Sunday, June 7, 2015

Much Ado about Everything!

The Buffalo School District has entered another critical phase in the search for new leadership.  In less than three weeks, three top administrators including the Interim Superintendent, the Chief Financial Officer and the Chief Academic Officer will leave their City Hall offices. However, it’s highly unlikely that a new Superintendent will be in place by July 1st.  First, the recruitment process was needlessly delayed by majority Board members whose plan to appoint another hand-picked Superintendent was vociferously opposed and ultimately defeated.  Second, while a more legitimate search has been launched the late start will probably result in the appointment of a short-term acting or interim Superintendent, as mandated by New York State Education Law.
After four Superintendents in the last three years, the selection of the next Superintendent is a matter of grave importance that has generated heated debate.  Minority board members advocated for a comprehensive search and there was a push from parents and community stakeholders to support this approach. The next Superintendent has been the subject of numerous columns, as I have written about the preferred competencies, experiences and characteristics of a successful candidate for the position.
During several Board sponsored public meetings, parents and community stakeholders identified specific criteria as imperative:  a demonstrated track record as a school leader, urban school experience, diverse and increasingly responsible management expertise, knowledge of - curriculum, assessment, budget, English Language Learning, special education issues and best practices in school turn around; diverse educational experiences, political savvy, good communication skills and a unifier.  There is equal support for a local candidate as well as for a candidate with national roots.

Yet even as the search for a new Superintendent moves toward a more transparent and open process, the work of the District also moves on, unabated.  The systemic processes that support the education of our children continue and resultant tasks MUST be accomplished as required by Federal, State and District mandates.  Quite frankly, no matter how knowledgeable of the District’s history, culture and current situation, talented or experienced, the next Superintendent will have a learning curve.  Mr. Ogilvie, a 40 year education veteran, has acknowledged on more than one occasion that he had a steep “learning curve” when he assumed the Interim position.  We should expect the new Superintendent to have a similar experience, especially as the Buffalo Public Schools face numerous, ongoing complex and challenging mandates. 

The District has no shortage of State and Federal mandates that require action immediately to prepare for the 2015-16 school year.  These mandates will require individuals who have “institutional memory”, knowledge, experience and commitment to carry forth District goals and requisites. The list is extensive.  Here are a few of the major initiatives:

  • ·        Implementation of new legislative State regulations that propose Superintendent receivership for 5 “persistently struggling” schools
  • ·        Development of a phase-out plan for Riverside
  • ·        Continued phase-out of Bennett, East, Lafayette and MLK Multicultural Institute
  • ·        Implementation of phase-in plans at these schools for new programs
  • ·        Open the Newcomer’s Academy at Lafayette High School
  • ·        Move and re-open the STAR Academy at Lafayette High School
  • ·        Open Emerson Extension at former School 28
  • ·        Respond to the recommendations of the OCR Report; including the recommendation to open two new criterion based schools – an elementary and a high school in 2016-17
  • ·        Grant writing and submission for additional funding
  • ·        Negotiation of the teachers’ and other bargaining groups’ contracts
  • ·        Retirements of seasoned teachers, principals and other school personnel

How do we ensure that the District maintains functional operations and that these and other mandates are addressed?   The selection of a new Superintendent alone will not ensure that these and other priorities are met.  Regardless of the successful candidate’s ties to the District or the region he/she will not be able to run this District without the support and work of current senior management and department heads.  The Board should step up to support this group of professionals, who have the experience, knowledge and most importantly institutional memory to maintain stability as the new leader is selected, appointed and starts the work of managing the affairs of this District.  Without this support, we invite confusion and chaos.  The Board has the responsibility to ensure that efficient management of the District continues, especially
in the absence of a permanent Superintendent.

This is not a plea I make for myself or for other Board members.  We owe it to the 34,000 plus students in our schools.  We have an obligation to them and I call on all Board members to remember their oath of office and their pledge to the citizens of this City.

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