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Live blog of joint meeting of School Board and Common Council, 3 p.m.

Please join me at 3 p.m., when the School Board and Common Council hold a joint meeting in council chambers.

I'll continue live blogging when the School Board convenes its regular meeting at 4:30 p.m. Here is the packet of personnel changes, contracts and other items for tonight's meeting.

- Mary Pasciak

What's so different about this eval plan?

Buffalo teachers are in the process of voting on the latest teacher evaluation agreement. Voting is scheduled to wrap up today.

State Ed, the district administration and the teachers union leadership have all given it the thumbs-up (although Phil Rumore's approval was contingent on an affirmative vote by the teachers).

What, exactly, is different about this agreement, compared to the one teachers rejected at the end of March?

Four things are different. (For a copy of the full agreement, click here. The changes from the last version are highlighted.)

Here's the nitty gritty:

- Teachers in schools where 20 percent or more of the students do not speak English as their native language will have two points added to their overall score, which is out of a possible 100 points.

Out of the six schools covered by the 2011-12 evaluation agreement, only two -- International School 45 and Riverside Institute of Technology -- would be affected by this provision. Any teacher at either of those schools who gets an 80 on their evaluation overall, for example, would have two points added, for a total of 82 points, to compensate for the concentration of English language learners in their building.

- An attendance provision has been extended to teachers of grades 4 to 8, English language arts and math, at the elementary schools. The March version of the evaluation agreement included an attendance provision for the four high schools (Bennett, Burgard, Riverside and South Park), but not for the two elementary schools, International School 45 and Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute.

This version of the agreement stipulates that in elementary schools where the percentage of students with chronic (missing 10 to 20 percent of the school year -- 18 to 35 days) and severe chronic (missing 20 percent or more of the school year -- 36 days or more) absenteeism is greater than or equal to 35 percent, two points will be added to one 20-point section of the teacher's evaluation.

The new provision would apply to MLK (where 43 percent of students miss 10 percent or more of the school year), but not to School 45 (where 22 percent of students miss that much school), based on the most recent attendance study available from the district. It's not clear, though, from the evaluation agreement which school year the attendance stats will be drawn from.

- Two charts for one 20-point measure for elementary school teachers (one for those outside of grades 4 to 8 ELA and math, and one for those in grades 4 to 8 ELA and math) have been tweaked. Now, a teacher getting nine points in that section (which is worth up to 20 points) will be considered "effective" instead of "developing."

- One chart for high school teachers has been tweaked. This chart pertains to the schoolwide increase in the percentage of students getting five course credits toward graduation.

Under the new chart, a schoolwide increase of 0.7 to 0.99 percent will be considered "developing" instead of "ineffective." A schoolwide increase of 1.75 to 1.89 percent will be considered "effective" instead of "developing." And a schoolwide increase of 2.8 to 3 percent will be considered "highly effective" instead of "effective," and will give each teacher one to three more points than under the old chart.

What stays the same in the new agreement is the attendance provision for high school teachers. In any high school where the combined percentage of students with chronic and severe chronic absenteeism is greater than the district average, allowances will be made on one 20-point section.

It appears that will apply to all four high schools, whose student absenteeism is far worse than the district average.

- Mary Pasciak

Brown a finalist, but not selected, for Michigan job

We already knew that Pamela Brown had applied to become superintendent in Youngstown, Ohio, and Joliet, Ill., in the past couple of years -- each district one-fourth to one-third the size of Buffalo.

In both cases, she was a finalist but didn't get the job.

Well, add one more to the list of jobs Brown vied for but didn't get: superintendent in West Bloomfield, Mich.

Brown with micsA month ago, Brown was identified as one of four finalists in that town, which is about a half-hour from Detroit. West Bloomfield, with 6,600 students, is almost as big as West Seneca, and about the same size as the other districts where Brown had been a finalist.

Instead of Brown, the West Bloomfield board picked Gerald Hill, a superintendent in Glenview, Ill.

An announcement on the school district's website reported:

At a public Board meeting, all candidates fielded questions from the Board that ranged from their relationships with school board members to how each approaches serious budget and educational issues. Dr. Hill stated to the board that he sees himself as Superintendent in West Bloomfield for at least the next ten years.

Following the final interview on Saturday, the Board discussed all four candidates, and unanimously decided to offer the position to Dr. Gerald Hill. Facilitated by Ray and Associates, the search firm hired by the district, a phone call was placed immediately to make the offer to Dr. Hill who accepted the position. President Tobin stated that the acceptance is subject to negotiation of mutually acceptable terms.

Immediately following the meeting at the ACS and receiving the acceptance from Dr. Hill, Tobin stated, "We've interviewed four excellent candidates, any of whom would have served us well. Dr. Hill had, by far, the most experience as superintendent, along with consistency, stability, and work in a community similar to ours."

- Mary Pasciak

Live blog of School Board meeting at 5 p.m.: plans for Lafayette, East

Please join me at 5 p.m. for a live blog of tonight's School Board meeting. The board is expected to discuss turnaround plans for East and Lafayette high schools.


- Mary Pasciak

Brown on evals, scripted lessons, parent engagement and more

Buffalo got to meet Pamela Brown, the third superintendent finalist, yesterday.

Today's story touches on some of the highlights from her group interview with reporters.(We already wrote about the other two candidates, Amber Dixon and Edward Newsome. Here's the story we had about the two of them, along with a blog post with additional info that didn't fit into that story, and a summary of the three candidates' educational and work histories.)

There's plenty more from yesterday's interview with Brown that we couldn't fit into today's story. Here's some of it:

- Brown, like Newsome, worked as a kindergarten teacher early in her career. As a bilingual teacher, she taught students in English as well as Spanish.

Brown interview- She extensively cited her experience as an elementary school principal in Charlotte, N.C., saying each of the three schools she worked at was a turnaround situation. She cited impressive improvement -- far more impressive than North Carolina schools data seems to indicate.

Her resume says that during the four years she was principal at Bruns Avenue Elementary, the school showed the highest growth in reading in the district, and the second-highest growth in math.

State data, though, shows that reading scores increased from 57 percent at or above grade level to 70 percent -- less than half the 30 percentage point increase she cited during the interview.

And math scores actually dropped nearly 30 points, according to state data.

- Asked how the schools can engage parents, she said there are different ways for parents to get involved. One of the most important, she said, is what happens at home, in terms of parents encouraging their children to do well in school.

"Sometimes just the way parents refer to the school [makes a difference]. If parents refer positively to the school, normally, children do, as well," she said. "We have to reach out to parents and let them know we want them to be part of the school. When they visit, we want them to feel welcome. Sometimes it's how well-received parents feel when they enter our buildings."

- In Philadelphia, Brown was hired as an assistant superintendent. After about a year, she was promoted to serve as interim chief academic officer. She was not given the job on a permanent basis. Instead, she returned to her position as an assistant superintendent. She says she was appointed interim chief academic officer "with the understanding the district was going to go through a reorganization at the end of that school year."

- Philadelphia was not exactly a calm place when Brown worked there. Arlene Ackerman, the superintendent who hired her, was forced out, with a $900,000 buyout on her way out. Brown left a month before Ackerman did. She says she knew Ackerman would be leaving and decided to go. Brown says she did not take a buyout when she left.

- When I asked about teacher evaluations, it was clear that Brown had done some homework to familiarize herself with the details of the district's latest agreement -- although she was fuzzy on some of the details. (For instance, she said there was a provision at the elementary level for schools with a high percentage of English language learners. In fact, that provision applies to all schools.)

At any rate, like Newsome, she avoided giving a clear answer on whether she thinks the performance of all students, regardless of attendance, should be counted toward a teacher's evaluation. Instead, she talked about the importance of finding ways to improve student attendance.

Eventually Brown said that, since the latest agreement makes allowances for schools with extreme attendance problems, "I think that's the system we would work with. I think with that agreement being in place, we would move ahead and hope to arrie at a longer-term agreement."

- Brown was one of more than half a dozen people on the Philadelphia school district's negotiating team when it brokered a contract with its teachers union in 2009. The president of the union told me the district had only one designated spokesman -- an attorney -- during negotiations, so Brown did not speak during those sessions. 

But she says if she comes to Buffalo, she would use the same strategy that Philadelphia did -- "being good listeners" -- to build a rapport with the union to reach a new contract.

"The contract was very fair and also allowed us to really intervene in those schools that were struggling most," she said. "We were able to get an extended school day, school week and school year in our schools that were struggling the most. Ninety percent of our schools were able to do site selection so they could select their own teachers."

- What would be the first thing she would change if she came to Buffalo? She declined to answer. She said she would want to go on a "listening tour" first, visiting "many more schools, probably every school."

- All of her efforts, she said, would be geared toward improving instruction in the classroom. I asked how she felt about scripted instruction such as what Buffalo uses.

"In my experience, a differentiated approach to managing schools has been successful," Brown said. "I don't believe in trying to fix what's not broken. If a school has been demonstrating a high rate of growth on student performance over the past several years, I think that type of school might benefit from having more autonomy than a school that has struggled for years and is low-performing."

- Mary Pasciak

Where have all the parents gone?

In December, the District Parent Coordinating Council held Buffalo's first Parent Assembly.

The goal at the time was to bring together one parent from every classroom in the city -- about 1,300 in all.

Parents2Well, the auditorium at Performing Arts got pretty full that night. State and federal education officials who showed up said they had never before seen so many parents gathered in any district before.

It turned out, though, that many of the people in the auditorium that night were not official parent reps. A grand total of 209 parent reps, out of a possible 1,300, showed up to that December meeting.

Since then, the DPCC has held two more Parent Assembly meetings.

The most recent one was in the middle of May.

Sam Radford, the DPCC president, told me that a total of 103 people showed up. Out of that group, only 78 were official parent reps -- slightly more than one-third the number who showed up to the December meeting.

- 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 |