Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sampson and Nevergold Emails On Weimer "Superintendency"

Buffalo School Board President James Sampson sent an email out to the entire board on Sunday (4/26) indicating the board majority's preference to name James Weimer as the next superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools and plans to begin assembling a new leadership team for the district. Below is his email to the board, as well as the response from minority bloc board member Barbara Nevergold:
From: "Sampson, James"
Date: Sunday, April 26, 2015 at 12:22 PM
To: Board Members, Ogilvie, Donald
There has been a lot of discussion at the board and in the community about the search for a new superintendent.  Whereas many advocate for tapping into the talented resources that we have in the district, others advocate taking a step back and doing a national search.  Both approaches have merit, but I believe with the crush of events and the need to create as many high performing seats and schools as possible, we should move quickly to look within the district for our next leadership team.  We know that Don is leaving at the end of June, a number of high level staff have announced their interest in departing; like every year, a new school year begins in September and we have a number of looming projects that may well determine the future direction of the district.
I know this approach is not what is usually followed in districts, but as many of you have observed on many occasions, we have incredible talent in the district and many pockets of excellence.  Most importantly our students and parents have a sense of urgency, an urgency that can not be met with a national search.
Since it ended up on the front page of the Buffalo News on two occasions, it is no secret that a number of board members are interested in potentially engaging Jim Weimer as our next superintendent.  Many of you already know Jim and I have had the opportunity to get to know him over the past 18 months.  Recently I have spent time with him and explored his thinking about how to lead the district, who he would see as key people becoming part of the leadership team, how to assemble the new team and integrate them with existing staff and most importantly how to focus like a laser on the day to day instruction that takes place in every building that is the critical ingredient advancing student performance. 
As we move towards July 1st, I would encourage you to reach out to Jim.  I know that he will also be reaching out to all board members and other stakeholders to talk about his vision for the future of the district. Thanks, Jim 
James M. Sampson, West District Representative Buffalo Board of Education

From: Nevergold, Barbara A
Date: April 26, 2015 at 8:40:22 PM EDT
To: Sampson, James, Board Members, Ogilvie, Donald, Cabinet

Subject: RE:

So Jim by this email, you are informing us that the Board Majority has already made its selection of Mr. Weimer as Superintendent.  You don't offer an opportunity for input, only the opportunity to participate in this sham, illegal "search" process.  Surely you jest when you say that over the last 18 months you've had the opportunity to get to know Mr. Weimer and "explore  his thinking about how to lead the district, who he would see as key people becoming part of the leadership team, how to assemble the new team and integrate them with existing staff and most importantly how to focus like a laser on the day to day instruction that takes place in every building that is the critical ingredient advancing student performance."  Have you explored his experience, competency and actual ability to do the job?  Outside of Emerson, what justifies his promotion to lead an organization with 34,000 students, 7,000 employees, 50 plus buildings, a divided Board, a skeptical community, an adversarial State Ed Department, a Governor that is looking to receivership, numerous unions, etc., etc., etc.  Please do not presume to insult our intelligence and knowledge about this District; and the individuals that Mr. Weimer has in mind for his "team". 

 Nothing has changed.  The Board majority does not plan to enter into an honest, open, transparent, equitable internal search, regardless of the "urgency" that you profess drives your actions.  Let's be clear when Mr. Weimer can complete an interview questionnaire without the help of an Internet site, maybe he can talk about his plans on how to lead this District.  What you are doing is unethical and reprehensible.  You claim to have the best interests of the students and parents in mind but refuse to engage them in a conversation about what they think is in their best interest.  That's paternalistic. This is not acceptable.  If Mr. Weimer has any intention of reaching out to us and the community he needs to start now as he has a lot of reaching to do.  Have him call me and let's set up a community meeting this week.  Barbara

 Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, PhD, At-Large Member, Buffalo Board of Education

Sunday, April 26, 2015

"Just take our Guidance!"

Last July, shortly after the new Board majority took office, they issued a Vision Statement that outlined “their” direction for the School District.  They developed this plan without the knowledge, let alone input of the minority members of the Board, parents or other community stakeholders.  They quickly followed this publication with the appointment of an Interim Superintendent.  They recruited, interviewed and effectively hired Mr. Donald Ogilvie, again without the knowledge, involvement or consensus of the four minority Board members or engagement of parents and the community.  When the minority Board members vociferously opposed this illegal action, we were variously depicted as “whiners”, players of the “race card”, “sore losers” and more.  The community “leaders” were all too happy to ignore this ethical and legal breach in favor of touting the wise choice the Majority had made in the selection of an experienced, knowledgeable, local educational leader.

