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The News' Andriatch discusses school superintendent retirements

Bruce Andriatch, The News' suburban editor, talked about the recent announcements of the upcoming retirements of school superintendents in Clarence and Williamsville as a guest of Joyce Kryszak on WBFO-FM 88.7:


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The scoop on the East District candidates

The East District candidates made their pitches to the Board of Education Thursday night.

Here's the lowdown on who they are, who submitted letters of support on their behalf, and how things went with their board interview:

Chris Brown Chris W. Brown Jr., counselor and associate minister at St. John Baptist Church.

Letters of support from: M. Anne Wojick, director of curriculum and partnerships at St. Joseph University School (where Brown works as a counselor two days a week); Frank Caruso, state Supreme Court justice.

Board interview: Brown talked at length about the need to fill what he sees as gaps in services to students with particular needs, including immigrants and students with disabilities. The district should provide better options for students in vocational programs, he said.

The board generally asked the same questions of all the candidates. At 16 minutes, Brown's was the shortest of the interviews.

Theresa Harris-Tigg Theresa A. Harris-Tigg, assistant professor at Buffalo State College and former Buffalo Public Schools teacher. She ran for the East District seat in May and lost to Vivian Evans by 15 votes.

Letters of support from: Cassie Irish, past board chair, Family Justice Center of Erie County; Lois L. Johnson, board president, King Center Charter School; Ralph L. Wahlstrom, chair, Buffalo State College's English department. Councilman Rich Fontana was scheduled to speak on her behalf at this week's board meeting, but didn't show up.

Board interview: Harris-Tigg called for more supports and training for teachers and principals, which she said would ultimately create calmer school environments. She also suggested revisiting the idea of attendance teachers to help get more students back in school.

Harris-Tigg rubbed some board members the wrong way with her comments on charter schools. She said while she was campaigning in the spring, she was surprised by how many parents in the East District send their children to charter schools. "I'm grateful to these charter schools in that they provide, in these parents' perspectives, a safe environment. I'm not a huge fan (of charter schools), but they provide a choice. And some of our parents are saying it provides a good choice."

Mary Ruth Kapsiak later questioned whether she meant that the public schools were not as safe as the charters, and Harris-Tigg said she did not mean to imply that.

Frank Leli Frank Leli, retired from quality assurance at a local plant; currently a substitute teacher.

Letters of support from: Ronald L. Meer, supervisor of field placements at D'Youville College, where Leli got his master's degree; Gerianne Dobmeier, eighth-grade teacher at St. Agnes School, where Leli student-taught; Sister Ann Helene, principal of St. Agnes School.

Board interview: Leli spoke at length about the district's 47 percent graduation rate, which he said will hamper the growth of the city until improves substantially, because parents will not want to live in a city with such struggling schools.

Leli was not shy about sharing what he said was the teachers' perspective, which is that the board is the chief problem in the district, closely followed by the superintendent. "They say he's difficult to get along with," Leli said.

He bristled when a board member asked if his children went to the Buffalo Public Schools. "That is a First Amendment issue to me," he said. "I sent my children to Catholic school because I wanted them to learn the faith I grew up with. Free exercise of my religion should not bar me from a public position."

Florence Johnson lost her patience with Leli at one point when she was trying to ask him his interpretation of the district's mission statement, and he instead criticized the board at length for failing to get along. "I'm asking you questions about what you can do for the board. Not for you to give me a critique of what the board is doing or not doing or what the superintendent is doing or not doing," she said.

Anthony Mastrangelo Anthony Mastrangelo, "Tony Mamaluke" at WKSE.

Letters of support from: Mastrangelo did not submit any letters of support.

Board interview: At 25, Mastrangelo's youth is his biggest appeal. A 2003 graduate of McKinley High School, he couldn't say enough good things about his experience there, where he met students from all across the city.

He didn't have much in the way of specific responses to several particular questions, which required some knowledge of current practices or situations in the district. But he sure was enthusiastic about his willingness to work hard to make the schools better.

Rosalyn Taylor Rosalyn L. Taylor, retired assistant superintendent.

