Last week I wrote a critique of the Board Majority’s Vision Statement. While the Statement laid out an ambitious agenda, little has been accomplished. This failure can be attributed to actions of majority members themselves, push back from the minority members and vocal community opposition. I also pointed to majority members’ “falling out” with their own hand-picked leader as a major cause of the failure of their agenda and as a contributing factor to the instability in the District. I concluded the article by urging Superintendent Cash to “throw this “Vision Statement” in the trash where it belongs and concentrate on developing a plan that puts students at the center of the agenda.” A reader contested my assessment and wanted to know what my vision is for the District.
First, I stand by my comments and my evaluation of a “Vision”, which was secretly written by 5 of the 9 Board members thus preventing all Board members from offering input. My intent is not to provide yet another vision statement that has not evolved as a result of full Board participation. But what I will respond to is an assumption and a charge often hurled at minority members that we want to maintain the status quo.
The real issue is not status quo, its stability or lack there-of. Four Superintendents in the span of 14 months does not support educational achievement. Neither does the changing landscape forced by state accountability measures, a plethora of state mandates and the imposition of one “fix” after the other with little time to maintain successful change (e.g. most recently Receivership). The imposition of politically driven educational policy, as practiced by our Governor (use of the budget to implement changes in teacher evaluations) is yet another example of shifting requirements. Additionally, we should acknowledge a series of self-inflicted wounds, e.g. a dysfunctional Board (yes, I’ll own that we are) and internal problems that have led to a number of legal complaints with the Federal Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights.
Yet the examples of just a few of the de-stabilizing factors confronting the District are staggering:
- · In 2012-2013, Commissioner John King ordered that we send students from East, Lafayette and Bennett High Schools to BOCES even though the District has successful Career Technical Education programs. This mandate was unfunded and caused great upheaval for the schools involved and has produced small results
- · That same year the Commissioner appointed a Distinguished Educator. After 3 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultant fees, we are hard pressed to identify the positive outcomes of this work
- · The Commissioner designated 4 schools as out of time; requiring the District to phase them out, start new programs or close them. A 5th school was identified this year. In addition to consuming enormous staff time and resources in the development of new programs, our inability to accept 9th graders in 4 of these schools created a seat shortage for incoming Freshmen this year
- · Johns Hopkins, the State approved Educational Partner to turn around East and Lafayette pulled out of both schools on short notice during the 2013-2014 year, forcing a restructuring of the plans for those schools and a set-back of any progress made during their tenure
- · The State’s emphasis on high stakes testing, used to label failing and good standing schools, threatens to create a learning environment where test prep gobbles up more teaching time
- · The Governor has ordered a re-assessment of the Common Core implementation; in the meantime schools are still required to manage educational programming using these questionable standards and their accompanying standardized tests
- · This year, under a new legislative mandate, the State has named 25 schools for Receivership; the Superintendent is given more authority but he only has one to two years to show “demonstrable progress” in schools that the State has said have been failing for 7 to 10 years
· And if that’s not enough: The District has critical staff vacancies in the positions of Chief Financial Officer, Deputy Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer. The District also has to respond to serious findings by the Office of Civil Rights that will require the expansion and creation of more access to Criterion Schools for children of color
Before anyone rushes to say that I’m making excuses. Every urban district in the state is struggling with most of these problems. In fact, Rochester’s and Syracuse’s student proficiency is far below that of Buffalo. Yet, we have the singular distinction of being identified as the poster child for failed Districts. Arguably, we can do better. But we need the time.
If I were to hazard a “vision”, it would be that the District would be given that time. The Superintendent needs time to establish his team, to develop a strategic plan, to build on successes and implement current achievable plans, to focus on student-centered programming and to create a collaboration with the Board. Of course the reality isn’t that simple and the “work” as Dr. Cash describes it will proceed under the conditions we are given.
Stability is key. I don’t know anyone who really thinks that a strong foundation can be built on shifting sands.