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Dixon says yes, she wants the job

Since she was appointed interim superintendent a few months ago, Amber Dixon has declined to say whether she's interested in being a candidate for the permanent superintendency.

Well, now she's talking.

"I'm encouraged and excited by the changes we've begun making as a community on behalf of our children," she said. "I'd like to see them through."

DixonThis, of course, has been one of the brightest weeks in memory for the Buffalo Public Schools. Two major announcements gave the district quite a boost: Buffalo Promise Neighborhood and Say Yes to Education.

While one focuses on one just part of the city (the 14215 ZIP code), both programs have quite a bit in common. They both take a long-term approach to change. They both combine millions in public and private funding. They both look to improve education by providing health, social and community services to families.

And, of course, they both come as welcome news just a few months into Dixon's interim superintendency. Both projects were in the works well before she took the helm, and both were heavily steered by people outside the district.

And both have done a whole lot to inject some optimism around the Buffalo Public Schools.

Dixon says the two announcements have nothing to do with the timing of her decision to seek the superintendency.

Instead, she says she was waiting for the process to play out for submitting school improvement grants for seven low-performing schools. She's reviewing those applications and hopes to submit them by the end of this week.

"The work has begun, the board and community have a sense of who I am, and I believe we are moving forward together," she said.

The School Board is expected to decide in January which of seven consultants to hire for the superintendent search.

- Mary Pasciak

A closer look at the at-large candidates

The board this afternoon and evening will be interviewing more than a dozen candidates for the at-large vacancy. (Join me for the live blog, starting at 3 p.m.)

Earlier this week, I provided a brief overview of the candidates.

I finally had a chance to scan and post all their resumes, and wanted to make them available to you.

Here they are:

Sheryl Bates

Lydia Bezou-Hojnacki

Gary L. Damon Jr.

Barbara A. Jezioro

Joseph Mascia

Barbara A. Seals Nevergold

Louis J. Petrucci

Patricia (Bowers) Pierce

James M. Sampson

Sarah Slavin

Dennis I. Smith

Bernadine C. Taylor

Paul Tsouflidis

Stephon M. Wright

(I redacted personal addresses, phone numbers and email addresses from the resumes.)

- Mary Pasciak

Live blog of at-large candidate interviews at 3 p.m.

Nineteen people applied for the at-large seat on the School Board. A few have been disqualified for residency issues or lack of a complete application, but more than a dozen are expected to interview with the board today.

Here's an overview of the people who applied.

Get to know them even better today during their interviews with the board -- join me at 3 p.m. (and for several hours after that) for a live blog of all the interviews.

- Mary Pasciak

Live chat with president of Say Yes at 11 a.m.

Join me at 11 a.m. today, when I host a live chat with Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, president of Say Yes to Education. She will be answering your questions about the college tuition guarantee as well as the various reforms that her group plans to help facilitate in the Buffalo schools.

- Mary Pasciak

Live chat with editorial writer Kevin Walter at 3 p.m.

Join me today at 3 p.m., when I'll host a live chat with Buffalo News editorial writer Kevin Walter, who wrote a series of pieces this week looking at the problems in the Buffalo Public Schools -- and possible solutions.

His piece on Sunday, "The blame for the schools goes 'round and 'round," provided an overview of the issues. His other pieces: "Buffalo can do better," "Improve School Board," and "Get the right person."

Bring your comments and questions!

- Mary Pasciak

Meet the at-large candidates

Nineteen people stepped forward this month as candidates for the at-large seat vacated by Chris Jacobs -- and it's a pretty interesting pool. Among the mix: the president of the School Board, two college professors, a high school senior, two people from Community Action of Erie County, a career law enforcement officer, and a restaurant owner.

Five of those who submitted resumes have been disqualified. One did not meet the residency requirement of having lived in Buffalo for three years. Four others did not submit three letters of reference, which were required.

We'll get to meet the remaining 14 in some depth (well, as much depth as you can get in a 20- or 30-minute interview) on Wednesday, when the board interviews the candidates at 3 p.m. in Room 801 in City Hall. Interviews are open to the public. You can also check them out here at the School Zone, where I'll be live blogging them.

In the meantime, here's a brief introduction for you:

Sheryl Bates: Education service manager with Community Action of Erie County. Former kindergarten teacher in North Carolina and pre-k and kindergarten teacher at Greater Refuge Christian Academy.

Lydia Bezou-Hojnacki: Retired teacher and administrator. Former secondary math teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools. Math and special education teacher in New Orleans Public Schools. Elementary principal in the Diocese of Buffalo. Adult education teacher in Buffalo, Mississippi and Virginia.

