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Will she or won't she? She will

There's been quite a bit of speculation over whether Pamela Brown, the third superintendent candidate, was getting cold feet about Buffalo.

Pamela BrownBrown, the former Philadelphia administrator, did not come to town last week when all three candidates were scheduled to tour the district, meet with various groups and interview with the School Board. She said at the time that a family emergency prevented her from coming, but she would reschedule as soon as she could.

That left plenty of people wondering whether she was having second thoughts about applying for the job here.

The doubt has been laid to rest.

Brown is scheduled to be in Buffalo early next week, with an informal public reception scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at Waterfront Elementary, 95 Fourth St.

It's not clear when the board plans to make a decision on which candidate to hire, although some board members have said they want that to happen as soon as possible. The next regularly scheduled board meeting is June 6.

- Mary Pasciak

Comparing the candidates

A number of School Board members had not even seen the three superintendent candidates' resumes before the first two had their interviews last week.

More than one board member, in fact, could not even tell me what districts Edward Newsome and Pamela Brown were from.

Board members told me the resumes were being held -- not at City Hall -- at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, where they were under wraps by Say Yes to Education, apparently so that the resumes could not be leaked to the media.

One board member told me it was too inconvenient to head over to the foundation to review the resumes.

Now that the finalists' names have been released, their resumes, too, have been released from the foundation's Main Street office.

Here's a summary of each candidate's education and work experience -- taken directly from each candidate's resume -- along with a link to each person's full resume:

Pamela BrownPamela C. Brown (complete resume here):

- Senior research and planning associate, Center for Educational Leadership and Technology, Marlborough, Mass., August 2011-present
- Assistant superintendent, chief academic officer, Philadelphia public schools, July 2008-July 2011
- Chief of staff, Richmond, Va., public schools, July 2007-July 2008
- University supervisor of principal interns, Harvard University, August 2006-June 2007
- Principal of Bruns Avenue Academy of Creative Learning (2002-2006), Oaklawn School of Math, Science and Technology (2000-2002), and Reid Park International Academy (1994-2000), Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., schools
- Director of second language acquisition programs, Creighton School District, Phoenix, Ariz., August 1991-February 1994
- Bilingual/cross-cultural specialist, San Francisco schools, December 1987-August 1991
- Bilingual teacher, Clark County schools, Las Vegas, September 1986-December 1987
- Bilingual teacher, Los Angeles schools, January 1978-June 1984

- Harvard University, Ed.D. in administration, planning and social policy, 2010
- Harvard University, Ed.M. in education policy and management, 2007
- San Francisco State University, M.S.Ed. in educational administration, 1991
- University of Southern California, bilingual teacher certification, 1981
- Stanford University, B.A. in Spanish, 1976

Amber Dixon candidateAmber M. Dixon (complete resume here):

- Interim superintendent, Buffalo Public Schools, September 2011-present
- Executive director of evaluation, accountability and project initiatives, Buffalo Public Schools, January 2008-September 2011
- Executive director of project initiatives, Buffalo Public Schools, March 2006-January 2008
- Acting director of curriculum, Buffalo Public Schools, September 2005-March 2006
- Supervisor of school-wide programs and accountability, Buffalo Public Schools, May 2001-September 2005
- Math teacher, Buffalo Public Schools, May 1991-May 2001

- Canisius College, (no degree stated), school administration
- University at Buffalo, Ed.M., mathematics education
- Medaille College, B.S., elementary education

Newsome candidateEdward Newsome Jr. (complete resume here):

- Assistant superintendent, middle schools, Baltimore County schools, 2011- present
- Director of school performance, Montgomery County schools, 2006-2011
- Principal, Maryvale Elementary School: French Immersion, Montgomery County, 2004-2006
- President/CEO, Flight to Excellence Educational Consultants, 1995-present
- Adjunct professor, Bowie State University, 1994-present/Trinity University (no dates given)
- Principal, Stephen Decatur Middle School, Prince George's County schools, 1999-2003
- Chief educational administrator/assistant superintendent, Surrattsville Community of Schools, Prince George's County, 1995-1999
- Chief educational administrator/assistant superintendent, Forestville Community of Schools, Prince George's County (no dates given), principal - Forestville High School
- Principal - Indian Queen Elementary School - Prince George's County, 1991-1995
- Vice principal, Oxon Hill High School, Prince George's County, 1989-1991
- Teacher, North Forestville Elementary School, Prince George's County, 1986
- Principal, Calvary Temple Christian School, Sterling, Va., 1985-1986
- Head teacher, National Children's Center, Washington, D.C., 1980-1985
- Developmental technician, Southeastern Virginia Training Center, 1977-1980
- Teacher, J.C. Nalle Elementary School, 1974-1977