Ironically, Interim Superintendent Ogilvie turned out to be his own man and while moving some pieces of their agenda, he did not embrace the entire program nor move as quickly as he was ordered.  In fact, to his credit Mr. Ogilvie recognized the serious problems facing the District and tried to establish a plan that addressed many of these concerns.  Branded a “traitor” and a “liar”, who did not keep his promises, Mr. Ogilvie has been pushed relentlessly to perform or get out of the way.  He has chosen the latter.  He has tenured his resignation for July 1st, which brings us to another crossroad and another opportunity for the Majority to act collaboratively with minority members to serve the best interests of our 34,000 students.

It appears, however, that they will act unilaterally once again, with a sense of self-righteousness certitude about the correctness of their decision.  They use the mantra, “urgency” to claim that the selection of a Superintendent has to take place with all due speed, when in fact, the urgency is to place another handpicked individual in the position who will do what Mr. Ogilvie wouldn't – THEIR BIDDING. An internal candidate has already been named – Emerson Principal James Weimer, Jr., a twenty-year employee of the District.  According to his own resume, it’s fair to say that Mr. Weimer has never been outside the halls of Emerson.  Following Dr. Brown, it’s hard to see how Mr. Weimer’s knowledge as an “insider” trumps the extensive experience and credentials of our previous Superintendent or Mr. Ogilvie’s, for that matter.  But this is a subject that requires a full column.  I am waiting for any additional information regarding Mr. Weimer’s goals, objectives for the District and his transition plan as the potential incoming Superintendent.   Rumor has it that he’s already selecting his own team for City Hall and determining how he wants to spend the budget.

If Mr. Weimer is appointed, and all indications are that he will be, the question is, how will all members of the Board and the community be engaged in this process?  Last Wednesday, at the Board’s Executive Affairs committee meeting that very question was posed by parents and community stakeholders.  Mr. Paladino, as only he and Mr. McCarthy attended this meeting, answered that he had no intention of asking for public input or planned to listen even if someone tried to offer any.  He also told the Board’s minority that we should “just take our guidance” in this matter.   Presumably we’d be better off if we just shut up and went along with the Majority.  Mr. Paladino has obviously decided to use a gentler, kinder form of bullying and intimidation.  The meaning, however, is the same.  The Majority doesn't plan to include us in the Superintendent selection and could care less about what we have to say.

Once again, they are proceeding with a process that is unethical, hypocritical, unprofessional and discriminatory.  They are subverting the democratic process and violating their oath as public officials to uphold the laws of the State of New York.  They have purposely disenfranchised a minority group of African American females and by extension, the constituents they were elected to represent.  Their actions are not only morally reprehensible but they have abdicated their fiduciary responsibility by creating plans for this District without full disclosure or understanding of the impact these will have on the education of the District’s 34,000 students.  They have demonstrated that their allegiance is not to our students or the District but to their own narrow, un-informed view of educational “reform”.  Our children are the victims of this self-serving oligarchy.  This biased Majority has lost the moral high ground – not that they ever had it – and their legitimacy.  They should not be allowed to continue to operate with impunity.  And no, Mr. Paladino, we will not “just take your guidance”!

Monday, April 20, 2015

School Reform Roulette

There seems to be no end to the “plans” to install new leadership for the Buffalo Public Schools.  The Governor and Board of Regents threaten to appoint an all-powerful “czar” to turn the District around, curtail the Unions, expand the charter schools’ footprint and close low-performing schools.  Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes plans to introduce new legislation to allow mayoral control, which Mayor Brown says he’s willing to assume but wants to hear what the community thinks.  The Board majority, led by its most vocal member Carl Paladino, is intent on appointing a Deputy Superintendent who will be the heir apparent to the position of Superintendent when Mr. Ogilvie’s resignation becomes effective on July 1st.  If the Buffalo News is correct Paladino’s person is a current Principal, who has never left his building.  The Board’s minority has called for a local/national search to find the best qualified, experienced and competent individual to fill the position.  Attendees at three community forums, held by the minority last week, are in favor of a broad search that will include community input and seek a qualified individual from a diverse field of candidates.