Gary L. Damon Jr.: Program coordinator at Community Action of Erie County. Former "eighth/ninth/twelfth-grade" English teacher for a year in the Buffalo Public Schools. Learning specialist/learning coach for two years in Pennsylvania for ResulTech, the firm that Buffalo hired a few years ago to run its alternative education program.

Barbara A. Jezorio: Retired environmental program specialist for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Board member and treasurer of The Friends of Vienna, a cultural group that produces six chamber concerts a year, and is a docent for the Albright Knox.

Patricia (Bowers) Pierce: Confidential criminal investigator for the Erie County District Attorney's Office. Former chief of patrol and investigative services for the Erie County Sheriff's Office and detective for the Buffalo Police Department. Commissioner on Buffalo's Reapportionment Committee.

Barbara A. Seals Nevergold: Co-founder and co-director of the Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research and Education on Women. Adjunct assistant professor at Empire State College. Co-editor of "Go Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady." Former director of student support services at UB's Educational Opportunity Center. Taught French in Williamsville and Buffalo.

Bernadine C. Taylor: Customer service representative for National Fuel Gas. Licensed Realtor.

Sarah Slavin: Professor of political science emeritus, Buffalo State College.

James M. Sampson: President of Gateway-Longview. President of the board, Buffalo ReformED. Founding member of West Buffalo Charter School. Board member, Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

Dennis I. Smith: Microcomputer technical support specialist for the Western New York Regional Information Center. Served on the Williamsville East High School's shared decision-making team.

Stephon M. Wright: Senior at Emerson High School. Student Council president for two years. Top quarter of his class.

Joseph A. Mascia: Retired mason for the Buffalo Public Schools. Board member for the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. Former chairman of the Police Reorganization Commission.

Louis J. Petrucci: School Board president and current Park District representative. Former chair of the Conference of Big Five School Districts executive committee. Current treasurer for Conference of Big Five School Districts. Assistant director of housing and property inspections for the City of Buffalo.

Paul Tsouflidis: Proprietor, Acropolis restaurant. Member of PUSH, the Clean Air Coalition and the City Honors Foundation.

Those who applied but did not submit references: Darnell Hardy, Matthew Ricchiazzi, Madonna M. Priore and Landrum W. Beard. Dennis P. Coakley also applied, but did not meet the three-year residency requirement.

- Mary Pasciak

Live blog of School Board meeting on School 33 plan

Join me at 2:30 p.m. today, when the School Board will vote on an improvement plan for Bilingual Center School 33.

- Mary Pasciak

No names, but a number

The School Board will not release the names of the candidates for the at-large seat, but will release the number.

As of Thursday afternoon, the district had heard from 10 people interested in the seat, according to chief of staff Jim Kane. It's not clear how many of those people submitted full applications -- meaning a letter of interest, resume and three letters of reference -- or how many meet the eligibility requirements (resident of Buffalo for three years, no felony convictions, etc.).

Full applications must be received (not postmarked) by 4 p.m. today. (Here are the details.)

It will be interesting to see how many applications the board receives. Some board members had argued against opening up the process to the entire city, saying there would be too many applicants for it to be feasible to interview all of them. Will that prove to be the case? Public interviews are scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday. If necessary, Thursday will be added as a second interview day.

Board President Lou Petrucci, who says he is one of those interested in the seat, says the board will wait until all the eligibility of all candidates have been verified before releasing the list of names.

- Mary Pasciak

The one at-large candidate we know of -- and those the board won't reveal

School Board President Lou Petrucci has decided to take a run for the at-large vacancy left by Chris Jacobs.

Remember, last week, neither Petrucci nor Mary Ruth Kapsiak could nail down five votes for the board to appoint them to the at-large seat. (Both Petrucci and Kapsiak represent a particular area of the city; district seats like theirs carry a three-year term, as opposed to the five-year at-large term.)

So the board -- which really had no other choice -- decided to open up the process and accept resumes from anyone in the city who's interested in the city. Initially, Petrucci said he wasn't sure whether he'd throw his hat in the ring. (Kapsiak immediately said she would not interview for the seat, saying it wouldn't be fair to the other candidates, given her years of experience and knowledge.)

This week, though, Petrucci told me he'd made up his mind. He will be a candidate, he said. (Although as of Wednesday night, he had not yet submitted his resume.)

PetrucciThis is going to put Petrucci in an interesting situation. We already know that initially, he couldn't get five votes from fellow board members to get appointed to the seat. Now he's going to compete against an unknown number of other people in the city in public interviews.

