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Why those school plans will be rejected

Superintendent James Williams presented the Board of Education Wednesday with revised turnaround plans for the nine low-performing schools.

What's different about them?

Well, fewer teachers will get moved (about 100, as opposed to more than 200). Plans for an all-girls elementary school have been scrapped. The district plans to find outside educational partnership organizations to run a few of the schools. (To see a summary of the plans for each school, click here.)

But at the end of the day, those plans still have two fatal flaws, as far as getting state approval for them is concerned.

Teacher protest For one thing, the teachers union still refuses to sign off on the plans. No union support pretty much equals no state approval, state officials have said.

Next, the district still has not tried to get input from parents or other stakeholders. (See above.) No stakeholder buy-in pretty much equals no state approval, state officials have said.

When Deputy Education Commissioner John King Jr. was in town last week, he told just about everyone who showed up that what he thinks needs to happen is that all the key players be locked in a room, and nobody comes out until they hatch turnaround plans everyone can live with. King even offered to come back to Buffalo to help make that happen.

And everyone agreed.

A week later, there doesn't seem to be any effort to make such a meeting happen before those turnaround plans are due.

Board President Ralph Hernandez says he's going to ask Oishei Foundation President Robert Gioia to convene that meeting, since Gioia offered last week to do that.

Gioia says it's up to Mayor Byron Brown to convene that meeting.

Brown has nothing to say about it, other than a "no comment at this time."

So who's on first?

A quick recap: The district has unveiled plans that, as they stand, will almost certainly not be approved by the state. Those plans are due May 9. Nobody seems to be making a move to take the necessary steps to get everyone at the table before then.

Reminder: $54 million is at stake.

And there's that pesky little detail of thousands of kids who need someone to get this thing figured out so that they have decent schools to return to in September.

Some other highlights from Wednesday's board meeting are worth noting, too.

Remember how the board president last week directed the administration to provide the board with copies of the school turnaround plans by last Friday?

Oladele with plans Well the board finally got them -- five days later, around 5 p.m. That was an hour into the committee meeting that was set aside to deal with the school turnaround plans. And most of that committee meeting was devoted to talking about something that had pretty much nothing to do with the turnaround plans.

The district brought in Jim Pitts, UB's Henry Taylor and a Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority official to talk about a HUD planning grant their group got. The grant, which will be used to work toward improving housing stock along with schools in certain areas of the city, was announced six weeks ago.

It was unclear why Williams chose to have them talk about this for most of the hour that was supposed to be spent talking about the school turnaround plans.

Some people Wednesday night wondered whether that was done to draw attention away from the turnaround plans themselves.

One way or another, the board spent all of about 15 minutes Wednesday night talking about these all-important school turnaround plans. And what little discussion there was lacked much substance because the board had not seen the plans beforehand.

Williams told the board they have until Monday to get back to administrators with questions. Hernandez told me board members will be passing along copies of the plans to each of the affected schools to see if the staff in those schools agree with the plans.

It looks like that's likely to be the extent of getting "stakeholder buy-in" -- board members finding out, after the plans are put together, who agrees and who doesn't. Followed by some possible last-minute tweaking of the plans.

After the committee meeting ended Wednesday night and before the regular board meeting began, Mayor Byron Brown was seen milling around the board room. Curiously, he did not make any sort of public statement. And he managed to slip out before most of the media -- who were there in full force -- had a chance to talk to him. Unusual behavior for a politician.

Before he slipped out, though, Buffalo News photographer Harry Scull asked the mayor why he was there. As a show of support for the superintendent, Brown said. And then took off before any of the TV cameras could get him on film saying as much.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

Protests today kick off critical week for schools

The next several days will see various groups in the local education scene doing their best to make their voices heard by the Board of Education and the administration of the Buffalo Public Schools, which must submit turnaround plans for nine low-performing schools by May 9.

Things kick off around 3:30 p.m. today, when the Buffalo Teachers Federation plans to start gathering in front of City Hall to protest the district's plans to move hundreds of teachers as part of its turnaround plans.

At this point, it's unclear whether the district plans to stick with its widely criticized plans to move the teachers. As of Tuesday, even Board President Ralph Hernandez still did not know what administrators planned to do.

Superintendent James Williams and his staff are expected to provide an update on the turnaround plans to the board at its 4 p.m. committee meeting in Room 801 of City Hall today. The meeting is open to the public.

