Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Superintendent’s Heir Apparent

Wanted a Deputy Superintendent:  Qualifications  – “Candidates must have a Master’s Degree and a New York State School District Administrator (SDA) or School District Leader (SDL) certificate at the time of appointment.  A Doctorate Degree is preferred.  Candidates must have eight (8) years of supervisory experience.  Candidates with successful administrative experience in an urban school district with a large racially and economically diverse population are preferred.”

These are the qualifications listed for the Deputy Superintendent position recently posted by Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie.  The emphasis is on Deputy Superintendent as that is the job, purportedly.  However, the majority members of the Board have hatched a new scheme and proposed that the individual hired for the Deputy Superintendent will become the Superintendent on July 1st when Mr.  Ogilvie leaves the District.  They have several arguments for this unprecedented action:  the Board does not need to do a national search for a new Superintendent because there are numerous talented individuals in the District who can do the job; an “outsider” would have a steep learning curve, which would not be the case for an inside candidate; it’s just the logical conclusion that the Deputy should be the heir apparent for the Superintendent’s job.  I don’t agree with this rationale and neither do my fellow minority board members.  We believe that at this critical juncture, a national search for the District’s leader is imperative.

First, it’s important to note that under normal circumstances, the decision to interview and select the Deputy would rest solely with the Superintendent.  The Board has only one employee for whom it conducts a search, interviews, hires, evaluates and promotes or terminates.  That employee is the Superintendent not the Deputy.  Ten individuals applied for this position, three internal candidates and seven external.  With the exception of the internal candidates, perhaps, all of the others applied for a Deputy position, not the Superintendency.  That raises questions about the candidates’ qualifications, experience and even willingness to be considered for a position to which they did not apply.

Under the “Qualifications” heading, the Deputy position calls for just 8 “years of supervisory experience” and “successful administrative experience”.  There is no clarification of the scope or identification of the specific areas of supervisory or administrative experience that are sought to confirm the competencies of an individual who could handle the job of Deputy, let alone the job of Superintendent. Further into the posting, the job description states that the Deputy “will help lead the executive team to deliver on the district’s strategic goals and priorities by aligning BPS programs and resources and ensuring that there is a return on the investment.”  Sounds good, but what does that mean?

In addition, under key competencies, the job notice lists numerous soft skills such as:
  • ·         Strategic vision and courage to ensure that all students achieve
  • ·         Unwavering commitment to getting the job done and willingness to go above and beyond to meet the needs of BPS Students
  • ·         Ability to build and maintain positive relationships with key stakeholders
  • ·         Effective communication skills
  • ·         Skills in navigating existing political structures and systems

The few skill-based competencies listed include:
  • ·         An ability to identify, diagnose and prioritize key issues
  • ·         Ability to find innovative solutions to seemingly intractable problems
  • ·         Excellent execution and project management skills a track record for establishing clear metrics for success and regular monitoring of progress towards goals

The question is; How does a candidate demonstrate these competencies?  What evidence is being required to validate that with a minimum of 8 years of supervisory experience, a candidate, whether internal or external, can successfully perform as the Chief Educational and Chief Executive Officer of a billion dollar enterprise serving over 34,000 students?   An element of the majority’s plan is to have the Deputy learn from Mr. Ogilvie during the last few months of his tenure. Consequently the job posting identifies that the successful candidate “will work alongside Superintendent Ogilvie to ensure that schools and students have what they need to be successful.”   It sounds like “on-the-job training”, a charge repeatedly thrown at former Superintendent Pamela Brown by Board member Paladino. 
However, now it would appear to be acceptable to have the outgoing Interim tutor the Heir Apparent.

It remains to be seen whether any of the internal candidates will be selected for the position.  There is one who has strong credentials, but according to reports is not the majority’s leading candidate.  To be clear, my colleagues and I are not opposed to the hiring of a competent Deputy Superintendent.  That individual should have the right to apply for the Superintendent position when it is posted.  We strongly disagree with the majority’s plan and question their motivation. 