If the board picks anyone besides Petrucci, that would indicate that the board thinks its own president is not the best-qualified person for the at-large seat. Not exactly a vote of confidence. Seems like that might be a little difficult for him to recover from.

And if the board picks Petrucci, that is likely to spark speculation among some -- I've already heard rumblings of it -- that the board has already decided to appoint him, and that the whole interview process is a sham, set up just to make it appear as though there was a legitimate process.

Well, at any rate, we now know of one candidate interested in the seat.

Who else has applied?

We don't know.

The board has decided not to release the names until some time after the 4 p.m. Friday deadline.

Once someone submits a letter of intent to the district, it becomes a matter of public record, according to Bob Freeman, executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government.

And board members don't seem to disagree that those names are a matter of public record.

They just don't want to release them right now.


"District policy is to treat everyone the same," Petrucci said. "The point is to wait and release them all at the same time."

He says the district will wait until it vets all the candidate names -- to make sure they all meet the eligibility requirements and have submitted complete applications -- before releasing any of the names. So realistically, we probably won't know until Monday who the candidates are.

John Licata argues that it could have a chilling effect for the names to be released prior to the deadline. If someone with connections to a board member is in the mix, then other people might assume that person will get the seat and will then decide not to pursue it themselves, he said.

He asked me what good would be served by releasing the names.

Well, transparency might be a good place to start.

The district has made strides in making things more transparent in the past few months. That doesn't mean things are as good as they need to get.

It's interesting that the default thinking on the board seems to be that information should be withheld unless a case is made to release it.

If information is a matter of public record, does there need to be a reason to make it available to the public?

- Mary Pasciak

The email that broke the deadlock on Lafayette High School

The School Board last night just could not seem to approve a plan for Lafayette High School.

Some board members supported the plan drawn up by principal Naomi Cerre. Some board members wanted to bring on Johns Hopkins University.

And neither side could get the five votes they needed.

Those who supported Johns Hopkins' proposal for Lafayette cited the university's national reputation and its track record in turning around low-performing schools. Those who supported Cerre's turnaround plan said it did a much better job of addressing the needs of the school's huge immigrant population.

And nearly everyone said they were troubled by the fact that Buffalo State College's proposal for Lafayette had been rejected by a district advisory committee. The college has a longstanding partnership with Lafayette, they noted, and it ought to have a guaranteed role in the school's future.

Lafayette HSSo both plans were voted down -- leaving Lafayette in a most precarious position: with no plan.

And for Lafayette, having no plan was tantamount to having the state pull its registration and close its doors -- which is what  State Education Commissioner John King has repeatedly threatened to do if Buffalo manages to bungle the plans for Lafayette yet again. (Remember, Lafayette could have already gotten up to $4 million in federal aid, had the district initially submitted adequate turnaround plans.)

Things were looking pretty dire.

And so the board did what it tends to do at such times: take a break.

Board members disappeared into the backroom for what was supposed to be a five-minute break.

It turned into a 20-minute break.

And when the board reconvened, Board President Lou Petrucci announced that he'd received an email from a representative of Johns Hopkins saying that the university would be willing to work with Buffalo State.

I asked Petrucci after the meeting to forward me a copy of the email, and he did. The email came from Keith Frome, who works at King Center Charter School. He also runs a group out of Washington, D.C., called College Summit -- which is one of the partners that Johns Hopkins identified in their plan for Lafayette.

Here's the email that Frome sent to Petrucci:

Here's exactly what the email said:  

From: "Keith Frome" <>
December 14, 2011 8:19:46 PM EST
Message from Johns Hopkins via College Summit

I received the following email from Johns Hopkins tonight; I think it indicates their willingness to work with the existing staff and resources at Lafayette which would include working with Buffalo State, though the details of that collaboration would have to be worked out later:

Dear Keith:

It is critical to say before any final decisions are made that if a school has already undertaken turnover of up to 50% of their faculty and the Principal, which it seems like Lafayette has now done, there is no reason to require that to happen again. We would certainly not move in that direction or with that predisposition. Any personnel changes we would seek to make would be in partnership with the school and board leadership and only after sufficient time and data had accumulated to recommend such decisions. We have been in this situation before and this is our track record.

I hope this proves helpful in the deliberations.  We very much want to be a transformation partner at Lafayette as well as East High Schools.

Thanks and give me a holler if you like.

Charles Hiteshew
Talent Development Secondary
Johns Hopkins University
2701 N. Charles St., Suite 300
Baltimore, MD 21218

After Petrucci read that email to the board, there was a revote on the Johns Hopkins plan for Lafayette. This time, the vote was 7-0 in favor, with Florence Johnson (an administrator at Buffalo State) recusing herself.

- 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 |