Letters of support from: Donette C. Ruffin, retired elementary principal; Elaine T. Blyden, president of the Bob Lanier Center; Ophelia A. Nicholas, retired elementary principal; Yvonne Hargrave, retired chief academic officer and interim superintendent.

Board interview: Many board members know Taylor, who retired in 2006, and it showed. They seemed most at ease with her, calling her Roz, chatting and joking. The heartiest laughter of the evening came when John Licata at one point said to her: "So let me see, when you started teaching, Richard Nixon was president?" (Answer: Yes.)

At 30 minutes, her interview ran the longest of the five.

Because of her more than 30 years in the district, Taylor was clearly best positioned to offer informed answers to many of the questions, as she is most intimately acquainted with the history of the district.

When Licata asked her to think of one board policy she thought should be changed -- or one new policy that ought to be implemented -- she drew a blank and talked instead about the need to embrace the diversity of learners in the district.

The board will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday to appoint someone to fill the vacancy.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

Paladino offers hugs -- then a tongue-lashing

When Carl Paladino arrived at the Board of Education meeting Wednesday night, he walked up to the front of the room to hug some board members, then wandered back to his seat.

"Carl! Carl! Don't I get a hug?" Superintendent James A. Williams called after him. "Mr. Paladino, you didn't hug me."

"You don't want a hug from me," Paladino called back.

Paladino Williams persisted -- and Paladino headed his way. The two longtime foes exchanged a quick embrace, amid much laughter in the boardroom.

And that's about where the lovefest ended. A few minutes later, Paladino was up at the podium, eviscerating the board for what he deems to be its failure to adequately educate children in Buffalo.

The board had no business extending Superintendent James A. Williams' contract through 2014, Paladino said. He cited a letter over the summer from Don Ogilvie, the BOCES superintendent, which Williams withheld from the board.

"The board was not made aware by the superintendent of a letter from Don Ogilvie of BOCES condemning many aspects of the operations of the system and the way many of the schools in the district are run. The failure to disclose the letter to the board was clearly fraud on the inception," Paladino said.

"The superintendent should immediately be discharged for cause and the board should commence a national search for a high-quality replacement who can provide not only the vision, but also who has the intestinal fortitude to carry out the structural reforms so necessary to the future of our children."

The former gubernatorial candidate also called on the board to open boarding schools for children as young as 6, work to end state mandates, and battle the state laws that he says give unions the upper hand in contract negotiations, among other things.

You can hear for yourself all of what Paladino had to say to the board:

(Or, if you prefer, you can read his full comments here.)

Board President Ralph Hernandez, who came under fire from fellow board member Florence Johnson for attending a Paladino rally this fall, defended Williams.

"I do not agree with most of the stuff (Paladino) said, in particular the comments he made about Dr. Williams," Hernandez said. "We respect (Paladino) and we expect him to come in this forum and respect us. We don’t mind the criticism. But then there’s also a professional decorum expected from every speaker that steps up to that podium."

Paladino promises his comments Wednesday night were just the beginning. He gave the board 30 days to start taking his advice -- or resign.

It doesn't seem likely either one will happen.

The consequence? Paladino says he's going to get the Common Council to withhold its $70 million or so in annual contributions to the district.

He told me outside the meeting that he doesn't have any other community leaders offering to back him on this, and he hasn't even tried lining up support on the Council yet. Nonetheless, Paladino says he's confident he'll be able to mobilize the community to support his efforts.

It's anybody's guess what will happen next.

My guess, though, is that we've seen the last of the hugs.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

Board interviews to be public, but with no Skype

The Buffalo Board of Ed has decided to conduct its interviews of East District candidates in open session, as we report in today's story.

Score one for open government.

The interviews, scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, will mark the first time in the board's history that the board has complied with the state law that requires such interviews to be conducted in public.

Florence Johnson The session seemed likely to make board history for a second reason: Florence Johnson, who is out of town, was going to use Skype to participate in the interviews.

But early this week, that possibility fell through.

Johnson's laptop doesn't have a camera to enable her to use Skype, and neither does the computer at her hotel, according to Chris Jacobs, who is overseeing the interview process as vice president of executive affairs. So Johnson will still be able to participate in the interviews, but only by phone.

