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The NAACP letters: Mesiah and King

Last week, local NAACP leader Frank Mesiah wrote a letter to state Education Commissioner John King about teacher evaluations that count all students, regardless of attendance, saying that "the intended goal of the State Education Department is to destory the Buffalo Public Schools, the morale of the Buffalo teachers and the Buffalo Teachers Federation."

This week, King responded: "As educators, we cannot abdicate all responsibility for students who are chronically absent. Instead, we must work with them and their families to help them get back on track. These students have been forgotten too many times already."

Here's the full text of both letters.

May 10, 2012

Dear Commissioner King:

It is my understanding that one apparent issue between the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the State Administration is an attendance clause within an evaluation agreement impacting on the teachers.

Further, it is also my understanding that 60% of such evaluation will be based upon the principal's evaluation. Twenty percent, 20% of the NYSED growth measure used in a teacher's evaluation will be determined by standardized tests/Regents tests. And the final 20% local component will consider the student test scores in the teacher's specific tenure area.

MesiahIs it true that the 20% NYSED and 20% local component of the teacher evaluation segment may be scored in the negative even if a significant number of students, in that teacher's class, missed seven weeks of instruction? It seems the SED department is saying it has a flawed evaluation model that punishes teachers for failing to teach students who are regularly absent from class; and it is the intended goal of the State Education Department to destroy the Buffalo Public Schools, the morale of the Buffalo teachers and the Buffalo Teachers Federation.

Where is the fairness logic behind this selective evalution design of teachers? How can a teacher be held responsible for the evaluation of students who missed seven weeks of instruction? This would be like holding the arson squad in one city responsible for the arson fires in another city of which it has no responsibilities.

Based upon the above, how in good conscience can school funding be denied our children when that funding is based on such a flawed evaluation design?

I write this letter not only as President of the Buffalo Branch NAACP, but as a former NYS teacher certified to teach K-6, and with a School District Administrators Certificate.

Your response to the issues discussed above would be appreciated.

Sincerely,

Frank B. Mesiah
President
Buffalo Branch, NAACP

And King's response:

Dear President Mesiah:

Thank you for your May 10, 2012 letter, in which you express your concerns regarding New York State’s teacher and principal evaluation system and its implementation in the Buffalo City School District. You specifically ask whether it is true that the 20 percent State growth subcomponent and the 20 percent local measures subcomponent “may be scored in the negative even if a significant number of students, in that teacher’s class, missed seven weeks of instruction.”

Although there seems to be some misunderstanding, the attendance issue with respect to evaluations has been resolved: the State Education Department has already approved the substance of the Buffalo City School District and the Buffalo Federation of Teachers submission regarding factoring student attendance into the evaluation process. The Buffalo City School District’s March 23, 2012 submission, signed by the Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF), required several technical changes and corrections to comply with federal and State laws and regulations. None of the changes have a substantive impact on the provisions regarding the factoring of attendance. The substantive provisions of Buffalo’s March 23 submission are consistent with the Department’s position on the attendance issue.

John King at NYSUTThe Department’s position is clear: attendance can be included as an adjustment factor in the evaluation plans. However, it should be just that – a factor, not a reason to exclude an entire segment of students (particularly large numbers of low-income students and students of color) from the evaluation process. As educators, we cannot abdicate all responsibility for students who are chronically absent. Instead, we must work with them and their families to help them get back on track. These students have been forgotten too many times already. If there is no accountability at all, they will likely be condemned to a lifetime of poverty and desperation. Buffalo has endured too many generations of forgotten students; I cannot approve an evaluation plan that allows another generation to slip away.

I join you in urging the Buffalo School District, the BTF, and the leadership of the City of Buffalo to launch a community-wide discussion of how best to improve student attendance. The future of the City of Buffalo depends on closing both the achievement gap and the engagement gap that are obstacles to student success.

As you note, the Buffalo City School District has submitted evaluation plans containing attendance provisions for purposes of 2011-2012 School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding. Buffalo’s initial submissions were unacceptable because they contained a blanket exclusion of students based on attendance rendering large numbers of students invisible. However, Buffalo’s March 23, 2012 submission contained attendance provisions – that adjust expectations for chronic absenteeism – and needed only minor technical corrections (that did not impact the substance of the attendance provisions) to meet federal and state law and regulations. The April 18th submission that includes both the attendance provision and the technical changes required to comply with federal and state law and regulations was signed by the Superintendent and the bargaining unit for principals, but not the BTF. I have repeatedly indicated that I will approve the April 18th plan – which accounts for chronic absenteeism and complies with the law – if the BTF will sign it.

We all have the same goal: to give students the best possible educational opportunities and the best possible chance to succeed in college and careers. Unfortunately, for far too many students of color in Buffalo, that goal has been a promise unfulfilled. An evaluation system that helps educators improve teaching and learning is a critical step toward providing the opportunities students need.

For decades, Buffalo schools have offered discouragement instead of hope. I want to change that. Growing up in Brooklyn, there were countless times my teachers could have written me off because I was an urban African-American and Latino male or because my parents passed away and weren’t there to provide me with support. But my teachers didn’t write me off, and school became my refuge, a place that gave me the opportunity to grow and learn. I will not write off the students of Buffalo, even those struggling with chronic absenteeism. They deserve the same chances I had. The school district, administrators, teachers, families and the community must all take responsibility for working together to ensure that happens. I know you share that same commitment.

Sincerely,

John B. King, Jr.
Commissioner

- Mary Pasciak

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

How many teachers would move next year?

The School Board decided Wednesday to decide on June 6 whether to submit turnaround plans for East and Lafayette high schools and Buffalo Elementary School of Technology.

The district in December submitted plans to hire outside groups to run those schools -- but those plans are contingent on the district submitting a teacher evaluation plan by July 1. And at this point, it remains to be seen whether that will happen.

These alternative plans are those that each building principal coordinated in the fall. Each one requires that half the teachers be moved, per federal guidelines.

The union, you might recall, has consistently fought such plans. Phil Rumore calls it the "stupid 50 percent rule" and says it would cause chaos throughout the district, given the bumping that would likely occur.

Darren Brown, who runs the district's human resources department, gave the board his current estimates on how many teachers would have to be moved out of each of those three schools in 2012-13, along with the other three schools that have already submitted turnaround plans to the state.

Although the federal rules require that half the teachers be moved, the actual number is much less than half.

That's partly because the district has options on how it counts instructional staff, and partly because teachers who have been in the school for a year or less are allowed to stay.

At the six schools -- the three that are definitely moving teachers (Bilingual Center, Futures and Drew), plus the three that are likely to (East, Lafayette and BEST) -- there are a total of 363 teachers, according to the info Brown provided. Of those, 76 -- about one out of five overall -- have been at their respective schools a year or less.

The district is still tweaking its numbers, but at this point, it looks like 107 teachers, total, at the six schools would have to move. (That's almost one-third of the teachers in those schools. There are a total of about 3,500 teachers in the district.)

Here's the breakdown, by school:

School Total teachers Teachers there one year or less Teachers to be moved Teachers who requested voluntary transfers
BEST 57 11 18 25
Bilingual Center 33 52 8 18 34
Futures Academy 55 9 19 30
Drew Science Magnet 36 5 13 17
Lafayette 93 27 20 22
East 70 16 19 36

 

Brown says that at each of the schools, the number of teachers who requested voluntary transfers for 2012-13 exceeds the number of teachers who have to move.

Generally, of course, only a fraction of the teachers in the district who request a voluntary transfer actually get one, seeing as the voluntary transfers are a function of openings that arise.

- Mary Pasciak

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

Review chat with News reporters from school elections night

Video: Reaction from votes in the Ken-Ton District

Video: Understanding the property tax cap

Today, for the first time, suburban voters across the state are voting on school budgets proposed under the state's simple 2 percent tax cap, explained in this Q&A by Barbara O'Brien and Mary Pasciak. O'Brien talks more about how the tax cap works and discusses its ramifications with the superintendent of the Holland schools in this video:

Don't forget to come to BuffaloNews.com tonight for complete coverage of the local school votes. An interactive chat starts at 8 p.m., and a live video webcast begins at 10 p.m. Plus, we'll have the latest results and analysis throughout the night.

North Tonawanda school board candidates

Six candidates are seeking three seats on the North Tonawanda School Board. The News invited candidates in contested races to tell voters why they should vote for them.

Darlene Bolsover

Working with the Parent Group Organizations as Volunteer, Member of SDM, President of NTMS
Parent Partnership and Treasurer of Spruce Home and School Org. I have enjoyed giving of my
time and saw the benefits to the students and families. I am now looking to serve the whole of
the community with that same sense of dedication, compassion, and perseverance.

My strong devotion for North Tonawanda comes from the fact that my three children are 5th
generation students. Having children in all levels of education I have an understanding of
students and teachers needs and challenges that they face in achieving the children’s
educational goals.

I want to intensify that fire of pride to this district so that all who say NT Schools can
do so knowing that their children, grandchildren, niece or nephew are receiving the best
academic, technological, supportive, caring and financial responsible education that can be
offered.  To do so there will be times that call for hard decisions and compromise but for the
best interests of the students it can be done, it must be done.

I thank you for your support in electing Darlene Bolsover as a member of the NT School
board to represent the children and the families of North Tonawanda the city I call home.

Michael P. Carney

The challenge of serving on a board of education is trying to strike a balance between
providing a great education for our children and holding the line on spending to be responsive
to taxpayers. Never has this challenge been as daunting as it has been during our current
fiscal crisis.

The fact is tax increases and cutting into our children's educational experience have to be
our last options. The fact is too often everything is viewed with the idea that these areas
are the only two choices. Looking at things differently is the basis of my candidacy for NT
School Board.

We must begin to find ways to lower our cost structure in creative ways.  For example, what
services can we share with the city and county to become more efficient? How can we convince
our state elected officials the time is now for our district to experience unfunded mandate
relief? Can our district be a pilot for some type of mandate relief from the state? Can we
share functions with neighboring districts?

My record as a school board member has been one of fiscal restraint and wise investments in
our children. I want to continue to put my experience to work for NT residents focusing on the
areas I outlined above. I am willing and able to make tough decisions in tough times.

Good schools are important to property values, to our community's reputation and above all
else, North Tonawanda's future. Preserving good schools starts with electing the right school
board members. 

Dorothy (Dotti) A. Kuebler

I am a retired account clerk from the Noth Tonawanda School District and have lived in
North Tonawanda for 46 yrs.

I have 3 grown children who attended North Tonawanda schools and 7 grandchildren who are
attending North Tonawanda elementary schools.

My main priority is the education of our children. The goal of the school district should
be to provide a quality education for the children and I feel North Tonawanda is working hard
to accomplish this.

With the bad economy people are facing for the next few years, we have to look for ways to
keep taxes down without cutting away at our children's programs. I feel my 16 years working
for the school district in various schools but mostly working at the administration building
is a benefit.

I have seen the day to day operations of the school district. I feel there are ways to save
taxpayers without hurting the children. I will make myself available to listen to anyone who
has ideas or needs help.

Kevin LoCicero

Kevin LoCicero is a sergeant with the Niagara County Sheriff's Department, and was a former
city police officer for the City of Richmond, Virginia.

Kevin was a 1979 graduate from Niagara County Community College and attended Virginia
Commonwealth University with a degree in Criminal Justice. He has been a resident of North
Tonawanda for 26 years and resides with his wife and two children, Maria and Nicholas who were
NT High School graduates and have graduated from college.

Kevin has been active in the North Tonawanda Community. He coached youth baseball and was
the team manager for the NT High School Varsity Hockey Team for three years. He was an officer
on the Girls Varsity and JV Swim and Dive team booster club. Kevin and his wife Julie were
chaperones for the NTHS Ski Club for three years.

Kevin has been involved in several organizations such The Niagara County Sherriff's DARE
Program and (SMA) Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Kevin has held positions such as president and vice
president of the Police Benevolent Association, NYS Police Instructor and is an instructor at
Niagara University teaching criminal justice/ethics.

Kevin would like to take this opportunity to ask for your support to be your voice on the
North Tonawanda School Board. The past three years of experience as a school board member has
provided me with a wealth of knowledge regarding programs, budget and New York State funding
practices. I believe I have developed the skills to balance and control district spending
while working to maintain and develop quality programs for our students. We have been able to
save and continue to offer programs such as  Reading Recovery, Foreign Language, SAT
Preparation and Academy Programs. It is my intention to continue to improve the efficiency of
our administrative staff, and to give every student an opportunity to succeed.

"Education is a gift which keeps our community strong."

James Martineck

The recent economic downturn led to the cutting of academic and extracurricular programs,
and with a reduction of state aid, could lead to further cuts.

My children will be in the district for the next 12 years, and I want to ensure that the
programs available to them and their peers today will be available for them in the future.

My education and experience qualifies me to formulate budgets and plans that will keep
programs available to the youth of the district.  I would like to evaluate all the district's
programs on a cost-benefit basis and make sure the students get the best value for their
parent's tax dollars.

Lisa Spencer

I am an involved and concerned stay at home mother of a second grade son and kindergarten
daughter. For the past three years I have volunteered in my children's classrooms three days a
week and have seen the demands NY state is putting on each of these kids and teachers while
taking more and more away from them. I will advocate for smaller classroom sizes and encourage
a decrease in administration positions.

I will redirect the focus back on the educational needs for all of the elementary, middle
school and high school levels.

I will remain firm on my stance regarding how each of the boards decisions or ideas will
affect our children's education in the classroom and affect the community as a whole.
I will not be persuaded to deviate from my beliefs. I am not afraid to ask the tough questions
and can think for myself. I do not have any political ties within North Tonawanda. 

East Aurora school board candidates

Five candidates are seeking two seats on the East Aurora School Board. The News invited candidates in contested races to tell voters why they should vote for them.

MaryBeth Covert

It is difficult to believe that nearly six years have passed since I was first elected to
serve on the School Board. As a seven-member board, each of us brings a varied set of
experiences and temperaments to the table, but our common goal remains for all children of
this district to receive an excellent, well-rounded education. That goal has been at the
forefront of our accomplishments in recent years, which include the completion of our
facilities expansion, the selection of a new Superintendent, and the addition of the Math
Science Academy at the High School.

This years' budget process was the most challenging since beginning my tenure on the board.
The implementation of the property tax cap combined with decreasing revenues forced us to
make difficult decisions.  As a board member, I strive to balance the needs of our students
with the ability of the community to absorb an increasing tax burden.

We face additional challenges. We must negotiate a successful contract with our teachers
union in order to preserve programs and maintain a positive financial position. Responding to
that challenge will require a collaborative effort. In addition, we need to oversee the
successful implementation of the Common Core Standards and the Annual Professional Performance
Review mandates and make sure that our administrators and faculty have the support they need
to guarantee our students and teachers succeed under these new measurements.

As a proud East Aurora graduate, and a parent of two children in the district, I remain
dedicated to working to continue the success of our schools. I ask for your support in my
re-election effort, and look forward to working with our skilled administrators, teachers and
staff, to make certain the education offered by the East Aurora schools will remain
outstanding and will always be a source of pride for our community.

Kimberlee Danieu

After practicing law for approximately 20 years, I decided to step away from the practice
of law to spend more time with my family and devote more time to community service. I have
never run for office.

I am running for the School Board because I am committed to seeing our district strive for
excellence in all facets of the educational experience. To remain one of the premier school
systems, our district must provide an environment that challenges each child to reach his full
potential. Our students deserve a well-rounded educational foundation that exposes them not
only to academics but also to the arts, athletics and extracurricular activities.

Fortunately, we have a strong school system with inspiring teachers and dedicated
administrators. During these challenging budgetary times, the teachers, community,
administrators and board must work together to achieve our common goal of excellence in
education balanced with fiscal stewardship. We must explore all available funding, streamline
costs and make certain our program offerings are cost-effective without jeopardizing the high
quality of education.

I recognize the significant time commitment that service on the school board requires and
would welcome the opportunity to serve my community. With my legal background and service on
various boards, I am prepared to analyze the complex issues and work effectively with the
other board members to develop solutions that best meet the needs of our students and the
community as a whole.

Kenneth Horton

My platform for election to the East Aurora School Board centers on the student, and a
community partnership. To promote an open and pure connectedness between the board and the
community.  Members of the Board work for the community, the people who pay the taxes, and the
students who attend the schools, not for the school administration.  It is also a priority to
bring the philosophy of the board, in a transparent and fact based dialog to the community.
All current Board members, as well as Board candidates are, or should be, "pro-student."  To
be pro-student, you also have to be "pro-teacher", supporting the teacher, not specifically in
contracts and negotiations, but in the classroom, giving them the opportunity to work their
chosen profession and passion for educating our children. This means furnishing the teachers
with the necessary class time and administrative resources to do their primary job.

The Board is in need of new ideas and opinions to facilitate discussion, to decipher
current issues and to widen their vision to anticipate and meet head on issues that they will
most certainly face in the future. We are in difficult fiscal times, and there is pain in
budget cuts, numerous mandates from the State and declining funds from that same State to
cover their mandates, or to cover the costs of abiding a long lasting, top echelon tradition
such as East Aurora. The pain must be spread out, cutting as much in the administrative
department as possible, before making cuts in the classroom. The tax cap has also put the
district in a predicament, as in the past; the Board did not have the forethought to make the
inflationary increases necessary in anticipating the ever increasing costs. The Board must
prioritize their short and long term goals with a true sense of fiscal responsibility, and
community need.

S. Dennis Holbrook

Serving on the East Aurora School Board is very much about providing a high quality educational experience to students in our community while balancing the burden on the taxpayer.

I joined the board nearly a decade ago when I was concerned about a Halloween incident
involving our high school students and the local police. At that time I had four children in
the school system including my eldest who was a high school sophomore, who witnessed
first-hand the confrontation. I firmly believed that East Aurora was too nice a community to
have such a major disconnect between our students and the police representing the community.
At that time East Aurora was typically ranked among the high quality school districts but
usually behind the neighboring school districts of Orchard Park and Iroquois.

Since that time we have made tremendous progress and our school district has consistently
been ranked not only above our neighbors but now in the top three among the hundreds of public
school districts in western New York. Rankings are important but of more significance is how
well we prepare our students for future success.

I continue to follow with great interest and pride their academic successes and career
advancements brought about in no small measure by the solid educational foundation provided
during their years in the East Aurora school system.

There are no simple cure-all solutions to the challenges of balancing school budgets with
limited revenues while facing ever increasing cost for services related to state inspired
health and retirement benefits and automatic salary step progressions.  Clearly, a
collaborative and cooperative approach involving teacher unions and the district is absolutely
necessary to bring about needed change to a process that would otherwise result in ever
increasing layoffs of many of our younger, talented and most energetic teachers.

Lackawanna school board candidates

Five candidates are seeking three seats on the Lackawanna School Board. The News invited candidates in contested races to tell voters why they should vote for them.

 Gambino
Maureen Gambino

I was one of eight children that was born and raised in Lackawanna. My parents are still
living in the house I grew up in which is in the 1rst ward of the city. My husband and I live
and work in the city. I am seeking re-election to the Lackawanna School Board of Trustees
because I care about what happens in the schools and for the future of the children. My family
has a long line of educators in it. My daughter, son-in-law, sister-in-law, two nephews and a
niece are teachers.  I take education very seriously.

I have served on the current board since being elected last May and prior to that was
appointed by the board in November of 2010 to fill a vacancy.  We have an excellent working
relationship with the superintendent as well as with the mayor.  We have had to make major
adjustments due to budget concerns and have implemented many changes and have many more to
follow through with.

Popularity isn't something that comes with the position but that's never been one of my
concern. Sometime you have to make tough decisions and not everyone is going to like it but
you have stand by what you believe.  That's not something I take lightly.  If I give you my
word, you can count on it.  I will continue to work diligently with the other members of the
board upon re-election on Tuesday, May 15th.

Kowalski
 Leonard Kowalski

I am motivated to run for Lackawanna School Board Trustee because all three of my boys
attend Lackawanna Public Schools.  I also have four nieces enrolled in the school district, so
my family has a lot invested in this education system.  In addition, I also believe that the
parents in this community need someone on the board to fight for their children.

As an individual I think I have a lot to offer the district.  I graduated from Lackawanna
High School and went on to get my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Civil Engineering from the
University at Buffalo. I think my education, technical experience and motivation make me a
good candidate for school board trustee.

Below are a few things that I would like to accomplish if I am fortunate enough to be
elected.

I think the biggest problem facing the school district right now it that it has an image
problem. People who were born and raised here don't think that the district is good enough for
their children, and that is a major problem.  If we can't retain our own citizens, it just
isn't good for the city as a whole.  So my first focus would be to try and improve the image
of the school district within the community.

We also need to focus on improving parent involvement.  Everyone knows that education
starts at home and parents are a critical partner in the learning process. We also need to
make sure that tax dollars are being wisely spent and that we are keeping the tax payer in
mind when developing the budget.  Throwing more money at problem is never the answer.

I also believe that there should be more polling districts throughout the City.  Limiting
each Ward to a single polling site is a deliberate way to try and control the vote, especially
in the 1st Ward.  A single polling site located in Bethlehem Park disenfranchises the African
American, Arab American, elderly, and those who lack transportation throughout the remainder
of the 1st Ward.  It is political tactics like this that no longer can be tolerated.

And finally, I am going to focus on education and not employment.  My goal is to work on
trying to remove political influence from district hiring and to stabilize the current
learning environment.  We need to let the educators do what they were hired to do and keep
politics out of our school system.

A strong public school system is a critical component to strong and healthy community.  If
we cannot provide our children with a good education, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

 Makeyenko
John Makeyenko

John Makeyenko was born, raised and, except for the period of his military service, has
lived in Lackawanna virtually his entire life. Married to the former Sissy Geary, he is 47
years old and the father of four children.  He is employed full-time with the Lackawanna
Municipal Housing Authority, serves as a City Marshall for Lackawanna and is a U.S. Marine
Corp Veteran.

Currently the President of the Board of Education, John is seeking election to his 5th term
on the Board.

He proudly points to his efforts in spearheading the construction of the Martin Road
Elementary School in 2002, along with his more recent efforts in helping to expand ELA and
Math AP courses in the District, the introduction of the "Inspiring Minds" Mentoring Program
and in securing State funding for capital improvements at Truman Elementary School at no cost
to the taxpayers as some of his achievements as a Board Member.

Robert Sireika

As a member of the 1997 and 1998 State Championship football team for Lackawanna, I take
great pride in graduating from Lackawanna High School. The school system has been poorly run
for the last few years. Last year, Business First, rated Lackawanna academic performance 119
out of 133 high schools in the eight counties of Western New York. It's time to demand more
out of our school system.

It's time to demand a better education for the children in Lackawanna Schools. We have many
highly qualified teachers in the Lackawanna School System. However, they often struggle with
challenges of an underdeveloped support system. Guidelines and rules are in place to allow the
school system to run smoothly. It is imperative that our school system provide an environment
that is conducive to teaching, by imposing strict behavioral guidelines, allowing students to
learn at their highest potential.

I believe in a board transparency, as well as involving parents and teachers in important
decision making regarding budgets and education. As a former student athlete I am a huge
supporter of extracurricular activities providing a safe and structured alternate to the
streets. I am committed to developing a budget that does not punish students by taking away
extracurricular offerings or amenities. I believe it's time for new ideas, new voices and new
perspectives.

I want to be a part of getting the Lackawanna School System on track to thrive.
  

Mark Kowalski

I am a 32-year-old jifelong resident of Lackawanna and graduated from Lackawanna
High School in 1998.

I received an associate's degree from ECC South in 2000 for completing the Ford ASSET
program in automotive technology. I have been employed by the City of Lackawanna as a Police
Officer for the past four years.

 My reasons for running are:

  -- Two children currently enrolled in the Lackawanna School system.

  -- Working toward fiscal stability to curtail layoffs to teachers and staff.

   -- Instill more discipline in our schools and encourage more parental involvement.

   -- And lastly, to be a voice for our whole community working together to achieve one common
goal and that's providing the best education that we can for our children.

 

Attention all voters! Meet your district's school board candidates

School budgets get a lot of attention this time of year, but in many communities there are also a number of school board seats on Tuesday's ballot. The News asked school board candidates in the districts with competitive races to share some information about themselves and their views so that voters can learn more before making a choice.

Click on a district name below to read that district's candidate profiles:

--Amherst

--Clarence

--East Aurora

--Hamburg

--Holland

--Kenmore-Tonawanda

--Lackawanna

--North Tonawanda

--Sweet Home

--City of Tonawanda

--West Seneca

--Wilson

Enough about the evals -- what about the attendance problem?

There's a whole lot of talk about teacher evaluations and how or if students with poor attendance should count toward a teacher's evaluation.

That would all be a moot point if Buffalo didn't have such a big attendance problem.

But right now, the key players -- including Amber Dixon, Phil Rumore and Sam Radford -- are focused on the evaluations, not attendance.

Yes, the district has a pilot program in place at several schools to boost attendance. Yes, attendance is inching up in a number of schools. And yes, it is still so bad overall that many teachers feel it is unfair to count all students toward a teacher's evaluation.

I was talking recently to an administrator in the district who wondered why the School Board -- in all these months that the attendance issue has been such a sticking point -- has not decided to take a look at revising its attendance policy to respond to the problems and concerns in the district.

A few months ago, when the attendance issue exploded in Buffalo, I reported that countless teachers said student attendance got markedly worse in 2005, when the board eliminated the portion of the policy that said students could not take the final exam if they missed more than 28 days. ("Back when Buffalo had a minimum attendance requirement for students")

Teachers and administrators at the time pointed to the attendance policy change -- along with a change in grading policy that required teachers to give students no grade lower than a 50 -- for a marked drop in attendance.

We ran a story in June 2006 that said, in part:

For the attendance period that ended March 31, 12 of 13 city high schools had lower attendance rates than they did during the corresponding period last school year.  

In many cases, the drop was severe. Riverside's rate fell from 78.5 to 67 percent; Seneca's from 82.2 to 74.5 percent; East's from 81.1 to 77.3 percent; and Lafayette's from 83.8 to 78.6 percent. School officials say attendance rates of less than 90 percent are unacceptable.

Back in March, Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes told me there was no way the district would ever return to such a policy, saying it was unfair and blamed the parents for attendance problems.

Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon, though, said it was time to take another look at the policy. "I did direct our principals to start looking at that and make a recommendation," she said. 

I haven't heard a word about it since then from Dixon.

And at no point have I heard any discussion about this at the board table, from the people who were elected to set policy for the district.

Hmm.

On a related note, this morning, I had a conversation with Frank Mesiah, president of the local chapter of the NAACP. Mesiah, remember, just sent a letter to the state education commissioner, saying it's unfair for the state to count all students toward a teacher's evalution.

What he was most troubled by was the fact that what he referred to as the three parties -- the district administration, the teachers union and the parents -- are not sitting down to figure out what's at the root of the attendance problem and how to fix it.

"If people don't sit down and start talking about it, there's no way to come to a resolution," Mesiah said. "Why are we not getting kids to school?"

The three groups need to sit down in a non-threatening way, he said, with no media there, so that there's a real conversation going on, not grandstanding.

Each group bears some responsibility in addressing the larger issues, Mesiah said.

"You have to examine why the children are not getting into that school. What is it parents are not doing to see to it their children are getting to school?" he said. "And then once they get to school, why aren't teachers able to teach them? Is it because of teacher absenteeism? Is it because teachers are not trained to teach in an urban environment? And what is it the Board of Education can do? Is it necessary to rehire that group of truant officers to get kids in school?"

He says it's time for someone in the community with enough credibility to call the three groups together and have them start working on addressing the underlying issues. (Mesiah, by the way, wasn't volunteering himself for the job, nor was he suggesting anybody in particular.)

"Even in a war where you have two sides, each side says, you give a little and I'll give a little," he said. "But when both sides are like kamikazes, there's no end to it. It's just the destruction of both of us."

- Mary Pasciak

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

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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 | [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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