That's followed by a 5:30 p.m. regular board meeting, also open to the public, which is expected to draw a large crowd of parents and community members who are also opposed to plans to transfer hundreds of teachers. Over the past few days, parents have been collecting signatures on an online petition, protesting the proposed teacher transfers.

The board is expected to vote on a resolution that would require the board to approve the turnaround plans before the administration sends the plans to Albany.

The board had been scheduled to vote on the turnaround plans at tonight's meeting, but several board members have said they are not prepared to vote because the administration has not yet provided them with any information about the plans.

It seems likely the board will call a special meeting at some point next week to vote on the plans.

Opportunities for public participation continue next week, when the District Parent Coordinating Council convenes a meeting with the superintendent, board members, Common Council members, and representatives from the governor's office, state Legislature and state Education Department.

The public is invited to attend the session, which is scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, at Performing Arts, 450 Masten Ave.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

Deputy superintendent's job hunt irks board members

More than 100 people applied to become the next Cleveland school superintendent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently reported. Among the applicants was a familiar face.

"The Cleveland job did not attract marquee personalities like former Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee," wrote reporter Thomas Ott. "A sample shows names such as Buffalo Deputy Superintendent Folasade Oladele; Detroit Assistant Superintendent Wilma Taylor-Costen; Kansas City, Mo., schools Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Lee-Gwin; and Chief Academic Officer Michael Munoz of Des Moines, Iowa."

Folasade Oladele Seeing the deputy superintendent's name in the mix came as something of a surprise to Buffalo Board of Education members, who apparently thought Oladele had her hands plenty full overseeing the development of turnaround plans for the district's nine persistently lowest-achieving (PLA) schools.

You might recall that the board still has not seen those plans, which originally had been due May 2. The district now has until May 9 to submit them to Albany.

"Everybody has the right to advance their career, but I'm troubled by the timing right now," said board vice president Chris Jacobs. "When the person that's appointed to head up this whole PLA process -- this dramatic change that could go either way -- that person may not have 100 percent focus on that, I'm concerned."

Ralph Hernandez echoed similar thoughts: "We are facing an educational crisis here in Buffalo. We need people in key positions to stay focused on Buffalo Public Schools only."

John Licata wondered whether Oladele's interest in leaving the district were indicative of a larger issue.

"If you are looking for other employment, it means you're dissatisfied with your current job, or you're concerned for your tenure. That's different from being recruited because you're doing such a good job," said Licata. "What we're talking about here is somebody looking."

He noted that human resources director Valerie DeBerry recently left the district.

"My concern is we're seeing the beginning of an exodus [of administrators] based on a number of factors," Licata said. "One is the transparency that is being forced upon the administration. Two, the parent activism I know I've been inviting and other board members have been inviting."

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

Move those teachers? Maybe not

As recently as a few days ago, it seemed all but certain that more than 200 teachers in the Buffalo schools would be moved -- against their will, against the wishes of parents, and against the better judgment of the Board of Education.

Despite what parents and teachers alike say was a lack of consultation, let alone collaboration, at nine low-achieving schools, district administrators seemed entirely set on the large-scale teacher shuffle at most of those schools.

And for all we know, maybe administrators still are determined to move those teachers.

But now we know something else, too.

If the district does move forward and file turnaround plans that hinge on moving those teachers, there seems to be a pretty good chance that move could trigger a slew of bad news for the Buffalo Public Schools.

While there's nothing explicitly spelled out in state or federal regulations requiring the district to work collaboratively with stakeholders to develop school turnaround plans, state officials  who were in town last week (see the full story here) made it pretty clear that it would be a tough sell for any plan that's so clearly opposed by just about everyone in the community.

If the state rejects those turnaround plans, the district stands to lose $54 million -- and, in a worst-case scenario, the state could take over those schools.

That's not all we know now that we didn't know before.

When Senior Deputy Education Commissioner John King Jr. came to town last week, he and his staff delivered some welcome news to those who want to avoid the teacher transfers.

One of the other school turnaround models available to the district involves having an educational partnership organization (EPO) take over a low-performing school. It's a model that Buffalo officials had largely tossed aside, saying there are few EPOs, and besides, there's not enough time left to find one.

State officials who were in town last week told Board of Ed members Ralph Hernandez and Chris Jacobs that if the district chooses that option, it does not have to select an EPO for each school by the May 9 deadline. It just has to outline a process by which it would evaluate EPOs. And then the district has until July to get an EPO in place at each school.