- Nova Southeastern University, Ed.D., educational leadership
- Bowie State University, M.Ed., administration and supervision
- Elizabeth City State University, B.S., early childhood education

- Mary Pasciak

Newsome and Dixon on evals, improving student performance and more

Two of the superintendent candidates met with reporters last week. I hit the highlights in a recent story about Edward Newsome, assistant superintendent in Baltimore County, and Amber Dixon, interim superintendent in Buffalo.

There was a bunch more from each of those half-hour interviews that we couldn't fit in that story, though. Here's some of it:

Newsome candidate- Newsome mentioned more than once that Buffalo is the only district where he's applied for the superintendency, and said the city is a "good fit" for his skill set.

When asked why, he referred to what he sees as "potential for great hope" here, but did not elaborate on why that's the case in Buffalo moreso than any other district.

- When I asked for evidence of his ability to improve student achievement, Newsome cited the graduation rate in the district he's in now and the last one he worked in -- both over 80 percent.

That's absolutely true.

It's also true that both the Montgomery and Baltimore County school districts contain urban areas -- but are not entirely urban districts. Each has a poverty rate about half of Buffalo's. So, while the graduation rates sound impressive, they're not directly comparable to Buffalo's graduation rate.

- Those graduation rates reflect results in entire districts. I asked Newsome to talk about results that he has personally been responsible for.

He said that in his role as director of school performance in Montgomery County, he oversaw the development of monitoring tools to track student data. One of the results, he said, was that in one year, suspensions in middle schools declined significantly.

"Suspensions at the middle school level decreased overall 30 percent," he said. "We expect the change in student suspensions, time on task, to really make a difference. When kids are suspended, they're not available for learning."

- Improving student performance in Buffalo would involve a K-12 strategy involving setting benchmarks in specific subjects at certain grade levels, he said.

- If Newsome is hired, the first thing he would work on, he said, is "building a climate of hope and high expectations. That is a very important piece. I believe there is great hope."

- Newsome's resume lists him as president and CEO of Flight to Excellence Educational Consultants, from 1995 to present. I asked him about that, wondering how a sitting school administrator could have a private consulting firm without any conflicts of interest.

"I started that as potential for when I actually stop (working in) public education," he said. "But I haven't done anything with it because of potential of conflict of interest."

- I asked Newsome whether he thinks the performance of all students, regardless of attendance, should be counted toward a teacher's evaluation.

Three times.

Each time, he talked at length about why he felt he shouldn't give a direct answer to that question. And each time, he found a different reason why he shouldn't.

In the end, he never gave a clear answer on whether he thought all students should be counted.

Amber Dixon candidate- Dixon actually did give a clear answer to that one. Which is rather surprising, seeing as any other time over the past few months that I've asked her that question, she has made a point of not answering it.

In the past, she has told me that it's not an interim superintendent's place to be making their personal opinions known about such things -- but that it's her job to follow the law.

This time, she decided to give her opinion.

“I think the performance of all students should be counted toward a teacher’s evaluation. Absolutely. Unequivocally,” she said.

- I asked Dixon the same thing I asked Newsome: What evidence does she have of her ability to improve student achievement?

She said she had been a successful junior high math teacher, then worked with other teachers to create the first assessments in the district. As executive director of evaluation, accountability and project initiatives, she said, she oversaw the implementation of an extended school day and extended school year at several low-performing schools.

"Most of those schools came off the list they were on," she said.

- Dixon has for more than a decade been an administrator in the district that now has a 47 percent graduation rate, I noted.

"We all own a part of where we've let our school system come to," she said. "We all have a role in where we are, as do the federal and state governments. At the same time, we've all helped build a school system where 34,000 kids arrive safe, every day, on buses, into newly rebuilt schools. We have all built the system we are. We don't control everything. I certainly don't point the finger at the administration past. We as a society own these children. We as a society have to look at everything we do.

"Do I own pieces of it? Sure. Do I own other pieces of it? Sure. We did extend the school day. We did get schools off the (schools under registration review) list. It's not as simple as there's a graduation rate near failing. We all own a piece of that, for better or for worse."

- Within her half-hour interview with local reporters, Dixon opened by referring to her frustration with federal requirements under Race to the Top, and toward the end of the interview, declared herself a fan of No Child Left Behind.