With malice of forethought, unmitigated gall and a sense of privilege, the board majority has created an intolerable environment from which even the most seasoned, knowledgeable and committed educators are beginning to flee.  Undeterred by their ignorance of the educational needs of our children and continually spewing soundbites about instituting “reform” measures, “saving poor failing children” and “urgency”,  their “boldness” is nothing more than a brazen move to put a hand-selected individual, with limited experience, in the position as Superintendent.  And now, they want to delude themselves that another handpicked successor will do what they say and what they want. 

The only qualification that appears to matter is the unspoken one; that this candidate pushes the majority’s agenda and only asks the question, “How high” when told to jump! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mr. Paladino, Becomes An Equal Opportunity Bully

It's been no secret that the majority Board members have become disillusioned with Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie and look to replace him sooner than later.  Originally I planned to examine the plans of the majority to hire a Deputy Superintendent from the rank and file, who would be anointed Superintendent upon Mr. Ogilvie's departure.  However those plans were torpedoed when Carl Paladino decided to go off script and demand that Mr. Ogilvie resign immediately prior to the selection of a successor; The Next Superintendent or Super Pretender?

In an unprecedented display of arrogance and audacity Paladino met with Mr. Ogilvie at noon on March 20th and demanded his resignation by 4pm the same day!  In an ironic scenario, Paladino has accused Mr. Ogilvie of having many of the same failings as Dr. Brown, e.g. Incompetence.  But Paladino also bemoans what he terms the "betrayal and treachery" on Mr. Ogilvie's part.  Mind you he's not complaining about this on behalf of the children, but on the behalf of himself and his colleagues.  It seems they expected Mr. Ogilvie to shake the District up by closing school buildings, creating charter school opportunities to take over prime Buffalo school real estate, down size central office staff, bottom line -- to Follow Instructions.

To Mr. Ogilvie's credit he has the educational knowledge and professional integrity to know that pushing the majority's agenda, in total, was not only impossible but detrimental to the children and the entire school system.  Not only did he push back, he did the unthinkable!  There were times he agreed with the minority Board members.  For this he’s labeled a "traitor" and threatened with termination from his job, and less than 24 hours to get out of Dodge.

And what about Mr. Paladino?  Did he cross the line?  Sorry for the rhetorical question. He has expanded his bullying from African American women to a white male. He is one Board member, with one vote. Yet he made a unilateral decision to demand Mr. Ogilvie's resignation.  It's clear that he intends to dismantle the school system one way or another.  And to punctuate his intention, he has even threatened to reach out to his arch enemy, Governor Cuomo to join him by having the State take over the District.  There's nothing left to say!

Paladino's repeated protestations that he cares about the 34,000 "poor, suffering children trapped in failing schools" rings hollow.  Instead they sound like a burglar alarm, shrill, loud, annoying and warning of the entry of a potential thief.  People of ethical and moral character, who are repulsed by injustice, who believe that silence in response to outrageous behavior is not acceptable and amounts to condoning that behavior, who believe that our children are being harmed and deserve much better, should speak up and demand that the Board take action in this matter.  The Board needs to address the breach of its own code of conduct and the deplorable actions of one of its members.  We owe it to the children.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Yes, Another Voice!

Have you no sense of decency, sir?  At last, have you left no sense of decency?”  This question, from attorney Joseph Nye Welch, delivered a stinging rebuke to Senator Joe McCarthy.  McCarthy had waged a five-year reign of terror, aka his witch-hunt for communist sympathizers and infiltrators throughout American society.  Welch’s question, posed during the legendary 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings effectively illuminated the cruel, baseless and biased behavior and actions of the Wisconsin Senator.  Thanks to the televised hearings during which Welch confronted McCarthy, the public witnessed the true nature of the man, the intent of the hearings and the devastation McCarthy inflicted on the lives of countless individuals.  Unmasked and denounced, McCarthy lost the respect and support of the American people and was ultimately censured by the Senate.

