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What should Dixon's priorities be?

Today's story (available in the print edition of The Buffalo News) looks at Amber Dixon's background and the events that shaped her approach to educating students in the Buffalo Public Schools.

The story also examines some of Dixon's plans for the next several months: adding more teachers to the classroom, downsizing central office, decentralizing the district, and providing teachers with more flexibility.

Now it's time to hear from other people.

In reporting the story, I heard from dozens of people, especially parents and teachers, about what they think she should be focusing on.

Here are some excerpts:

I think she should focus on keeping kids in school and making the schools into community hubs, places where people come together to learn, socialize and play, both kids and their families. Right now, most schools are not open in the evenings. There are no support groups or classes for parents at the schools.

Most schools don't have social events for families on a regular basis, like movie or game nights. These kinds of activities have the potential to bring communities together in positive ways. If we start to work with the whole family, educating the kids won't be so hard and the results will be great.

- Denise Carr, a parent

We have had too much drama the past few years. We need a superintendent that works with teachers, not against them. Teachers would like a contract -- ours is 11 years old and very out of date. We are ready to negotiate on health care -- we know that is part of the reality of modern life. However, we have held fast to it as a bargaining chip.

- a teacher

I am not sure that a national search will be needed for superintendent if Amber Dixon wants the position and knows and does well in helping the district meet its many challenges. I am more concerned about the effectiveness that will be in her immediate cabinet and the void of diversity that exists. That is important with the number of minority students this district serves.

- Lois Johnson, retiree

One of her top priorities should be to stop moving principals and teachers around. If a principal is failing at a school, a horrible track record the past few years, do not send her off to ruin another, year after year.

- Abbey Bouchard, parent

Teachers are starved for leadership. Not a dictatorship... leadership. Leadership based on innovative thinking and working with the people on the front line. The kind of leadership that makes you go above and beyond just because you wouldn't dream of disappointing your boss. We have all known those types of leaders and Buffalo needs one more than ever.

- a teacher

Ms. Dixon should tackle school consolidation. Right-sizing the district facilities is critical, given the budget problems, and it would be a huge service to the next superintendent to get this divisive issue moving. She should push hard, and publicly, for an open vote by the board for the formation of an external subcommittee (something like the military's BRAC) to create binding recommendations.

- Pete Wilson, parent

The main problem with our students is that they don't attend classes, they don't come prepared and oftentimes when they do show up, they have an attitude of not caring. Students are forced to take core classes all four years.

Instead, why not give them the opportunity to job train in a field of their interest? What actual useful training are they getting in the Buffalo School System? We have to keep them interested in learning, and what better way to do that than by giving them hands-on experience. When the educational system realizes that not everyone wants to go to college, then maybe we can move forward. But constantly giving these kids only one option isn't going to work. 

- a teacher

I hope she is more open and forthcoming with the board and the parents about information concerning the schools and reports that she receives.

- Lisa Griffith, parent

We cannot afford to have another administration of "my way or the highway," that thinks that it can simply bend the rules of the state and federal governments to fit its whims. They must surround themselves with the best and brightest people that they can find to advise them, and they must be able to work with other groups to truly compromise and collaborate to create positive results for students. They must be willing to depart from traditional practicies and bring in new ideas and new ways of educating.

- Brad Hahn, community member

She should direct resources back to the classroom. I would love to be able to have an aide in every kindergarten class. Those children need as many hands available as possible.

- principal, School 54

I'd like to see teachers get more respect, and allowed to offer more input as to how their classrooms/schools can best succeed. The teaching to the test approach breaks the spirit of our teachers and can have a devastating effect on a child's relationship to learning.

I hope that a more holistic approach to education can be implemented from this point forward. More art, more unstructured free time (for socialization, as well as physical release), more cultural enrichment, and more opportunities to explore creative endeavors. 

- Jethro Soudant, a parent

If she does anything this year, it should be to bring back integrity and respect to the way city hall and their administrators treat their faculties. Until teachers feel that they are valued employees with respect for their knowledge and intelligence, nothing can change. Teachers are in the trenches with the students. They know what the children need. Amber should make a real effort to talk to teachers about what direction teaching should take. There should be honest conversations where teachers don't have to worry about retaliation.

- a teacher

I believe central office needs to be downsized. Real or not, there is a perception that there are way too many highly paid people downtown that aren't working that hard.

- a parent

Parent and community involvement must be made an intentional part of our district's focus until it can become more "natural." Implementation of a much more effective structure for training and working with parents (at whatever level of experience and education they have), and bringing well-qualified mentors into the buildings for kids who would benefit from them would go a long way to improving educational and life outcomes for kids.

- Sherry Byrnes, former School Board member

Build honest and real relationships -- when asked a question, don't do a verbal dance with it for 10 minutes. Answer the question. If you aren't sure of the answer, be forthright and say so, but offer to get the information at a later time.

- LouAnn Loveless, parent

I'm looking forward to the possibility of better labor relations, which might take the form of more appreciation for our efforts/respect for our work and point of view. Better labor relations might also take the form of reaching agreement on a contract, which could be a win-win situation in terms of being better able to have the contract reflect current realities.

- a school counselor

One priority would be to look at ways to decentralize BPS and trust in the talents and judgment of the building-level administrators to run their buildings in an efficient and positive manner. Giving back more decision-making power to the schools would also help with the other priority -- finances. Reducing unnecessary paperwork would also reduce the need for central administrative staff.

- a teacher

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    mpasciak@buffnews.com

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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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