State officials also clarified that a prospective EPO does not need to have a proven track record of turning around failing schools -- as had been previously believed. A prospective EPO just needs to prove it has the "capacity" to turn around a failing school.

One of the meetings King held Thursday was with leaders of several local colleges, each of which could serve as an EPO if it chose to. Those colleges now know they could step forward as a potential EPO. It remains to be seen how many -- if any -- will step forward as a potential candidate to run a Buffalo school. But that's a door that wasn't so much as cracked open a week ago.

We'll have more later this week on what else King had to say when he was in Buffalo.

So stay tuned.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

Parents, community organizing for next step in Buffalo Public Schools

Today's story looks at the growing support for the District Parent Coordinating Council's plans to call state and local leaders to the table to solve problems in the Buffalo Public Schools -- and, if need be, to stage protests to draw attention to the need for solutions.

One thing was clear in my reporting for the story: Parents and community groups across the city had been arriving at the same conclusions, independently, regarding the schools. So when the DPCC's Sam Radford led the call for pathways to solutions, plenty of people were ready to sign on.

One example: VOICE-Buffalo, a social justice group of churches in the city, had already been talking with people in its congregations about their frustrations regarding the schools.

"This was something we were already doing our research on, talking to people in our congregations," said Lisa Crapnell, who leads VOICE-Buffalo's education task force. "There's a real desire to improve education. And then here's this man [Radford] and this group of parents who have been working on this.

"Their momentum is really building. It was like, we really need to reach out to him, because we're on the same page."

VOICE-Buffalo, like so many other groups and people, is looking for solutions. 

The group is sponsoring a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, at the CAO-JFK Community Center, 114 Hickory St., to discuss "next steps" for improving education. The meeting is open to the public.

Kicking things off will be a screening of "Parent Power," a DVD offered by the Annenberg Institute. Here's a brief preview of it:

Parent Power Trailer from Annenberg Institute on Vimeo.


That will be followed by a discussion led by Richard Gray, the director of community organizing and engagement with the Annenberg Institute.

Organizers say they are planning a focused, productive session that's scheduled to end promptly at 8:30 p.m.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

Rumore won't sign school grants -- will it matter?

The Buffalo Teachers Federation Council of Delegates voted unanimously last night to support their president's decision not to sign the district's School Improvement Grant applications.

The district has about two weeks to submit grant applications for nine of its persistently lowest-achieving schools. (The substance of the applications involves outlining a turnaround plan for each of the schools. Each school is eligible for up to $2 million a year for three years if the state approves the plan.)

Phil Rumore President Phil Rumore is opting not to sign the applications because he objects to the district's decision to use plans that require replacing half the teachers at six schools and all the teachers at a seventh school.

"We're not going to stand by and have 250 of our teachers transferred," he said. "It's going to cause chaos. It's insane."

Rumore says the district did not bother to get meaningful input from the union on this -- and that the district has not bothered to negotiate a provision that would allow for large-scale involuntary teacher transfers.

He wants to see the district use a different model that involves hiring an outside educational management group to run the schools. Under that model, the teachers and principals could be kept in place.

What difference does it make if Rumore refuses to sign the grant applications?

Well, it depends who you ask.

District officials spoke on Monday with representatives from the State Education Department to get answers to various questions related to the grant applications. During a Board of Education committee meeting this week regarding that conversation with SED, one of the board members asked whether Rumore had to sign the grant applications.

"Bargaining units do not have to sign off on the grant. They do have to sign off on the consultation form on 3012c [which relates to the new teacher and principal evaluation system]," Deputy Superintendent Folasade Oladele said. "The issue was consultation, not collaboration or consensus. It is not that they have to agree. They have to sign off that we consulted with them."

Now for the answers I got from the State Education Department. (I asked the questions about two weeks ago, but didn't get the answers until this week.) I'll give you both my questions and SED's responses verbatim.

The responses come from SED spokesman Jonathan Burman:

Q: Is the teachers union president required to sign off on the [School Improvement Grant] applications? If so, and he does not sign, what are the consequences?

A: The president of the teachers union is required to sign off on the fact that he has been consulted in development of the plan. If the president refuses to sign, the district must explain why it believes that it engaged in appropriate consultation.

