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Dixon on gag order, graduation rate, charters and union contracts

You may have already read our story about the background and plans of Amber Dixon, the interim superintendent, and seen the video excerpts from an interview with her.

Dixon Given the level of interest in Dixon -- and the general public's lack of familiarity with her and her thinking -- I thought some of you might be interested in hearing her thoughts on other issues that we couldn't fit into either the story or the video.

So I'm posting the full audio from one interview with her. Heads up: It's about 25 minutes long. (Scroll down to the bottom of this post for the audio.)

In the meantime, here are some excerpts, on various topics:

On the gag order on BPS employees, and on media access: This is a community that's dependent on the school system. I think we need more input from the community and I think as a result, we need  more teacher voices out there.

It would be totally against my nature to in any way have any sort of retaliation for someone who is exercising their freedom of speech. I think you don't hurt a child. I think you don't hurt a peer. [Referring to teachers:] I would love you to be responsible about this speech, but you're the professional and you're the person we've hired.

If we have demons, we should talk about them. And if they're real, we should address them. And if they're not real, we get to take it off the table. I would rather have that happening with you or with any other reporter. Is it real or is it not? If it's real, what are we doing about it? Totally valid. If it's not real, then we can move on to something else that's critical.

On how to improve the graduation rate: If you walk into ninth grade and you can't read past the fifth grade level, it's going to be a real effort to get you through. So we need to intervene early. In elementary school, we need that reading block and that math block. We need to have those early skills in place.

We also need to figure out better ways to transition. Kids get to junior high, and we all know what happens in junior high. Everything in your life happens then: girls, puberty. Suddenly you're being asked to think more. We need to figure out how to do that better. I think we have some examples of schools that are better able to manage it and some schools that don't.

We're going to put in place with through state an early warning system. What are the factors that indicate a child is going to drop out? That's our problem. If we get you into high school at an age-appropriate level with the right skills, you're going to graduate from a Buffalo public school. It's what happens before then.

We have a dismal attendance rate. We ask the whole community to help us there ... we need to have our students in school.

Then we need to build the supports to provide a nontraditional path through high school. They're starting to look at online high schools. Credit recovery, online courses, an alternative setting, more internships. In an ideal world we would change our school day. Maybe you have somebdoy who comes to school from 2 in the afternoon til 8 at night.

On charter schools: It's the will of the community and the will of the board that I'd really acquiesce to. I will always have the responsibility for securing this system of schools. If we look across the broader  community, we all face the same set of problems. If a charter management organization is an option that is proposed for a school, it's up to the board of education, and I'll support it.

I want to say here and now, I want to reach out my hands to all the charter schools. Our collective wisdom is the only way we're going to get our students through high school. So I think charters are an important part of the mosaic that's sort of Buffalo's education system right now.

On negotiating contracts with the unions: Certainly a new contract would go a long way toward relationship building between management and labor. I have had assurances from our bargaining units that it's a new day.

Obstacles that may have existed in the past may not exist now. I am not thinking we will always agree. I think we share a vision, and the vision is a better education in our schools for the kids in Buffalo.

I think there's a willingness on the part of the employees to reach agreements. We don't have endless dollars, but we do have shared will. We do have a shared set of values. We do have creativity. I think we can get to where we need to go.

And now, here's the full audio of that interview:

- Mary Pasciak

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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 |