The proposal for mayoral control has produced an interesting range of responses. The business, philanthropic, higher education and other leaders, who are usually very eager to offer suggestions about school leadership, have been uncharacteristically silent on the matter, at least publicly.  The Buffalo News reported in an April 19th article that Mr. Wilmers has had conversations with Lt. Governor Hochul and members of the Governor’s office on the topic.  And he’s in favor of mayoral control.  He’s previously aired his views on the state of the public schools.  But does he speak for the community?  Others, including Board members from both camps have expressed questions about the structure of the mayoral model and the benefits.  As usual, however, one member has gone on record vehemently opposing the idea in terms that would suggest that Mayor Brown should back off or risk becoming a leading member of a new group that one might label as the “brotherhood”.

Carl Paladino’s April 18th letter to the editor succinctly informed Mayor Brown to “stand aside and leave it to others to do the heavy lifting.”  Paladino pointedly asked if the Mayor wanted “mayoral control to extend the status quo and re-empower those who have fed at the public trough….”  He asserted that if the Mayor “hears voices who want change”, they are the voices of “status quo advocates riled by the Board of Education minority to oppose change.”  These statements echo the same biased rhetoric used over and over again when Mr. Paladino denigrates and attempts to negate the voices of the minority Board members and any other individual who disagrees with him, e.g. Dr. Pamela Brown, Dr. Mary Guinn.  Even Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes became a target for harsh criticism for her support of new Regent Dr. Catherine Fisher Collins.   As the focus of Mr. Paladino’s ire shifts to mayoral takeover, will it now be the Mayor’s turn to join the disdained?  Rev. Kinzer Pointer, another object of Paladino ridicule, may have inaugurated the “brotherhood” when he rallied the Concerned Clergy Coalition to support a national superintendent search.  Mr. Paladino’s treatment of Don Ogilvie, the man he once considered his vision-bearer, has earned Mr. Ogilvie honorary status in the group.

Carl Paladino has been transparent about his goal from day one. It’s apparently shared by the other four Board majority members.  His mission is to “dis-assemble” the public schools.  In the April 18th letter, he defines his “reform agenda” as one which is intended to upset “advocates for the status quo and exposing the underbelly of an institution wrought with incompetence, morale problems, lack of leadership, waste and family and friends rather than merit promotion and appointment.”  The level of hypocrisy demonstrated by these statements is astounding.  These accusations come from a man, who has contributed significantly to the poor morale and the instability of the system; who is promoting cronyism and his own “family and friends” initiative; whose plan for the new “leadership” of this district is questionable; and who scorns dissenters as “advocates for the status quo” and feeding “at the public trough” while being a benefactor of public monies for years.  Only one example, of many, needs to be cited to underscore this point; the Board of Education’s multi-year, million dollar plus lease with Ellicott Development for the building that housed Middle Early College until 2014.

The push to hire the Deputy Superintendent, aka the Superintendent, is being fast tracked.  Mr. Ogilvie will recommend a candidate for the Deputy Superintendent to the Board at the April 29th meeting.  Mr. Paladino has stated that he’s already selected his candidate. The implication is that Mr. Ogilvie will concur with his choice.   As far as Paladino’s concerned, a national search is not needed; in fact a local search is unnecessary.  Furthermore, he believes that the majority were given a mandate in the last election. Therefore community engagement, including input from and accountability to, are not needed.

The Board minority believe that nothing can be further from the truth.  Our children deserve an educational leader, who has the credentials, experience, knowledge and competencies to move the District forward.  We may find that candidate locally, but without a search we will have another Superintendent that the Board majority plans to manipulate.  And unlike Mr. Ogilvie, they may not resist. We seek and value input from community stakeholders and urge you to call, write, email, speak to or otherwise make your opinions known.  The reformers’ mantra is that there needs to be a sense of urgency regarding the schools.  We agree.  There is an urgent and immediate need for the community to raise their voices in opposition to the plan to dismantle our schools.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

My Journey to Opting Out.

I grew up in a large family – the middle child, youngest girl – in a family of seven brothers and a sister.  My parents, who were post World War II pioneers in the Second Great Migration, moved our family to Buffalo from Louisiana in 1947.  They left behind family and friends in search of economic opportunity, social and political equality and access to educational advancement for their children.  While neither completed high school, their belief in the power of education as a means to a better life was communicated to us through their expectation that we would adhere to school dictates and strictly enforced by their authoritarian parenting style. So I grew up always pushing through educational challenges and stoically persisting in following the rules, even those that seemed unfair or questionable. Opting out was not an option.