"We have to work our way through these perilous times of Race to the Top, where I'm not sure every decision being made is in the best interest of the children," she said.

And then later, she recalled her days as a math teacher, more than a decade ago. At that time, she said, if a student with disabilities did not show up for a test, nobody took much notice. But now, in the era of No Child Left Behind, she said, testing requirements ensure that the data can help schools identify students who are not being adequately served.

"There aren't a lot of supporters of No Child Left Behind, but I'm one of them when it comes to data," she said.

- Mary Pasciak

Get answers to your questions about Say Yes

Last night's webinar answered many of the questions you might have about Say Yes' plans for Buffalo, including the college tuition guarantee.

Here's a sampling of some of the questions and answers we had:

Who will be eligible for the tuition guarantee?

Students who live in the City of Buffalo and graduate from a Buffalo district high school or charter high school within the City of Buffalo. Private school students are not eligible.

Students who have not been enrolled in a Buffalo district or charter school since second grade or earlier are eligible for the tuition guarantee, but at a slightly reduced amount.

When will this go into effect?

The first eligible students will be the Class of 2013.

What expenses are covered?

The guarantee covers tuition only -- not books, fees, room and board or anything else.

Are there restrictions on family income?


What colleges are participating?

Right now, any SUNY or CUNY college is an option. Say Yes is working on building partnerships with private colleges, and is likely to announce a list of participating private colleges soon. But at this point, the tuition guarantee applies only to public colleges in New York.

How much of the tuition will Say Yes cover?

Every participating student first has to fill out a FAFSA form. If a student qualifies for TAP or a Pell grant, that amount is taken off the total that Say Yes contributes. For instance, if a student qualifies for $2,000 in TAP, but tuition is $5,000, Say Yes will contribute $3,000.

Say Yes will pay up to $5,000 a year per student.

More information about each of these questions, as well as a variety of others, is available by listening to a replay of the webinar, which will be available for 90 days at

You just have to take a minute to fill out the registration form online, and then you'll be able to access it. If you've already registered, all you need to do is enter your email address, and then you'll be able to get to it.

Most of the webinar is audio, so you'll want to have the volume on your computer turned up, or have your headphones on.

- Mary Pasciak

Meet one of the superintendent finalists

We now know who the three finalists are for the top job in the Buffalo Public Schools: Pamela Brown, Amber Dixon and Edward Newsome.

Dixon and Newsome will be meeting with the press this week as part of their candidate activities prior to the board interviews on Friday.

Pamela BrownBut Brown, because of a family emergency, was not able to come to town this week. She'll be heading to Buffalo as soon as her situation permits.

But you don't have to wait to meet her.

Here's a clip from WTBN from two years ago, when she was a finalist for the superintendency in Youngstown, Ohio.

In it, Brown -- former assistant superintendent and interim chief academic officer in Philadelphia -- talks about growing up in Mississippi until the age of 9, then having her mother move Brown and her siblings to Los Angeles for better educational opportunities.

After growing up in a low-income, single-parent household, Brown earned a full scholarship to Stanford, she said. She talks about being able to relate to the challenges faced by students in an urban district.

And what does she say is essential for improving student performance?

"When there’s strong instruction and strong support offered in the school setting, it makes all of the difference in the world," she said. "And it does, in fact, account for the majority for the gains students are able to make academically."

- Mary Pasciak

Live blog of School Board meeting at 4 p.m.: Superintendent finalists named

Want to be the first to find out who the three finalists are for the superintendency?

Join me at 4 p.m. for a live blog of the School Board meeting, when the names will be released.

- Mary Pasciak

Buffalo's slow and rocky road to finding a superintendent

We're a day away from learning the names of the three final superintendent candidates. (Well, make that two -- we already know Amber Dixon is one of the three.)

While we don't yet know who all three are, we do know something about how we arrived at them.

It's safe to say that the superintendent search has not gone very smoothly.

First, the search got off to a slow start.

School boardThe School Board knew in mid-August that James Williams would be leaving -- that's when they approved his buyout.

But the board didn't take steps to start a search then.

Dixon took over as interim superintendent in mid-September -- but the board didn't start a search then either.

The board, in fact, waited until the end of September to adopt a timeline for the search. The board at that point decided to issue a request for proposals from search firms in October.

As things unfolded, the board didn't do that until November. And then, once the proposals came in toward the end of November, the board waited more than two months before interviewing search firms. That's right -- it took the board more than five months from the time it approved Williams' buyout before the board sat down to decide who to hire to conduct the search.