If the district is using the transformation model [the district does plan to use this model for Dr. Charles Drew Science Magnet School 59], the president must also sign a letter of commitment to amend the collective bargaining agreement so that the new teacher and principal evaluation system will be implemented in transformation schools beginning with the 11-12 school year. Failure to secure this commitment will result in the grant being denied for those schools.

Q:  Buffalo's collective bargaining agreement [CBA] with the teachers union apparently does not allow for the district to move teachers to a different building without their consent unless it's a disciplinary action. But under the turnaround model, half the teachers must be moved, with or without their consent. Can the federal turnaround model trump the CBA?

A:  No. The district must work within the framework of its existing CBA. If the district cannot implement a model under its existing CBA and cannot get agreement to modify the CBA to allow for implementation, then SED will not be able to fund the model in the district.

It seems that last sentence might prove to be an issue.

Rumore says the teachers contract does not allow for involuntary transfers of teachers. A district official recently said this mass reassignment of teachers is likely to result in a situation "that would have to be negotiated" with the teachers union, as this would be unprecedented in the district.

The teachers contract (see Article XIV) allows for involuntary transfers resulting from a school closing or reduction in force. It does not address the question of removal of teachers from a building that remains open, with no reduction in the number of teachers employed in that building.

The grant applications are due May 2.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

Who heard the call?

In March, Buffalo school officials announced they were opting for a turnaround model for several low-performing schools that required replacing the principals at those schools.

Initially, when officials let sitting principals know they were looking for volunteers to move out of their higher-performing schools to take on one of these schools, they got a response from only one principal who met the requirements.

At the end of March, the district called in 21 principals who met the state-set "gold standard" (either have a track record of turning around a low-performing school, or be a principal at a higher-performing school) and asked them to consider making a move.

"It was put to them as a call," said Deputy Superintendent Folasade Oladele at the time. "They either respond to a call or they don’t."

Well, it turns out most of them didn't.

Only two other principals stepped forward to take on a low-performing school. While the district still has two other principal slots to fill, here are the changes already in the works:

- Mary Jo Conrad, currently at Lydia T. Wright School 89, will move to Bilingual Center School 33. Parents at School 33 are unhappy and vocal about losing Miguel Medina, a bilingual school leader who is well liked there. He's been principal less than a year there.

Superintendent James Williams said the school turnaround model the district chose for School 33 requires officials to have a principal who meets "the gold standard" -- and because Medina was assistant principal and then principal while the school was on its way to becoming dubbed low-performing, he does not meet that standard.

Conrad was most recently in the news as one of the district officials receiving an outside stipend for her work with the Leadership Academy.

- Dawn DiNatale, currently at Makowski School 99, will move to Waterfront School 95. About a year ago, she had been the subject of a teacher survey at Makowski that strongly criticized her leadership. She will replace Linda Brancatella.

Casey Young - Casey Young, now the principal at the Academy School 131 -- the district's alternative high school -- will move to East High School, which the district has proposed turning into an all-male high school, starting with the ninth-grade class in 2011-12.

Young is widely respected as an up and coming leader in the district who has already proved his abilities.

Geraldine Horton, the current principal at East, along with Brancatella and Medina, will be told of her new assignment by June 27.

The district is still trying to find principals for the Buffalo Elementary School of Technology and Futures Academy. Officials said their next step will be interviewing four assistant principals and one central office staffer, along with two external candidates, who meet the gold standard.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

Residency revisited -- after less than a month

It's been less than three weeks since the Board of Ed voted to rescind the residency requirement for teachers, administrators and other district employees.

And already, there's a movement afoot to reverse that decision.

Last week, Brian Meyer reported that the Common Council unanimously voted to oppose the Board of Ed's decision to lift the residency requirement. The resolution, citing recent Census figures, argued that removing the residency rule will further hasten the decline of the city.

This week, the Council's Education Committee has summoned Board of Ed members to its meeting Wednesday to discuss the decision to rescind the residency rule. Council members have made no secret of the fact that they're contemplating withholding the $70.3 million in tax revenue that the city provides to the district.

"We ought to take a look at that $70 million if the Board of Education is not going to assist the Buffalo Common Council in our efforts to build a safer, stronger and better Buffalo," North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. said last week.

(The state's "maintenance of effort" rule is widely interpreted to mean that a city cannot reduce its funding to schools below the level of the previous year. But some city lawmakers seem ready to test that in court, if need be.)