State law prohibits board members from voting by phone, so if the board decides to appoint someone on Thursday, it will be without Johnson's vote. Otherwise, the board will need to wait until after she returns Jan. 20 to get all eight members to vote.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

Wisteria among next wave of charter applications in Buffalo

In today's story, we report that a group is asking the state for permission to start a Waldorf-inspired charter school in Buffalo.

The Wisteria Charter School effort is significant for two reasons:

First, it would offer Waldorf-style education tuition-free for the first time in Western New York.

The Rose Garden, on Buffalo's West Side, offers Waldorf-style education to toddlers through 5-year-olds, and the Aurora Waldorf School in East Aurora offers a Waldorf education to children through eighth grade. But both places charge tuition that put them out of reach of many families in Buffalo.

Wisteria Charter School Wisteria's founders say they plan to incorporate the hallmarks of Waldorf education -- imaginative play, handwork, daily outdoor experiences, strong community connections -- into their program while still meeting the testing requirements set out by the state and federal government.

They haven't worked out all the details yet. For instance, children at Aurora Waldorf keep the same teacher from first through eighth grade -- Wisteria's founders say they plan to incorporate looping, but they're not sure how many years a child would stay with the same teacher. But they seem to have a pretty clear sense of where they want to go with their curriculum.

The other reason Wisteria's application is significant is that it's at the beginning of the next wave of applications for charter schools in Buffalo.

At the end of May, you might recall, the state Legislature lifted the cap on the number of charter schools from 200 to 460, as part of the state's push to submit a competitive Race to the Top application.

Of the 260 new charters that can be issued, 114 of them are set aside for New York City. That leaves considerable room for more charters across the rest of the state. And, in keeping with the heavy concentration of charter schools in the Buffalo area, several charter applications are in the works locally. We'll be reporting more on each of those in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, public input sessions for Wisteria will be: 5:30 p.m. today (Wednesday) at the Niagara Branch Library, 280 Porter Ave.; 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Merriweather Library, 1324 Jefferson Ave.; 5:30 p.m. Friday at Allen Hall at the University at Buffalo's South Campus; and 4 p.m. Saturday at the Crane Branch Library, 633 Elmwood Ave.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

New York adopts Common Core Standards

The New York State Board of Regents today adopted the Common Core State Standards, joining the majority of states in embracing standards that are expected to raise the bar for students from kindergarten through high school graduation.

The Regents also adopted standards for prekindergarten, something that was not included in the Common Core Standards.

"As we build the curriculum and assessments associated with the common core standards our state’s Race to the Top work is underway," John King, senior deputy commissioner, said in a prepared statement. "We are fully engaged in developing and supporting great teachers and leaders, in building a powerful and agile student data system, and in implementing aggressive and bold strategies to turn around our lowest achieving schools. This is a remarkable time to be associated with education in New York State."

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

Why Regents exams start two weeks early this year

Although Regents exam week is not scheduled to begin until Jan. 25, thousands of students across the state will be sitting down to take the English Regents exam this morning.

In a nutshell, that's the end result of the state's decision to change the format of the English exam.

Test For more than a decade, the exam has been given in two separate three-hour sessions over two days, for a total of six hours. Three times, bad weather caused problems for students who were able to take one part of the exam, but not the other; they had to wait until the next time the exam was given.

New York City and other districts have asked the state repeatedly to revamp the exam to make it a single-day test.

That's what the state is trying to do.

Today's three-hour exam will compare to the old six-hour exam like this:

- 25 multiple-choice questions, vs. 26 on the old exam

- One essay question, vs. four on the old exam

- Two "constructed response" (short answer) questions, vs. none on the old exam.

Because the test is new, apparently, and because the state is trying harder to align the curriculum from elementary through college-readiness, officials want extra time to review the results. Part of the review process is also intended to ensure that the shorter exam is still just as rigorous as the old exam. Schools have to score the tests this afternoon and ship them to a state vendor by Wednesday to begin the review process.

