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Holland School Board candidates

In the race for two seats on the Holland School Board, five candidates are running. They are Taina Armstrong Hoffman; Kelleen Kensy; Frank KolbmannJoseph Levesque;  and William Thomson.

All five were asked to tell district residents why they deserve their vote. 


Why's a regular guy like me running for the board? I feel wanted real people should run government not professional special interests. We’ve all seen the dysfunction with board of education pros arguing against and micromanaging over the pros we have employed in our district. I further feel that the philosophy of a board member’s duties and priorities should first be to the children’s education, second to the teachers that provide that education, then to the staff and facilities to maintain that education, and last but not least be representative for and liaison to the community as a whole to cooperatively and responsibly provide that education. Over the last four years we have not seen that philosophy displayed by some of our board members. Listening to board members over the years we have heard and seen more about financial plans than educational interests. Many of the fixable problems we have now could have been solved by listening and cooperatively working with the employees of the district and the community members passionately trying to participate. Many people over the years have heard and seen my personal passion for many issues beginning with the board’s curious rejection of millions of dollars in donations and grant money to the wasteful disposal practices regarding 72 laptops in the school’s basement, and twice now (although justified in intent) the inappropriate transfer of taxpayer funds. Some are saying the only reason I am running is to get Holland a Football program. Although we have proven inarguably a football program would help our children’s education both mentally and physically, now is not the right time to push for such an effort. We cannot push for the icing on the educational cake while some board members are cutting back on the meat and potatoes. As I have done in the past with that and so many other issues I feel it is important for a board member to be open to discussion with everyone in the community and not just their personal circle of friends. I have put my personal phone number out for anyone to call me and discuss issues not just for campaign season but for the last 4 yrs or more. And every decision I make shall be prefaced with, “how will this improve our children’s education?”


I feel that I can make a difference in the educational system in Holland. More emphasis needs to be placed on the education of the students. I will do everything I can to encourage parental and community participation both at the school and board level.

We are in a very difficult time as a community. Board members must come up with creative solutions to deal with the current economic crisis. These solutions must be educationally and fiscally responsible. We must try to work within the finance means of our community while providing a quality education to our children.

As a board, as a community, as a district we have an obligation, not only to the students, but to ourselves, to ensure that every student is prepared to succeed in life; educationally, emotionally and physically.


I believe it is important for people to be involved in their communities. Too many people are not taking part. If I don’t, who will? With all the cuts in educational funding by New York State, our mission must be to figure out the best way to sustain our school so that we can educate our children. When elected to the school board, I will keep the taxpayers in our community better informed and create more transparency of the district’s expenses.

Life taught me the value of education. I believe a good education was vital for my success. We in Holland must ensure that our students are provided a good education. As a member of the Holland School Board, I will recommend that we conduct a systemic review of our district and create more checks and balances to promote efficiency.


During my first term on the board, from 2008 to 2010, I voted to reduce our school taxes with a 26 percent return to the taxpayers. I voted to right size our teaching and administration staff. While reducing the tax, I helped add advanced placement classes, music equipment and industrial arts equipment. I helped stabilize and secure the future of our children and our school system with an independent curriculum audit that insures a cohesive curriculum that carries from grade to grade. I voted to commission a five-year building conditions study that will help evaluate our needs for the future. During my second term on the board, I want to ensure this school district remains the centerpiece of Holland I intend to keep the public informed of our educational and fiscal needs I will demand fiscal accountability.




I am interested in running for a seat on the Board of Education for many reasons. I believe in education, and that education should be the primary focus of a school district. I also believe that a member of the Board of Education should be compassionate and represent the needs and wishes of the community that elects her to the position. One should not bring an agenda to the boardroom. It is time that integrity is restored to the board and I believe that it’s time for a change here in Holland.


Children and education must come first. I am very aware of the financial situation that we are facing. I have made it a priority to attend monthly board meetings as well as committee meetings. There is no doubt that tough decisions lie ahead. I am ready and willing to make these decisions, but I will do so with the utmost compassion and sensitivity for those affected. After all, this school system is one of the richest resources that we have in the community that I call home.

There will be many bridges to cross over the next 5 years. As we move forward, it will be a board member’s responsibility to navigate the safest and most productive route for our children and our community. My ultimate wish for our school district is to thrive, not just survive.

