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City Honors: the sequel

Yesterday's post, "The secret to getting into City Honors," generated quite a lot of interest and discussion -- in the neighborhood, at the watercoolers, and online. (If you haven't already joined me on Facebook, friend me at www.facebook.com/mary.pasciak, and jump in on the conversations there, on this and plenty else.)

I heard so much from so many people, I thought it would be a good idea to follow up today with more info.

First off, if you want to see steam coming out of a Buffalo parent's ears, apparently all you need to do is just ask about the admissions process to the Buffalo Public Schools. I have been hearing all kinds of horror stories -- about the criterion-based schools, as well as the schools in general.

One that sticks out in my mind is the mother who told me she called central registration last year to ask for an application to Olmsted 64's gifted program. The person who answered the phone told her the district only printed 200 applications, and once they were gone, that was it, so she better get down to Ash Street and get an application right away. (This is not true, by the way. The district prints thousands and thousands of applications.)

But I'll be giving you plenty more info next week about the overall registration process and the changes that are in store.

City Honors pool In the meantime, what I've been hearing loud and clear from the City Honors crowd is that they have been trying to get the word out about their admissions process, in the hopes of opening it up to as many students as possible -- and they have been incredibly frustrated by the fact that the district does not seem to be trying to do the same.

Here's part of one email I got from a City Honors staffer:

You are so right! Our school is trying to encourage the students in the district to apply but the district's website makes that difficult. Our website is much friendlier than the district's but really, shouldn't theirs be too? Images this small discourage parents from even trying to get their children in. It's detrimental to the the children, as we do have some exceptional talent in our area, but the children cannot apply because the parents cannot find the information. 

Another City Honors teacher outlined for me some of the steps the school has taken to reach out to students:

We work REALLY hard on being transparent.

Our Foundation, not the district, pays for admissions flyers and posters. Dr. Kresse goes on the announcements several times to ask students and faculty to take them to local community centers, etc.... A bunch of us take time out of our schedules to post everywhere and anywhere we can.... The first few years we started producing these, we sent them to other schools via the district "Pony." However, they were being thrown out at a LOT of schools (especially schools that end in 8th grade).

The current administration of our school has been working extra hard to make sure the word gets out so it is NOT like it used to be (word of mouth for those in the "know"). We must be doing something right because we have steadily increased the number of students testing for our program. Last year was a record breaking year....

For those of you who want to stay up to date, you can follow City Honors on Twitter, @cityhonors, and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/cityhonors.

A few readers told me they were able to find the City Honors testing info on the BPS website much easier than I did. Kudos to them, and a special prize for everyone else: a link to the full schedule of testing dates for the criterion-based schools: www.buffaloschools.org/files/filesystem/11-12%20final%20combo%20open%20house%20for%20display%20adrr.pdf.

The good news: It's full size! No squinting needed.

Here's the info for the high school tests:

Oct. 1, 8:00 a.m.: City Honors School, Gr. 9 @ 186 E. North St.

Oct. 1, 8:00 a.m.: F. L. Olmsted School, Gr. 9-12 @ 186 E. North St.

Oct. 15, 22, 8:00 a.m.: Buffalo Academy for Visual & Performing Arts, Gr. 9-12 @ 450 Masten Ave.

Nov. 2, 3, 8:15 a.m.: Hutch Tech High School, Gr. 9-10 @ 256 S. Elmwood Ave.

Nov. 5, 8:00 a.m.: City Honors/F.L. Olmsted Schools Make-up @ 186 E. North St.

Nov. 9, 10, 8:15 a.m.: Hutch Tech High School, Gr. 9-10 @ 256 S. Elmwood Ave.

Nov. 15, 18, 8:40 a.m.: McKinley Advertising Art Skills Test/Portfolio Review, Gr. 9 @ 1500 Elmwood Ave.

Jan. 11, 8:40 a.m.: McKinley Advertising Art Skills Make-up, Gr. 9 @ 1500 Elmwood Ave.

And for the elementary schools:

Oct. 15, 8:00 a.m.: City Honors School & F.L. Olmsted School, Gr. 5 @ 186 E. North St.

Oct. 22, 8:00 a.m.: City Honors School & F.L. Olmsted School, Gr. 6-8 @ 186 E. North St.

Nov. 5, 8:00 a.m.: City Honors/F.L. Olmsted Schools Make-up @ 186 E. North St.