Now it's past mid-May, and the board is bringing in finalists to interview -- something that search consultant Lee Pasquarella says is done in most districts in March or April.

What does that mean?

It means most other districts have already made their decisions by now. All these districts are generally competing for the same candidates. Rosalyn Taylor, the board's vice president, acknowledged that Buffalo lost several candidates for a variety of reasons -- including the fact that some had already taken positions elsewhere.

In other words, Buffalo's lack of urgency cost the district some candidates that other districts decided to scoop up in the meantime.

We also know that while Buffalo has been spinning its wheels since December over the teacher evaluation issue, plenty of the city's superintendent candidates have been following the situation -- from the clashes between the teachers union and the state Education Department to the loss of Johns Hopkins University as a partner at two schools to the continued uncertainty over millions in state and federal funds this year and next.

That, too, has cost the district some candidates.

And let's not forget that in the middle of it all, Pasquarella -- the president of Cascade Consulting Group, whom the board hired to find the next superintendent -- made a point of telling the board that after hearing from more than 400 people in the community, he concluded that Buffalo is in worse shape than pretty much any of the other 200 districts across the country he's worked with.

(Also worth noting: turnout at the community forums for input on the search process was so poor that it left the board and the consultant scratching their heads, wondering -- after the fact -- what went wrong.)

"It is fair to say, based on the surveys you will see and focus groups, nobody is happy with the conditions of the schools today," Pasquarella told the board in March. "Board members are not happy. Teachers are not happy. Union people are not happy. Leadership in the community is not happy."

Will any of that change with the results of the superintendent search? Stay tuned.

- Mary Pasciak

How will that free college tuition work? And other questions

Say Yes to Education announced in December that it would be partnering with Buffalo schools.

There are essentially three elements involved: a shared governance model for the schools; reallocating resources to provide more services to more children; and -- the piece that grabbed parents' attention the most -- a college tuition guarantee.

Where do things stand right now with Say Yes' plans for Buffalo? When and where will we start seeing changes? How will the tuition guarantee work?

All those questions -- and more -- will be answered in a webinar at 7 p.m. Thursday, here at

You're invited to join us for the session -- just take a minute to register (for free, of course) at

Several key people will join me on Thursday: Say Yes President Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon, School Board President Lou Petrucci and parent leader Sam Radford.

I'll be moderating the panel discussion, so that means I get to ask them pretty much anything. And I want to ask what you want me to ask.


What do you want to know about Say Yes? This is your chance to get your questions answered.

There are two ways you can do that.

Post them in a comment here, email them to me at, send me a Facebook message at, or tweet me @MaryPasciak. I'll make sure the most common and most important questions are addressed during the webinar.

We will also be taking reader questions directly for a few minutes at the end of the webinar on Thursday. Looking forward to seeing you then!

- Mary Pasciak

Shining stars: Class of '12 Academic All-Stars

Through hard work, determination and perseverance, these Western New York teens from the Class of '12 have risen to the top.

On May 17, 246 high school seniors from the public, parochial and private schools of Erie and Niagara counties were honored at the 32nd annual Scholastic Achievement Recognition Dinner sponsored by the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association. The students honored were the top three academic scholars from each of 82 area high schools.

Former Buffalo Sabres all-star player Rene Robert was the keynote speaker at the dinner, which was held at the Buffalo Niagara Marriott in Amherst. The students each received a crystal bison to honor their accomplishments.

Here are this year's Academic All-Stars broken down by pages (PDF) as they appeared in Thursday's Next section:

Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6, Page 7

How impartial is the impartial hearing officer?

In the next two weeks or so, Buffalo school officials should be getting a decision from the district's April 26 hearing in Albany regarding the legality of the state's suspension of school improvement grants.

Albany hearingIn the three weeks since that hearing, plenty of people have been wondering why the impartial hearing officer was someone who works for Commissioner John KIng.

Sharon Cates-Williams, an associate commissioner, made $147,000 in the most recent year available through payrolls posted at She will be the person issuing a decision on what was essentially her boss' decision to suspend $5.6 million in school improvement grants to Buffalo.

When King was in town this week, Mike Desmond from WNED noted the skepticism surrounding the impartial hearing officer and asked King why an outside party had not been tapped for the job.

"That’s another attempt to distract from a very important question: Was the law followed -- yes or no?" King said. "The (evaluation) agreements submitted were inconsistent with the law. It’s a very straightforward question."

- 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 |