This week, beginning on April 14th, hundreds of thousands of students in the 3rd – 8th grades, across this State will begin a three day cycle of test taking in English Language Arts.  The following week, those same students will take the standardized tests in math.  During this period, thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of their classmates will refuse these tests.  Their parents have decided to opt-out of the “high-stakes testing” mill.  They are pioneers in a Movement that is growing, not just in New York State but in states throughout this country.  They are opting out, not because they don’t value educational assessment; not because they don’t believe in setting standards for educational achievement; not because they don’t think their children should learn perseverance in the face of difficulty and not because they don’t have high expectations of their children.  They are motivated by principled opposition to the use of these tests for purposes that are not validated and the intense focus on teaching to the test.

Blogger, “Lace to the Top”, offers an analysis of the upcoming ELA test for 3rd graders.  He states that given the length of the passages and the questions that students will have to read, they would have to be able to read 75 words a minute, at least, to complete the test.  EngageNY, the website for information about the ELA and Math tests provides the following guidance about this year’s test:  “many of the questions on the 2015 Grade 3 Common Core English Language Arts Test are more advanced and complex than those found on prior assessments that measured prior grade level standards.  Answer choices will not jump out; rather, students will need to make hard choices between “fully correct” and “plausible but incorrect” answers….”  Is there a plan to trick students?  Why?

As a school board member and educator, I have followed the high stakes testing debate.  Last year I wrote an article entitled “Are you smarter than a 3rd grader?”, that cited reasons why these tests are not true measures of our children’s abilities:  1) they are not developmentally appropriate – reading levels are far above the grade level being tested 2) the tests are not diagnostic; they don’t provide information that helps the teacher target student learning needs 3) almost all children take the same test, regardless of their ability or their English language proficiency; it’s a one size fits all approach  4) the emphasis on the tests encourages teaching to the test at the expense of time for other subjects  5) children are being demoralized and frustrated by long hours of testing.  In addition test results are being used to grade schools and to evaluate educators, even though statistics experts dispute the validity of this methodology.

I am a proponent of the Opt-Out Movement.  I believe in the purpose/goals/validity of this Movement.  And this is where my journey becomes relevant.   My support has developed over time and resulted from research, reflection and discussions with advocates.  However, belief is not enough if it isn’t married with action, when warranted.  I began this article with a brief personal reference to the learned behaviors ingrained by my parents.  They also encouraged me to stand up for my beliefs. 

I have two granddaughters who attend a focus school.  The oldest one, a third grader, is scheduled to take the ELA and Math tests this year.   Although she is a very bright girl, loves school and her teachers, she has a reading problem associated with a vision disability.  She is working hard to overcome her problem but reading is a challenge and she is easily discouraged.   In addition to all the arguments for opting out, my granddaughter’s reading difficulties added another compelling reason to refuse the tests.     But the decision isn’t mine; it’s her parent’s.  However, a grandmother can be influential.   Over the last six months I’ve had long discussions with my daughter, supplied her with information about the tests and urged her to visit EngageNY to see sample questions.    Today, I can say that my family has joined the Opt-out Movement.  My granddaughter will not be taking the ELA or math tests!  I think my parents would approve.

Local school districts are having serious conversations about the Opt Out Movement and its impact on students and the school system.  Unfortunately these conversations have not been on the Buffalo Board’s agenda because the focus has been on a myriad of other pressing issues.  Yet, many of these pressing issues are directly related to high stakes testing as these tests are used to identify our schools as “failing” and “out-of-time”.  This issue has been raised to an even higher level of importance given the Governor’s recent budget and legislative agenda resulting in greater reliance on these tests to evaluate student, school and educator proficiency.  I’ll propose that the Board begin a dialogue about the impact of high stakes testing and policies that we should consider in response.   It’s time to extend the journey.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Censorship: The Board Majority's New Strategy