Nov. 5, 19, 8:00 a.m.: Buffalo Academy for Visual & Performing Arts, Gr. 5-8 @ 450 Masten Ave.

Jan. 7, By appt.: F.L. Olmsted School #64, K-1 @ 345 Olympic Ave.

Jan. 21, By appt.: F.L. Olmsted School #64, K @ 345 Olympic Ave.

Jan. 21, 8:30 a.m., F.L. Olmsted School #64, Gr. 2-4 @ 345 Olympic Ave.

Thanks to all of you who posted comments on the blog and Facebook, and to all those who emailed me!

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    [email protected]

The secret to getting into City Honors

Want to know how to get your kid into City Honors?

City Honors I'll tell you, but you have to promise to tell at least three other people.

The first step is that your kid has to take the admissions test. But before he or she can take the test, you have to know when and where it is.

Good luck getting that information.

If you look on the district website and scroll down a bit, you'll see a link for "Open House and Testing Schedules."

Click on the link, and you get to a page that supposedly has all the info you need.

What you actually get is a screenshot of a page that lists all the times and dates for open houses and admissions tests. Here it is, in the actual size it is displayed on that page:

BPS testing dates
It measures 3 inches by 3.5 inches. Let me know if you can read it. I tried squinting, crossing my eyes, standing on my head and a bunch of other things. I could decipher enough to tell that something is happening on Oct. 1 (which is Saturday), at both City Honors and Olmsted.

So I checked the district's online calendar.

For Oct. 1, there's a listing for the Olmsted High School, grades 9-12, admissions testing at 8 a.m. that day: "Admissions testing will take place at City Honors School due to the renovations currently underway at Olmsted H.S."

Curiously, there's not even a mention of the fact that testing is also being given that day for admission to City Honors.

Now, I wouldn't want to speculate as to why this information is basically impossible to find on the district's website.

But I will say that it is exactly this sort of scarcity of readily available information that leaves many parents with the impression -- be it warranted or not -- that the district is not user-friendly (at best), or actively trying to keep certain information from getting out to the general public, so as to limit access to the top-tier schools to just those who are "in the know."

Luckily, the City Honors website is more helpful. A section of that website lays out details on admissions tests for City Honors (as well as Olmsted High School).

Here's the skinny:

For students who would be entering ninth grade next year, testing is at 8 a.m. Saturday (Oct. 1) at City Honors, 186 E. North St. According to the school's website, students "do not need to register or apply ahead of time to take the test."

Keep in mind, though, that City Honors parents will tell you that you should make sure you arrive plenty early.

Admissions tests are also given at 8 a.m. Saturday (Oct. 1) at City Honors for next year's grades 9-12 at Olmsted.

Additionally, other admissions tests also will be given over the next few weeks at City Honors, 186 E. North St.

Specifically, for:

- Next year's fifth grade at City Honors: 8 a.m. Oct. 15

- Next year's grades 6-8 at City Honors: 8 a.m. Oct. 22

- Call back for students invited to write an essay for City Honors admission: Nov. 5

- Next year's grade 5 at Olmsted: 8 a.m. Oct. 15

- Next year's grades 6-8 at Olmsted: 8 a.m. Oct. 22

- Call back for test of creativity at Olmsted: Nov. 5

There is also an open house scheduled for City Honors from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Nov. 19.

I'll be posting information on the admissions process to other schools in the district, just as soon as I finish squinting hard enough to make it out.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    [email protected]

Live blog of School Board superintendent search and meeting at 4 p.m.

Join us this afternoon at 4 p.m., when the School Board will start laying its plans for a superintendent search.

That will be followed by the regular board meeting at 5:30 p.m.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    [email protected]

Who does Amber Dixon trust?

This week, when Amber Dixon headed to Saratoga Springs for a superintendents' conference, she had to designate someone to leave in charge of the district while she was gone.

Smith Her choice: Barb Smith, the CFO.

"You have to look at who you rely on," Dixon said. "I made the choice I was most comfortable with for the district."

In other words, she apparently wasn't comfortable with any of the people her predecessor tended to rely on.

When former Superintendent James Williams left Buffalo, three people seemed most frequently tapped to fill in for him: former Deputy Superintendent Folasade Oladele, Lead Community Superintendent Mark Frazier, and Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes.

Oladele, of course, wasn't an option for Dixon, seeing as she left town a year before her contract ended.

Frazier seems to be under something of a cloud until the district wraps up its investigation into Debbie Buckley's situation, among other things.