Some schools have complained that by scheduling this exam outside of exam week, students will be at a disadvantage. Many schools don't hold class during exam week, so that students can concentrate better on the tests. Because the English exam is being given while classes will be in session, some teachers and school officials say it will be nearly impossible to provide students with a distraction-free environment -- while students are taking the test, bells will ring to signal class changes; other students will be passing through the halls; and the general commotion of a school day will be hard to contain.

State officials say this will be the only time that the English exam will be administered early, prior to the scheduled exam week.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

Live streaming? Start by unlocking the doors at Board of Ed

Pridgen Brian Meyer reports today that Darius Pridgen, the newly seated Ellicott District Council member, is pushing for the Common Council to live stream all its public meetings online. That way, the public could watch all the action as it unfolds, from the comfort of their own home or office.

"[Streaming] creates direct citizen access to decisions, discussions and the direction of government officials,” Pridgen said in a resolution he sponsored in his first week after taking the oath of office.

Staffers say they have the equipment to live stream meetings and are working on testing it to see how feasible it would be, Meyer reports.

“This is 2011. It’s time to move forward so that people don’t necessarily have to come to these chambers but can still be instantly involved in government,” Pridgen said.

Amen.

Meanwhile, a few floors away at City Hall, it's a different story over at the Board of Education. There, residents tend to need a stroke of luck if they hope to see a meeting as it unfolds.

Board of Ed door Much of the real work happens at committee meetings, which are held the first and third Wednesday of each month. That's when you're most likely to see board members and administrators engaged in lengthy, often substantive discussions and debates. (While regular board meetings are broadcast a fe days later on public access TV, committee meetings are not videotaped and are never broadcast.)

Committee meetings start at 5 p.m. and often run for four hours.

But if you happen to show up a few minutes late -- well, good luck getting into the building. The doors to City Hall are locked right around 5 p.m.

Not exactly a good way to get people involved in government, when you lock them out.

Things are a little better on the second and fourth Wednesdays, when the board holds its regular meetings. On those days, one of the doors at City Hall remains unlocked until at least 5:30 p.m., and there's often someone posted at the desk in the lobby a little later in the evening, as well.

But again, if you work late and hope to catch the tail end of the meeting -- well, good luck getting in.

(Board members don't have to worry about getting into the building on days they arrive late. Each of them has a special access card that enables them to get into City Hall after hours.)

So, while the Common Council explores ways of bringing their meetings to the people, maybe the Board of Ed should start by exploring ways of enabling the people to get into the meetings.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

Front-runners emerge for East District seat

Two frontrunners have emerged for the East District seat: Theresa Harris-Tigg and Rosalyn Taylor.

Harris-Tigg Harris-Tigg, you might recall, ran against Vivian Evans in May and lost by 15 votes. Once Evans resigned in mid-December, Harris-Tigg seemed to be the initial favorite of some board members. A Buffalo State College English professor, she also spent several years teaching in the Buffalo Public Schools.

But Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore has made no secret of the union's opposition to her, saying she crossed the picket line a decade ago. Harris-Tigg disputes that, saying that the strike was not called until she was already at school, working with students. She says she did not cross a picket line, but did decide to stay with those students that day.

The BTF was considering soliciting its own candidate to challenge Harris-Tigg when Rumore heard that Taylor had presented herself as a candidate. Taylor, now retired, spent her career in the Buffalo Public Schools, working her way up to assistant superintendent, a position she held for more than decade.

Rosalyn Taylor Given her long history in the district, she has ties to many board members in various ways. Her most direct connection is probably with Mary Ruth Kapsiak, who worked as an administrator under Taylor for some time before retiring and running for the board. The two enjoyed a good working relationship.

Because she retired in 2006, Taylor is known to the longer-serving board members, including Florence Johnson, who became familiar with her work as an administrator in the district.

Both Taylor and Harris-Tigg have already begun lining up one-on-one chats with board members to lobby for support.

Meanwhile...

Sunshine has apparently begun to filter through the windows of City Hall.

Chief of Staff Jim Kane agreed to release the resumes of the six eligible candidates. In response to a Buffalo News request for the resumes shortly after the noon deadline today, his staff checked with the district's attorney to find out whether they could release the resumes. When I called to get the answer, a very polite Kane took the call himself and offered to have one of his staff e-mail me the resumes.