What’s next from the Board majority?  How about Censorship?  That’s the most recent tactic being used to constrain the minority women on the Board.  From the beginning the Board majority signaled the intent to push their strategic plan to reform the Buffalo Schools. Remember their “Vision Statement”?   Actually they've been rather transparent about their determination to push this agenda, regardless of the concerns expressed by other Board members or stakeholders.  Their disdain, disrespect and de-valuing of the Board minority is evidenced by continual bullying and intimidation and overt/covert actions such as the following:

  • ·         They negotiated with and then rammed through the appointment of Mr. Ogilvie as Interim Superintendent, without the knowledge, involvement or agreement of the four minority board members; or input from community stakeholders; Ironically, after only a few months, citing his “betrayal, treachery and failure to keep his promises”, their dissatisfaction with their hand-picked Superintendent has forced his resignation, effective July 1, 2015,

  • ·         As a pretext to legitimize the gift of at least two of our best school buildings to charter schools, the issuance of a Request for Space was done over the objections of minority members who questioned the Board’s authority to make this offer; the Board recently learned that it has no authority to gift or lease buildings it does not own.

  • ·         The majority pushed through the settlement of a long-standing lawsuit with the Charter School for Applied Technology for $200,000; yet recently voted to reconsider this agreement which will result in a more favorable outcome for CSAT but at a cost of $1.8 million to the District.

  • ·         One member, in particular, has sued this Board member repeatedly, denigrated staff and an outside consultant engendering un-expected legal fees to respond to numerous costly lawsuits filed against the individual member and the Board.

Given this pattern of behavior, the majority’s latest strategy – to silence the minority members and to deny public input on the critical issue of the search for the next Superintendent – is not surprising.  It is outrageous; however, as this tactic also communicates that they don’t care what the stakeholders have to say.  On Wednesday, April 1st, members of the Board minority held a press conference during which we again expressed concern and objection to the Board majority’s plan to hire a Deputy Superintendent, who will be installed as Superintendent following the departure of Mr. Ogilvie.  Our conference was meant to send the message that the selection of a Superintendent is a major responsibility of the Board requiring due diligence.  We believe that the process is too important to rely on the narrow approach being forced by the majority.  Support for this position came from a diverse group of attendees at the conference.

Point of information, the Deputy search yielded 12 candidates, half of whom are located throughout the country.   For all intents and purposes the Deputy Superintendent search has been a national one.  There are three internal candidates.  The outcome is that our candidate pool is exactly three individuals, who may or may not have the skills to fill the position of Superintendent.  Instead of looking for the best candidate, it appears that this is another attempt to hire an individual sympathetic to the majority, who will be more compliant than Mr. Ogilvie. The projected time-frame for hiring the Deputy is expected to be completed by May at the earliest, leaving barely two months of transition with Mr. Ogilvie. Furthermore the new Superintendent will have to fill two major vacancies in the Cabinet:  the Chief Financial Officer and the Chief Academic Officer.

The minority Board members propose hosting several community meetings to invite public comment on the Superintendent search.  In previous searches, parent and community stakeholder input has been sought as a necessary and valued resource.  In response, Larry Quinn and Jason McCarthy sent emails directing the Superintendent to deny access to school buildings for the meetings and to school communication mechanisms to inform parents and others about these meetings. 

Mr. Quinn has intimated that the Board needs to vote on authorizing the minority Board members to use public school buildings.  This is unprecedented.  In addition, it’s a double standard given the fact that Mr. Quinn neither sought Board approval nor informed the Board of the tours he gave of Bennett High School and School #8 to charter school officials.  He only acknowledged that he’d conducted the tours after the information became public. Mr. Ogilvie has suggested that we could request to rent the buildings and pay for liability insurance and/or bring the matter to the Board meeting on April 15th

As noted, this is an unprecedented action.  Community groups use school buildings all the time, generally without cost.  Yet a duly elected Board member is being denied the right to host a public meeting in a school building?  The Board minority has decided that we will not be intimidated.  We will not be marginalized.  We will expose hypocrisy where it exists.  We will stand our ground.  We are elected public officials who have an obligation to represent our constituents, especially our students.  If you agree that this attempt to silence us and to deny the right of community constituents to address their public officials is unacceptable, we urge you to call the Board Office, 816-3567 or 816-3568 and express your opposition to this form of censorship.

The first community meeting will be held on April 14 at 6pm, School #81 at 140 Tacoma Avenue, followed by a second meeting at Makowski ECC, on April 16 at 6pm, 1095 Jefferson Avenue.