I will bring integrity and good judgment to the Holland Board of Education. As the mother of two young boys, education and opportunity for our children is very important to me, as is this school district. I know we can do really great things with excellent leadership and board oversight.


Busy week ahead for Buffalo schools

A quick update to set the stage for what is likely to be a very busy week in the Buffalo schools:

As you probably know, the Buffalo Board of Education this week is starting its evaluation of Superintendent James Williams -- something that may trigger his ouster.

If that does come to pass, the board also will find itself grappling with the question of how to fill the superintendent's position.

Meanwhile, the business of the district marches on.

This Friday is the deadline for people to submit letters of interest to fill the Ferry District seat, about to be vacated by Pamela Cahill as she considers a run for the Common Council.

Friday is also the deadline for requests for proposals from educational partnership organizations that may be interested in helping to run one of four low-achieving schools in the district, Williams told me. Proposals for the other three will be due on May 20.

That's a pretty tight deadline, especially when it's unclear whether the district will even get enough groups to step forward to submit proposals.

I had planned to host a live chat on the topic today, but district administrators were not available at the time we had targeted for the live chat, and my schedule also took a different turn today. I am going to work on setting up such a chat for later in the week. Stay tuned for details, and start compiling your questions about how the EPO school turnaround model will work.

Update: The requests for proposals for four schools (BEST, Futures Academy, Drew Science Magnet and Bilingual Center School 33) now list a due date of May 31. You can download the full text of each of them at

- Mary Pasciak

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

Time to talk about charter conversions, Williams says

Last night, after the Board of Ed approved turnaround plans for nine schools, I chatted briefly with Superintendent James Williams, who had nothing but good things to say about the decision to hire educational partnership organizations to run seven of the schools.

The district will be asking local colleges and other non-profits to bid on turning around each of those schools. Such a group would essentially take the place of the superintendent for a particular school.

Williams says the move will be a step toward decentralizing the district, something he sees as a good thing.

I asked him why, if decentralization was a positive step, he had not worked toward such a goal earlier in his six years in Buffalo.

The timing hadn't been right, he said. Now, it is.

The superintendent also said he thinks it's time to start talking to the Board of Ed about the possibility of converting some district schools into charter schools.

"I'm going to start the discussion with the school board about conversion charter schools for 2012-13," he said.

The state next year will identify a few more Buffalo schools as persistently lowest-achieving. Earlier, district officials had indicated they thought at least six more schools would be designated. Last night, Williams estimated it would be three or four schools.

As you probably know, the federal government offers school districts four models to choose from to turn around each low-performing school. One of the models -- the one the district is using for the seven schools I mentioned earlier -- also allows districts to convert each of those schools into a charter school.

That was an option the district could have used this year, but did not.

Why not?

"You've got to bring people along slowly," Williams said. "You can't just push things out."

(At this point, the only school the district has converted to a charter is Westminster -- a move that was made about half a dozen years ago.)

Williams says if the board starts talking now about this option, the district would have time to work everything out in time to convert some persistently lowest-achieving schools into charters in 2012-13.

- Mary Pasciak

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

Review live blog of board vote on school turnaround plans

What does Williams plan to do differently? Nothing

I was looking for the superintendent after Wednesday evening, and stumbled upon him in the midst of an interview with WGRZ's Josh Boose.

The topic?

The parent meeting Tuesday night, and the parents' demands for reforms in the Buffalo Public Schools.

Here's a snippet of the interview, from

BUFFALO, NY - Even though hundreds of parents filled an auditorium this week demanding reform in Buffalo schools, the superintendent says it's business as usual.

"What are you doing as the superintendent today that's different than yesterday to answer their calls for reform," 2 On Your Side's Josh Boose asked Buffalo Schools Superintendent Dr. James Williams.

"Nothing," Williams replied.

"Why not?" Boose followed up.

"I'm doing reform, folks," said Williams.

"So for all those parents last night [Tuesday] that took the time off to hear what people had to say and now they hear you say, business as usual, the day after?" Boose said to Williams.  

"We don't operate that way," said Williams. "We have plans."

See the full clip for yourself:


- Mary Pasciak

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

Running blog from school board deliberations on turnaround plans at 4 p.m.

Why boycott the schools?

Last night, the District Parent Coordinating Council voted to boycott Buffalo Public Schools on May 16.

