Back in April, Senior Deputy Education Commissioner John King offered to come back to Buffalo, gather the key stakeholders in a room, lock the door, and not let anyone out until all parties agreed on turnaround plans for Buffalo's nine persistently lowest-achieving schools.
He cleared June 2 -- Thursday -- on his calendar to come back to Buffalo to do that.
It seemed that just about everybody involved thought King's plan was a good idea. (You might recall that King has said the state will have a hard time approving plans -- and handing out the $54 million that rides on them -- unless those plans have buy-in from the stakeholders, which was what that meeting was designed to solidify.)
But, as you've probably figured out by now, Thursday came and went, and King did not set foot in Buffalo.
Well, Mayor Brown, after sitting on the idea for a few weeks, eventually took the lead in organizing such a meeting. Brown lined up a national facilitator, Noel Tichy, to run the meeting.
The problem? Tichy was available on June 10 and 16; King was available on June 2. The mayor had to choose between the deputy commissioner -- who will become commissioner in mid-June -- and the facilitator. Brown picked the facilitator.
King was already set to come to Buffalo on June 2, and for a day or so after the June 10 meeting was solidified, King was still planning to come to town. But then it didn't take long for those who were trying to set up the June 2 meeting to decide that they did not want to risk upstaging the mayor's June 10 meeting.
So I'm not sure how King spent his day on Thursday, but I can tell you it did not involve a trip down the Thruway.
In the meantime, the stakeholders have already met with Tichy, via videoconference, to get through initial introductions and such. The mayor apparently is asking stakeholders what they think the goals of the June 10 meeting should be, and what the possible obstacles are.
While everyone from Phil Rumore to Sam Radford has agreed to attend the meeting, the level of enthusiasm has certainly taken a hit since it became known that John King would not be in the room. King is the guy who will have the final word on whether Buffalo's turnaround plans will be approved, so several people have told me they thought it was essential that he be in the meeting.
Now that he won't be, and now that it seems the goal of the June 10 meeting might be recast, several participants are worried that the focus is going to shift from getting agreement on the turnaround plans to something more general, like trying to forge better relationships among the players.
The last I heard, everyone who was invited still planned to attend the June 10 meeting, but a few of the invited guests had taken to referring to it derisively as the "Kumbaya meeting" -- as in, as one stakeholder told me: "I certainly hope they don't expect us to walk out of that room holding hands and singing Kumbaya."
- Mary Pasciak