Some Board of Ed members are ready to defend their decision to do away with the residency requirement, saying broadening the pool of applicants makes it more likely the district will attract stronger teachers.

John Licata, an at large member, noted that teachers in "high-need" areas such as special education and math were exempt from living in the city even while the residency requirement was in place.

"It just gets to the point that the exception swallows up the rule," he said. "Essentially, we've got social studies teachers, gym teachers and elementary teachers that are required to live in the City of Buffalo."

Others, though, are siding with the Council.

Pamela Cahill, who announced last week she plans to step down from the Board of Ed -- likely to run for a seat on the Council -- has introduced a resolution for the Board of Ed to reverse its decision. (It's worth noting that Cahill had been indicating to fellow board members for weeks that she supported rescinding residency -- and then reversed course less than a day before the vote was taken.)

She says she believes she has the votes she needs to reinstate residency.

Keep in mind, the board rescinded residency in March on a 5-4 vote. Those in support of rescinding residency: Ralph Hernandez (who sponsored the measure), Licata, Chris Jacobs, Mary Ruth Kapsiak and Rosalyn Taylor.

Those who opposed doing away with the residency rule: Cahill, Jason McCarthy, Florence Johnson and Lou Petrucci.

Now here's the kicker: BTF President Phil Rumore says that even if the Board of Ed reinstates the residency rule, it could not legally be retroactive. In other words, future hires outside those high-need areas would have to live in the city, but anyone already on the payroll would be grandfathered.

In other words, even if the Board of Ed approves Cahill's resolution, it can't simply reverse its decision from March. The board would essentially be starting from scratch on this.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

The gag order in the Buffalo Public Schools

Today's blog post comes in two forms: the capsule version -- for those of you in a hurry -- and the extended version -- for those of you with the patience to dive into more details on the back story of today's story, which is about the qualifications of the exempt employees in the Buffalo schools.

First, the capsule version:

Superintendent James Williams directed his exempt employees not to talk to me for the story about their qualifications.

Williams About a week earlier, the district had offered to make all 28 of them available for group interviews almost immediately.

But once I had the resumes and had the opportunity to go through them and prepare questions, that offer was no longer on the table, Williams told me when I interviewed him on Thursday.

Blocking employees from talking to the media is nothing new in the district.

Principals in the district have been warned they will face insubordination charges if they get caught talking to the media.

And scores of teachers over the past year have told me, almost verbatim: "If I talk to you, I'll lose my job."

Of course, with the laws that exist in this state, it's incredibly difficult to fire a tenured teacher. But I've talked to plenty of Buffalo teachers who have been assigned hall duty, been given bus duty, been assigned a different grade level, or faced various other consequences for speaking out, whether within their own school or to the media.

Williams says he does not seek retribution. In fact, he told me: "I'm probably one of the nicest men in the Buffalo Public School System to his employees."

When the superintendent came down to the News on Thursday, I asked him whether he thinks district employees have a First Amendment right to express their opinions about the district. Here's what he said:

(The recent story he referenced was a story about the district's plans to move more than 200 teachers out of low-performing schools. If you click on that link, you'll see that the portion of the story Williams objects to consists of the last few paragraphs, in which teachers express their opinions about the district's plan.)

And now, the extended version of this blog post, for those of you in this for the long haul:

A couple of weeks ago, as many of you know, I requested copies of the 28 exempt Buffalo Public Schools employees' resumes under the Freedom of Information Law.

At the time, district spokeswoman Elena Cala invited me to come down to City Hall the same day and meet in group interviews with those employees, who she said would have their resumes in hand, ready to answer questions. I declined, seeing as I was not being offered the time I would need to read all the resumes ahead of time, research, and prepare questions.

When I insisted on getting the resumes first, Cala responded:

Williams and Cala We sincerely thought you might like to meet up front, and were prepared to give you immediate answers to any questions you might have as well as follow up.

The offer still stands, should you change your mind.

I got all the resumes by Monday last week. And then I proceeded to take the district up on its offer to facilitate interviews with the exempt employees. On Tuesday morning, I e-mailed Cala.

 As you probably know, I have received the resumes for all the exempt employees. I am in the process now of going through them, doing the related research, and preparing questions.

As there is quite a bit of information to go through, at this point, I am not yet sure specifically which of the 28 exempt employees I will have questions for, and which I will not. I hope to have a better handle on that by the end of Wednesday.