That has some people nodding their heads -- and others scratching their heads.

There are two questions I've been hearing over and over: Why are the parents doing something so drastic? And, what do they hope will result from a boycott?

So let's try to tackle those questions.

I was talking recently with Kim Walek, one of the parent leaders of the DPCC. She noted that officials at various levels of government are working on policies and initiatives to reform and improve the schools -- but those officials tend to take the long-term view, looking a few years down the road.

Parents don't have that kind of time to wait.

If your child is struggling with reading, or failing math, you want solutions now, not three years from now, Walek said. She compared it to dog years versus human years -- in other words, parents feel a much greater sense of urgency than officials do.

So part of the DPCC's thinking regarding the boycott is that it will help spread that sense of urgency to state and local officials.

Another point the group makes is that they've been working for improvements in the schools for years, so they say calling for a boycott comes after years of frustration.

The group recently posted on their blog a video of Sam Radford addressing the question of the boycott. You can hear it directly from him:

Now, what does the group hope to get out of a boycott?

There is no single concrete outcome they're hoping for.

When I asked Radford that question after last night's meeting, he said the parent group is hoping the boycott will help keep school issues at the forefront.

Last night, elected officials from the superintendent to the Board of Education to the Common Council to the State Legislature trotted out all sorts of proposals that got plenty of cheers from the crowd.

Will those officials follow through?

"What they'll do is wait until the next election," Radford said to me. "We need to hold their feet to the fire. The boycott keeps the fire burning."

One final note: Our live blogging of the meeting was incredibly successful.(In case you missed it, you can still check out the transcript of it here.)

Because of the overwhelming interest -- and at the suggestion of a reader -- I am going to live blog the Board of Ed's discussions tonight regarding the district's plans for its low-performing schools. That will begin at 4 p.m. here at the School Zone.

I'll try to take reader comments/questions as I can. Last night, we averaged almost a comment or question every minute. I wasn't able to take anywhere close to all of them, since I was also trying to stay on top of what the speakers were saying at the same time. But I did try to take some, and I'll do the same tonight.

See you then.

- Mary Pasciak

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

Review live blog from high-stakes school meeting

Parent leaders in the Buffalo Public Schools say tonight's meeting at 5 p.m. at Performing Arts, 450 Masten Ave., will have one of two outcomes: a move toward an "emergency intervention" such as a state takeover of the district -- or a firm call for a boycott of the schools on May 16.

If you can't make it to the meeting, but want to know what's going on, join me tonight as I live blog the session.


- Mary Pasciak

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

Who will fill the Ferry District seat?

With just a few days left for Buffalo school officials to file plans for the low-achieving schools, and with budget issues looming for the next few weeks, another issue has been getting eclipsed: the imminent vacancy on the Board of Education.

Cahill Pamela Cahill announced in April that she would resign her Ferry District seat, effective at the end of May.

Interested in filling it?

To be eligible, you have to be a U.S. citizen who has never been convicted of a felony; a qualified voter in the city; a resident of Buffalo for the past three years; and a Ferry District resident for the past year.

Not sure whether you live in the Ferry District?

Check the map posted on the Board of Elections website.

If you decide to throw your hat into the ring, send an e-mail or a letter of notification with attached biography, resume or vita to James Kane, Buffalo Public Schools, 801 City Hall, Buffalo, NY 14202; or

Make sure you get it in by the deadline, noon on Friday, May 13.

The board plans to interview applicants the following week.

- Mary Pasciak

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

Telephone polls and turnaround plans: the full story on both

Grab a cup of coffee and settle in, because there's plenty to sink your teeth into today, for those of you who really want to delve into the nitty-gritty.

First, there's the issue of the telephone poll regarding Buffalo voter opinions about Superintendent James Williams.

The story about the poll presented the results in a fairly simple manner: approve/disapprove. But the poll results were more nuanced than that. There were degrees of approval, as well as degrees of disapproval.

And the differences between the opinions of whites and those of African-Americans were worth exploring, as were the differences among voters in various Common Council districts.

So for those of you who'd like to ponder all this in a little more depth, here goes. The exact wording of each question is followed by a breakdown of the responses:

Do you approve or disapprove of the job James Williams is doing as school superintendent in the City of Buffalo?

Strongly approve Somewhat approve Somewhat disapprove Strongly disapprove Not sure
All respondents 12% 17% 19% 44% 7%
By race:
Whites 7% 12% 20% 56% 6%
African-Americans 24% 25% 18% 25% 7%
By council district:
Delaware 5% 16% 25% 52% 1%
Ellicott 21% 13% 21% 33% 12%
Fillmore 29% 20% 14% 29% 9%
Lovejoy 10% 23% 15% 44% 8%
Masten 24% 27% 24% 20% 5%
Niagara 7% 20% 20% 50% 4%
North 6% 16% 18% 57% 4%
South 3% 9% 16% 59% 13%
University 16% 13% 18% 43% 10%

If you were a member of the Buffalo Board of Education, which of the following actions would you take regarding Superintendent Williams:

Fire him immediately Let him complete his term; do not renew contract Extend his contract/ reward him Not sure
All respondents 27% 46% 15% 12%
By race:
Whites 33% 52% 6% 10%
African-Americans 15% 38% 33% 14%
By council district:
Delaware 33% 52% 8% 8%
Ellicott 14% 45% 27% 14%
Fillmore 29% 29% 23% 20%
Lovejoy 19% 53% 13% 15%
Masten 14% 37% 36% 14%
Niagara 39% 43% 7% 11%
North 27% 59% 6% 8%
South 41% 41% 4% 13%
University 22% 45% 20% 13%


Williams, you might note, declined to comment on the poll results. District spokeswoman Elena Cala said the superintendent is focused on "academics, not popularity."

He must be focusing from afar. Williams is not in Buffalo, for the second weekend in a row. (Last weekend, you remember, his absence was duly noted when Deputy Education Commissioner John King flew into town and met with two dozen other people in the community who managed to clear their calendars to see him.)

And the clock is ticking. The district now has a week and one day to submit its turnaround plans to the state for nine low-performing schools.

And it's not looking particularly promising.

Anybody remember last year?

The state turned down $42 million in Buffalo's school turnaround plans last September. There were about half a dozen reasons the state cited in its denial of those plans. The one that got the most attention was Williams' refusal to move three principals.

But the state also cited as problematic the lack of support from the teachers union, which complained it had little to no input on the plans.

In the aftermath of Albany's denial of the plans, teachers union president Phil Rumore had more luck getting the district to listen to teacher input:

Rumore said he asked Williams to send administrators to each school to ask the teachers what they thought each school needed. Williams agreed to do that and implement as many suggestions as possible.

Rumore gathered suggestions from teachers in each of the schools and gave the district a wish list for each building. Some of the things teachers requested: "enough textbooks so kids can take them home; electives that students actually find interesting; classroom equipment like microscopes, scales and graphing calculators; guest speakers; and field trips."

In the scramble to put together revised turnaround plans, administrators did give some consideration to that input.

Apparently, though, the district didn't bother to include any teacher input this time around.

Not only that, but the district was in no rush to provide the teachers with copies of the turnaround plans, with or without their input. Rumore said the first time the schools saw copies of those plans was late last week, when he faxed them over to the schools.

In fact, the district doesn't seem to be too eager for much of anyone to see copies of those plans.

While the district did post a two-page summary of the plans on its website (after the Buffalo News posted the summary), officials did not post the full plans.

The greatest extent they went to to distribute the plans was to hand each board member on Wednesday a huge binder stuffed with paper copies of the plans.

Hello? Each board member has two district-provided laptops (one for home use; one for use strictly at board meetings), along with district-provided Internet service at home. It's not clear why the district would not instead provide pdf's of the turnaround plans. Of course, pdf's are easily disseminated online or via e-mail to anyone who might be interested.

That being said, The Buffalo News got paper copies of the plans, scanned them in and created pdf's for you to view, download and share as you wish.

Board of Education members are planning to meet with teachers and parents at each of the nine schools early this week in a last-minute effort to squeeze some of their input into the final version of the turnaround plans before they're sent to Albany.

Here are the plans for the low-performing high schools (click on the school name to download the pdf of the entire turnaround plan for that school):

- Burgard

- East

- Lafayette

- Riverside

And the turnaround plans for the low-performing elementary schools:

- Buffalo Elementary School of Technology

- Bilingual Center

- Drew Science Magnet

- Futures Academy

- Waterfront Elementary


- 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 |