Kane said 14 or 15 people submitted resumes for the position, but many were deemed ineligible, either because they did not live in the East District or because they worked for the district. In the end, six candidates met the requirements. They include one candidate we have not already reported on: Anthony Mastrangelo, a 2003 McKinley High School graduate who now works at Kiss 98.5 and works as a DJ.

Here are the resumes of the final six candidates:

- Chris W. Brown Jr.

- Theresa A. Harris-Tigg

- Frank Leli

- Anthony Mastrangelo

- Kent A.H. Olden

- Rosalyn L. Taylor

(The resumes are of public interest because of the candidates' experience and background. All that information is provided here. The Buffalo News whited out candidates' phone numbers and home addresses, as we did not consider that information to be central to the issue at hand.)

The board will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday in Room 801 City Hall to interview the candidates. Robert J. Freeman, the state's leading authority on open government, has said the interviews and board deliberations should be public. District officials have balked at the thought of breaking with past practice to open the process, and board members have said they are waiting for an opinion from the district's attorney before deciding how to proceed.

In the meantime, Buffalo ReformED, an education reform group closely tied to local charter schools, is collecting signatures on an online petition, urging the board to keep the process open. Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who is closely aligned with the group, has also chimed in, sending a letter to the board president in support of having the process play out in public.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

Will Buffalo board agree to interview, discuss candidates publicly?

It was deja vu all over again Wednesday night when Buffalo Board of Ed  President Ralph Hernandez mentioned during a committee meeting that he thinks the board the interviews of candidates for the East District seat should be done in public. (Interviews will be held during a special board meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday in Room 801, City Hall.)

Kane Chief of Staff Jim Kane (at left) had almost the identical reaction he had when I requested the full list of the names of the candidates earlier this week. To paraphrase (slightly): "We can't do that. We've never done it that way before in this district."

(For more details on how that played out last night, check out the full story.)

Here's a snippet of the conversation:

“You’re going to do the interviews in public?” Kane asked.

“Sure,” Hernandez responded.

“That would be a first,” Kane said. "We've never done that before in this district."

Gosh, if that line of thinking had prevailed, the schools never would have been integrated.

Robert_J_Freeman Bob Freeman (at right), executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government, says that the interviews should, in fact, be conducted in open session. The important point is that the board is filling a vacancy for elective office, Freeman says. Normally, these people would conduct public campaigns, spread their message to residents, and the voters would decide who gets to sit at the board table.

"If you choose to run for office, you throw your hat in the ring, with spotlights on it," he said.

There is exactly one legal case in New York State that directly relates to the situation at hand -- a board deliberating over who should fill a vacancy -- and the judge ruled that those deliberations needed to be done in public. Here's a portion of the judge's ruling (which was upheld on appeal):

"...respondents' reliance on the portion of Section 105(1)(f) which states that a Board in executive session may discuss the 'appointment...of a particular person...' is misplaced. In this Court's opinion, given the liberality with which the law's requirements of openness are to be interpreted (Holden v. Board of Trustees of Cornell Univ., 80 AD2d 378) and given the obvious importance of protecting the voter's franchise this section should be interpreted as applying only to employees of the municipality and not to appointments to fill the unexpired terms of elected officials. Certainly, the matter of replacing elected officials, should be subject to public input and scrutiny" (Gordon v. Village of Monticello, Supreme Court, Sullivan County, January 7, 1994), modified on other grounds, 207 AD 2d 55 (1994)].

Freeman says that ruling applies to the board's discussion of the candidates as well as the interviews themselves.

Jacobs Chris Jacobs (at left), the board member who chairs the committee responsible for the process of filling the seat, says the board will get an opinion from its attorney and will decide next week whether the interviews and deliberations will be held publicly.

Jacobs expressed concerns Wednesday that if the deliberations are held in public, some of the board members' honest assessments could prove to be embarrassing to some candidates. Maybe that's true. But state law does not list "avoiding embarrassment" as a valid reason to enter executive session.

What will prevail: past practice -- or open government?

We'll find out next week.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee | djgee@buffnews.com


Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes | tlankes@buffnews.com


Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone | stan@buffnews.com


Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB | dswilliams@buffnews.com

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