As I read last week’s articles and editorials in the Buffalo News regarding the appointment of Dr. Catherine Collins as our new Board of Regents member, Welch’s words rang in my mind.  The  Buffalo News’ reporting of the events of this past week leading to and including Dr. Collins’ appointment are not an exact parallel to the McCarthy era inquests.  Yet, there are certain similarities associated with journalistic truthfulness, transparency and accountability that we should apply to evaluating the Buffalo News’ reports.  Given the impact and influence of the media, reporting that in, itself, raises issues of bias should be examined and questioned.

For example, Mr. Bennett was lauded as “far and away the best choice for the seat”, “a champion of education”, while Dr. Collins’ credentials were never mentioned.  Instead, the News observed that she had the “unenviable task” of trying to fill Mr. Bennett’s shoes. Her appointment was characterized as a political one “engineered” by Assembly member Crystal Peoples-Stokes, even though Mr. Bennett’s appointment would have followed the same path, different Assembly member.  In fact, the Editorial railed more about the credentials and political clout of Assembly member Peoples-Stokes and new Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie and touted the credentials of Mr. Bennett while ignoring those of Dr. Collins.  By the way, Dr. Collins, a life-long educator and healthcare professional, has a PhD, is a published author, former Buffalo Board of Education member, Distinguished Professor at Empire State College and other area colleges and universities, community leader etc., etc., etc.  But the News would rather lament that Mr. Bennett had been “torpedoed” by the Assembly member and the Speaker.  Quite frankly, they sounded vaguely like they were whining…..and that Mr. Bennett was a victim of the process which has installed him as the Regent for the last 20 years. 

 And then, they dared to go there……………….  Just for good measure the News asked whether or not “racial politics played a role” in the appointment of Dr. Collins given that she is an African American as are Assembly member Peoples-Stokes and Assembly Speaker Heastie.  To be fair, they did note that Mr. Bennett and “many of his supporters are white and no one has claimed a racial component there.”    But they concluded that race does seem to play a “more dominant role in education” in Buffalo.  After all, Mr. Paladino was convinced that is the case too.  This is one of the few times in the News’ reporting on education issues in Buffalo when they have been transparent. They put a lot of credence into the comments of Carl Paladino.

Speaking of Carl Paladino, the need to examine the role of racial politics in Dr. Collins’ appointment was confirmed by a quote in a previous article from that educational sage.  True to form he weighed in with his own assessment:  Assembly member Peoples-Stokes was “ignorant”, “self-absorbed”, “doesn’t care about minority children”, and is motivated by “self-empowerment”.  If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve heard or read these same descriptors used by Mr. Paladino in comments about all the minority members of the Board, former Superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown and numerous minority female staff members.  Yet, the News chose to print these denigrating remarks with no filter or admonishment.  I know, Freedom of Speech.  But that works both ways!

This is not the first time that the News’ decision to write stories that are unfairly slanted have been cited.  Reporting on the City Grill murders and the community’s resultant outrage led to a rare self-examination by the News.  Under the leadership of former Editor Margaret Sullivan, the News invited me and several other minority group members to participate in an advisory panel aimed at providing feedback to the News about how their reporting was perceived by members of minority communities.   The group confirmed that there was a long-standing and serious issue of lack of trust in the newspaper related to honest and objective reporting.  At that time, there seemed to be a sincere desire to engage community members; to hear honest criticism; to make a commitment to change and to develop and implement a plan to change the belief that the News is a biased publication.  So much for change!  Under the current leadership, we are back to square one. 

The Buffalo News’ treatment of Dr. Collins was shameful.   The News’ March 12th editorial, “Whose Voice”, stated “The Buffalo woman had barely been confirmed by the State Legislature when she said her goals include slowing down some of the reforms in the state’s education system.”  Dr. Collins has not even had an opportunity to express her voice.  At the very least, before questioning her independence, integrity and just plain common sense, the News should have a fair, open conversation with Dr. Collins.  The McCarthy era is over, but the question still has to be asked - Buffalo News, “At last have you left no sense of decency?!”