You had previously offered to arrange interviews for me with the exempt employees. At the time, I declined the offer, as I did not have any of their resumes and had no idea what I would need to ask any of them. You told me then that if I changed my mind regarding the interviews, your offer to arrange those interviews would still be there.

At this point, I believe I will be adequately prepared to talk with the exempt employees on Thursday or Friday of this week. I would appreciate it if you could help facilitate those interviews, as you had previously offered to do. I could be at City Hall any time between 9:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. on either day.

She responded: 

I'll do what I can. Contact me when you know what you want.

Around 4 p.m. Wednesday, I wrote to Cala with a list of 16 exempt employees I wanted to speak with at some point Thursday or Friday. I explained to her:

In most cases, I have just one or two specific questions that I would not expect would take very long to address. My availability is 9:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. both days.

Wednesday night, Cala responded: 

I got your message.  Will call tomorrow.

Around 11:30 a.m. Thursday, I had not yet heard back from her. I wrote:

I’m not clear on whether or not you are working on arranging interviews. Could you please clarify what is happening on your end?

She responded:

I am working on it. Will call after 4.

I wasn't clear on what that meant. I wrote back:

Can you please clarify – will the interviews be happening today after 4? Or are you lining them up for tomorrow?

Her last e-mail to me:

Dr. Williams will speak with you today.

The superintendent was one of 16 people I had requested the opportunity to speak with. I was curious about the other 15. I wrote:

Okay. When will I be able to interview the exempt employees?

Cala did not respond to that e-mail.

But I would get my answer later that afternoon.

The superintendent called at the designated time and told me he wanted to speak to me face to face. I had to file my story Friday, and he would be out of town that day, he said. So he offered to come down to the News immediately and answer any questions I had.

He and Cala arrived at One News Plaza soon after.

For about an hour, the interview went fairly smoothly. And then, once I had run through my list of questions for Williams, I asked when I would be able to talk with the exempt employees.

You know how this one ends.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

The shifting balance of power in the Buffalo Public Schools

If you felt something of a rumble beneath your feet Tuesday night, it might have been the shifting balance of power in the Buffalo Public Schools.

While the Board of Education and district administrators held committee meetings in City Hall for five hours Tuesday evening, the District Parent Coordinating Council held its own monthly meeting over at the Makowski Early Childhood Center.

The group showed the film "Waiting for Superman," followed it up with a panel discussion -- and then Sam Radford showed a video clip from WKBW of the superintendent saying, essentially, that the system is designed to fail huge numbers of kids. Specifically, Williams said the system was never designed to educate black people. Here's the clip:

"The superintendent of Buffalo schools said the structure of New York State schools is designed to force kids to drop out," Radford said. "The person who's best able to know says it's designed not to succeed. We should rally to the point he's making -- the structure of education does not work."

And that was when talk turned to radical action -- keeping kids home from school in protest, to get the attention of the State Education Department.

More than one speaker pointed out the strength of the Buffalo Teachers Federation.

"I have no problem with unions. The unions are doing what they're paid to do -- represent," said the Rev. Darius Pridgen. "Where I'm disappointed is in us as an entire city not having a kids union."

So the DPCC decided to call on state and local education officials to meet with them on May 3, and bring with them specific plans on how to fix the structural problems in city schools. If that doesn't happen, a parent boycott of the schools is tentatively planned for May 16.

How big of a deal is this?

Pretty big, I'd say.

It's true that on the one hand, the DPCC has had quite a bit of trouble attracting large numbers of parents to town hall meetings and other events.

But at the same time, they had the mayor and two councilmen (including Pridgen) in the room last night when they circulated the idea of pulling kids out of school in protest. And all three of those politicians pledged their full support to the parents for their efforts in getting education officials to pay attention. (Although the mayor made clear he was not entirely comfortable with pulling kids out of school for a day -- but he did say if that was what parents chose to do, he would stand with them.)

Will the DPCC succeed in forcing State Ed, the Board of Regents, the Board of Ed and the superintendent to the table? I don't know. But I'm willing to bet they've got a decent shot.

And if those players don't come to the table -- will the DPCC really be able to convince every parent to keep their child home from school in protest? No. Will they be able to convince thousands of parents to participate? My guess would be yes, especially since Pridgen's church has already agreed to open its doors that day to the kids, and other churches are likely to sign on, too.

"Change does not happen without agitation," Pridgen said. "This is saying if we have a system that is broke, we are shutting the system down."

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

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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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |