when and how this consensus was derived?  Also since you have set an agenda or your vision, without all elected parties being involved you are ultimately saying by issuing this statement that you really don't care because you have secured the votes required to move your agenda.  Is this the reason why the job for interim has not been posted?  So are the "we" making an appointment of interim superintendent next week, at the meeting without proper vetting or respect of the other elected officials.  I believe under good governance and transparency, the board members not included in the "we" deserve to be equally informed.” (Reprinted with permission)
Over the next few weeks, I will share with the readers, the principal elements of this “Vision” statement.  It covers five strategies that Mr. Sampson believes the District needs to undertake:  (1) Parent and Student Choice (2) Structural Alignment (3) New Deal for Teachers (4) Interim Superintendent (5) Engaging Stakeholders.  Each of these is muti-level with numerous proposed action steps.

To be clear, I want to state that in each of the articles I write, I am expressing my personal opinion, but that opinion is bolstered by extensive knowledge and research of the educational issues being addressed.  I believe that the community should be aware of the major proposals contained within Mr. Sampson’s “Vision” as they are intended to chart the direction of the Buffalo School District.  In fact, it is critically important that members of the community be informed about these proposed vision statements as the future of our school district will be impacted.  YOU SHOULD/MUST BE ENGAGED IN THE DISCUSSION that forms the decisions regarding our schools.

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