Monday, March 9, 2015

Governor Cuomo’s Opportunity Agenda Promotes None for Public Education

“The State of New York’s Failing Schools” is the title of a report recently released by Governor Cuomo.  As the title implies, this report is a compilation of selected data on 176 “failing” schools throughout the State.  The schools are primarily located in urban districts like Buffalo, New York City, Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers, Utica and several others.  Buffalo has 27 schools in the Report; Rochester has 15 and Syracuse has 18.  The schools were identified using the criteria that they are schools “among the lowest 5% in the State in terms of combined English Language Arts and Mathematics performance that are not making progress, as well as those schools that have graduation rates below 60% for the last several years.”

The Report provides a school by school snap shot of each school’s rating on the State ELA and Math standardized tests, enrollment numbers and the number of years the school has been “failing”.  Other relevant data includes descriptions of the makeup of the student body citing the percentage of students who are minority and those who receive free or reduced lunch (a measure of poverty).  The Report also tallies the amount of state funding provided to these schools as an indication of how much the State has invested in these “failing” schools with little to no successful outcomes, a point stressed by the Governor.  The per-pupil expenditure is compared to the 2012-2013 national average and the difference, in almost every school, reinforces the claim that these schools have not only been amply funded but over-funded.

As for outcomes, the Report suggests that teachers have the greatest accountability for the failures in the system.  Since 2012 a new State initiated evaluation system has focused on measurements that purport to establish a direct link between teacher competency and student achievement.  The Governor laments that it is a flawed system since more than 90 percent of teachers have been rated highly effective or effective.  He cites these ratings as “incongruous” with student proficiency ratings.  The Report prints the teacher ratings for each school as well to reinforce this deficiency.  Another interesting, if superfluous bit of information in the report is the Assembly and Senate Districts for each school and their respective Legislators.

To make sense of this Report, I think that one has to look beyond the specific information to the overall intent of the piece.  As a result the Report can be viewed for what it truly is….a piece of propaganda that the Governor is using to bolster his Educational Reform Agenda and what some have described as its “draconian” solutions for the problems in our educational system.  This Report is biased and slanted but offers just enough credible information to make the reader believe that it’s valid.  It’s also difficult to refute statistics, especially if as a layman you have no extensive knowledge of the subject.  Even the format -- tables, charts, documentation etc. can be intimidating and difficult to argue with.  Propaganda is intended to present a compelling argument to support the maker’s claims while omitting alternative conclusions in the analyses of the problem.

For example, the Report posts numbers on the breakdown of the minority status and poverty of the student population in the “failing” schools.  What’s striking about these statistics is that in the vast majority of the schools, the percentage of minority students ranges from 90 to 98% and the percentage of free lunch recipients ranges from high 80% to low 90%.  These statistics are important as they confirm recent reports about the high incidence of segregation in New York’s public schools and the high poverty rate.  The Governor’s plan does little to address these disparities, however, or consider the known relationship between poverty and achievement.  Further, far from being a question of spending too much money in our schools, a recent report has raised the question of the lack of equity in State educational funding.

The ELA and Math scores are another example of how “some” information is used to make a point about the dismal proficiency scores.  There is no analysis of the changes in testing tools or cut scores (the passing grade) that have occurred repeatedly over the last ten years.  Nor is there any discussion about the most recent changes in the ELA and Math tests due to the adoption of the Common CORE Standards.  In fact, the State Education Department predicted in 2013 that there would be a high failure rate on the new Common CORE ELA and Math tests because of these changes.  The result was that the statewide passing rate was 31.3% for ELA and 31.2% for math.  And guess what?  The 2014 statewide test scores showed a minuscule increase, 31.4% and 35.8% respectively.  The over-reliance on standardized tests as THE measure of achievement has ignited a test-refusal/save public education movement -- of parents, educators, politicians, school board members and others -- across this state and across this nation.  The Report doesn't examine this backlash nor does it explain that ALL children, regardless of learning ability or English language capability, take the same test!  Is this truly a measure of student achievement for all students?

There are other examples of why we should look at this report with skepticism.  But, the moral of this story is that the art of propagandizing is alive and well. “The State of New York’s Failing Schools” is propaganda that distorts information for the purpose of promoting the Governor’s educational reform agenda.  I urge readers to learn about this agenda, which advocates legislative authority for the appointment of a Receiver to take over “failing schools and districts; the creation of more charters; an even more restrictive teacher evaluations process and other tactics designed to weaken the teaching profession; continued excessive administration of standardized tests and the ultimate dismantling of public education.  Make your own conclusions but get the full information so you can make informed decisions.  Don’t settle for the propaganda! 

Monday, March 2, 2015

”Herman”? Inspires Paladino

Yes, it was another contentious week in the Boardroom.  Carl Paladino continues to instigate intimidating and bullying attacks on anyone who disagrees with him.  Now, he’s threatening to sue Dr. Theresa Harris-Tigg, Ms. Sharon Belton Cottman, Rashondra Martin, Esq. (the Board’s attorney) and me for slander.  This latest threat came in a February 25th email alleging that we had called him a “racist and sexist” and putting us on notice of his intent to pursue legal action against us.  This is the latest in an escalating series of assaults on the African American women on the Board and on the staff.  This is clearly part of a coordinated plan to create distractions designed to take the focus away from the serious issues that we need to address in this District.  Not one to leave well enough alone, Mr. Paladino subsequently published a copy of an email that he received from “Herman”, an individual he identifies as a friend.  In fact, “Herman” is an African American friend, who decided to weigh in on the subject of the nature of Black people.

And I quote from “Herman’s” email:   “I applaud you for your efforts to help fix the Buffalo School system, but you have a hinderence (sic). Blacks think different, we are comfortable playing the part of being the VICTIM, and always blaming others for things we should be doing for our self…..We always make accusations of racism, when in fact Blacks are more racist than anyone……We (Blacks) don’t understand capitalism, economics or investments. We are selfish, and have intention of taking responibility (sic) for our self…. All we want is to have things given to us…..when it comes to the miniority (sic) school board members (ignorance).  You are an intellegent (sic) man, but you will never come across to those idiots.  This is why, we are at the bottom of the food chain.”  Mr. Paladino’s response:  “Wow, Herman that was inspiring.”  This was followed by his own prediction that “The Board majority intends to lead them (a reference to the minority Board members) kicking and screaming to the promised land.”

Normally, I wouldn't dignify this latest instance of Tomfoolery with a response. As an educator and community historian, however, I’m compelled to address a number of issues raised by “Herman’s” email.  It’s significant that “Herman’s” missive arrives as we are concluding the observance of African American history month.   It offers a striking, contemporary, example of the age-old ploy of pitting one African American against another.  Before I go further, I should acknowledge that African Americans are certainly not a monolithic group who always agree.  And “Herman” does have the right to voice his opinion.  But, we also know that the manipulation of one (or more) African Americans, whether his name is Herman, Tom or Harry, to denigrate, berate and undermine the integrity of other African Americans has historical roots in an era that was damaging to all; Blacks and Whites.  It’s a strategy that allows expressions that might otherwise be considered inflammatory, if voiced by a white person, to be attributed to intra-group diversity and yet validate outer group assertions.

“Herman’s” anonymity compounds the problem.  It makes him and his message suspect. Most of us would ignore a letter from an anonymous source or at least question its intent and veracity.  After all, it’s difficult to believe someone who does not have the courage or the integrity to stand by his words by signing his name to such an impactful communication.  In fact, people have told me that they question whether “Herman” really exists or is just the figment of someone’s imagination.  Even the structure of the email itself, calls for a closer look at “Herman” and conjures up a picture of him that is not flattering.  Shared as it was for public discourse, inclusive of its poor grammar and bad spelling, the email was sure to raise questions on those points alone.  “Herman’s” statements condemn not just an entire group of people, but HIS people.  No doubt, some will judge them as reprehensible, disloyal and fallacious although others may agree.  But, until Herman decides to come out of the shadows of anonymity, it’s all debatable.  One might also question the reputed friendship between the two men.  

After all, who would expose a friend to such scrutiny?