And Keresztes was the only other candidate besides Dixon to step forward to apply for the interim superintendency. He also has a history that includes a month-long suspension related to a cheating scandal several years ago in the school where he was principal. (Keresztes is quick to note that a district investigation found he was not responsible for the cheating, or even aware of it.)

Will Dixon's choice of Smith as acting superintendent prove to be significant in the long run?

We should find out in the next several weeks.

Dixon has said we should start to see some changes in central office before the end of 2011.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    [email protected]

If board members speak and no one can hear them...

At a recent board meeting, I ended up sitting in the audience with the general public, rather than up alongside the board table, where I usually sit.

I could barely hear what was going on.

Bits and pieces of conversations from the board table made their way back to where I was sitting, and I could generally decipher the gist of what was going on. But I certainly couldn't follow the meeting word for word.

Buffalo school board That's nothing new, if you ask some of the regulars.

Hannya Boulos of Buffalo ReformED, who attends many of the meetings, told me she brings her laptop so she can follow my live blog of the meetings because she can't hear what's going on -- when she's sitting about 15 feet from the board.

That's not how it's supposed to be.

The whole point of public meetings is so that the public can hear what's happening.

"The [open meetings] law says the public has the right to attend observe and listen -- listen -- to the proceedings," said Bob Freeman, executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government.

When you watch board meetings on TV or in person, you might notice the row of microphones down the middle of the table.

Taxpayers apparently spent the money to have them installed at some point.

Too bad the board doesn't use them.

Here's a portion of the Open Meetings Law:

It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy. The people must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their public servants. It is the only climate under which the commonweal will prosper and enable the governmental process to operate for the benefit of those who created it.

While there's nothing specific in the state's Open Meetings Law that directly addresses the question of the public being able to hear what's going on, it's clear that the public has a right to hear the deliberations of their elected officials, Freeman said.

"Numerous times, the courts have found government agencies have to carry out their functions in ways that are reasonable," Freeman said. "If the board has microphones and does not use them, and it is clear people cannot hear the proceedings, that would be unreasonable."

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    [email protected]

3,000 students missing from Buffalo schools

At the end of the second week of school, more than 3,000 students still had not shown up in the Buffalo Public Schools.

(That's some improvement over the 5,300 kids who were missing at the end of the first week of school, but still nearly 10 percent of the student population.)

Students in hallway Where are all these students?

Some have enrolled in charter schools or private schools. Some have moved. Some have dropped out.

This happens every year.

And it's worst at the lowest-performing schools.

Consider: At the Academy School 131, the district's version of an alternative program, 157 students were signed up for school this year. By the end of the first week, 56 of them had shown up. A week later, that number had crept up to 82 -- meaning about half the students in that program just hadn't shown up at all by the end of the second week of school.

At International Prep and Bennett High School, about one out of four students had not shown up by the end of the second week.

Compare that to City Honors and da Vinci, where 3 percent of students were unaccounted for by the end of the second week.

The picture is somewhat better in the city's elementary schools. But still, at eight elementary schools -- about one in six -- more than 10 percent of the students were nowhere to be found by the second week of school.

Here are the latest numbers, broken out by individual school. (By way of explanation, the number of students enrolled are those who had signed up to attend the school. The number registered reflects how many had actually shown up at least once by the given date.)

Elementary schools:

School Enrolled 2010-11 Enrolled 9/6/11 Registered 9/9/11 Registered 9/16/11 % enrolled who are registered 9/16/11
D'Youville Porter 645 670 614 645 96%
BEST 589 621 502 564 91%
Early Childhd Ctr 17 424 421 371 402 95%
Pantoja 456 530 485 513 97%
Native Am Magnet 440 524 479 498 95%
Hillery Park 576 602 564 578 96%
Frank Sedita 724 789 698 740 94%
Harriett Ross Tubman 482 551 462 515 93%
Bennett Park 851 876 581 737 84%
Bilingual Center 33 513 517 451 480 93%
Futures Academy 568 582 465 535 92%
MLK 731 769 636 720 94%
Lovejoy Discovery 538 587 532 570 97%
Intl School 45 879 720 645 714 99%
Community Schl 53 394 445 362 405 91%
Blackman 483 525 445 474 90%
Olmsted 56 315 378 325 336 89%
Drew Science Magnet 470 516 443 473 92%
Early Childhd Ctr 61 316 308 251 281 91%
Olmsted 64 512 529 474 485 92%
Roosevelt 369 384 359 366 95%
North Park Middle 424 437 361 379 87%
Discovery 579 581 561 568 98%
Houghton 526 537 463 509 95%
Lorraine 591 631 571 590 94%
Hamlin Park 514 560 454 509 91%
Badillo 620 681 569 623 91%
Grabiarz 370 665 567 613 92%
Highgate Heights 571 613 496 533 87%
School 81 707 681 604 620 91%
Early Childhd Ctr 82 469 499 431 481 96%
Erie Co Health Ctr 36 39 33 66 169%
Wright 858 866 745 803 93%
Drew ECC 90 386 345 310 345 100%
BUILD 624 624 506 546 88%
Southside 1,040 1,103 1,001 1,017 92%
West Hertel 554 667 570 609 91%
Waterfront 916 937 827 864 92%
Austin 329 421 355 391 93%
Makowski 867 898 737 774 86%
Academy 131 (7-8 gr) 60 2 34 57%
Perf Arts (5-8 gr) 294 299 282 285 95%
City Honors (5-8 gr) 406 411 406 409 100%
MST (5-8 gr) 138 154 127 140 91%
Intl Prep (5-8 gr) 143 235 167 201 86%
Lafayette   205 179 190 93%
WNYDTC (7-8 gr) 4 6 6 6 100%
Elementary total: 23,241 24,999 21,474 23,136

93%

 

High school:

School Enrolled 2010-11 Enrolled 9/6/11 Registered 9/9/11 Registered 9/16/11 % enrolled who are registered 9/16/11
OTC 42 62 64 60 63 98%
Olmsted 56 173 239 216 222 93%
Erie Co Health Ctr 32 39 30 31 79%
Academy 131   157 56 82 52%
Performing Arts 543 553 506 523 95%
City Honors 474 483 468 470 97%
Math Science Tech 253 282 237 266 94%
International Prep 290 321 179 235 73%
Bennett 873 942 637 714 76%
Lafayette 688 578 440 507 88%
Riverside 776 825 664 737 89%
South Park 829 814 692 751 92%
da Vinci 384 397 381 384 97%
Burgard 630 690 474 577 84%
Emerson 465 472 417 438 93%
Hutch Tech 1,068 1,106 1,041 1,052 95%
McKinley 1,110 1,152 963 1,049 91%
East 635 600 418 490 82%
Middle College 302 321 291 298 93%
WNYDTC 5 3 4 4 133%
High school total: 9,592 10,038 8,174 8,893 89%

 

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    [email protected]

Live blog of School Board commitee meetings at 5 p.m.

Join us at 5 p.m. today for a live blog of the executive affairs committee, followed by the finance and operations committee.

 

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    [email protected]

Last-minute fixes for the parent group meeting

Today's story looks at the concerns the District Parent Coordinating Council has regarding services that central office has traditionally provided for its meetings, but withdrew for this year -- along with concerns about various other things, including a larger question about how the district has been spending its federal Title I funds.

As the story notes, district administrators informed the parent group that they would no longer be receiving child care, dinner, videotaping, security and other support services for their meetings this year.

Rally Group leaders believe this may be in retaliation for their criticism of the district, including the one-day boycott in May. "It was almost like sabotage," DPCC Vice President Sam Radford said.

School Board President Lou Petrucci says the change resulted from an internal audit in the spring that found Title I funds being spent on things not allowed under Title I.

Whatever the reason, as the parent group was heading into its first meeting of the year Tuesday evening, group leaders were wondering how they were going to pull it off without those services in place.

Just as the meeting was about to start, Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon arrived. She put in place videotaping (the DPCC meetings are broadcast on public access cable), child care and security. Radford paid for the pizza and wings himself, but Dixon told him he would be reimbursed.

Group leaders were glad those services were put in place Tuesday night.

"That stuff was normally always done. Now all of a sudden, we're fighting to get what we always had, rather than building on where we were last year. We're going backwards," Radford said. "So we can't celebrate the superintendent coming in here and giving us what we always had. We're not celebrating that we got basic necessities."

At the DPCC's first meeting last year, the parent representative from every school was given a blue binder with loads of information, including the group's bylaws, meeting schedule, agendas and minutes, and leadership training schedules -- all prepared by central office staff who are paid to provide support to parents.

This year, there were no binders.

"We had nothing," Radford said. "This year, we went from this [pointing to a binder] to zero. The question is, are we going to have this at our next meeting?"

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    [email protected]

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

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    [email protected]

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    [email protected]

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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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

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