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Living with the silent treatment

Wednesday night's board meeting was a night of disappointments.

We wrote a story about how the Buffalo school board has released no public information regarding the superintendent's evaluation. Based on my conversation with the district's lawyer Wednesday night, it's my hope that The News will receive that information soon (though we've submitted a Freedom of Information Law request just in case).

Meanwhile, Superintendent Pamela Brown was also expected to announce her reorganization plans for the district's central office administration Wednesday night as well, but she did not. Instead, she stated to me after the school board meeting that she would share details of her reorganization plans on Thursday or Friday.

Now that's not happening either.

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Stronger school board ethics and vocational education standards

The Buffalo Board of Education offered sentimental goodbyes to board members Lou Petrucci, Ralph Hernandez and Rosalyn Taylor on Wednesday, but they also took action on a number of significant policies. While the adoption of the superintendent's evaluation took center stage at Wednesday's marathon meeting, the board also:

  • Adopted a new Code of Ethics policy, which beefs up the ethics standards for board members and school district employees regarding conflict of interest, voting recusal, and matters that cannot be disclosed if discussed in executive session. Here's a copy of the policy.
  • Approved a new policy for career and technical education (aka vocational education) that is designed to greatly increase student acceptance and participation in job readiness courses. Instead of relying on criteria like GPAs and attendance to determine a student's participation eligibility, the new policy now makes student interest the primary factor in student acceptance to a vocational program. It also requires that all available program seats be filled to capacity in ninth and 10th grades.

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Paladino's case for the superintendent's dismissal

    On Wednesday night, the Buffalo school board approved the evaluation of Superintendent Pamela Brown without releasing any of it to the public. Meanwhile, maverick developer and incoming board member Carl Paladino had his own evaluation to share.
    With his trademark no-holds-barred approach, he verbally torched Brown and others in an open memo to the board.
    As noted in past stories, Paladino has repeatedly stated that his first resolution as a sitting board member will be to seek Brown's resignation or termination. Whether he has the five votes to carry through on his plans has yet to be seen.
    Here is the open letter to the community that Paladino released regarding his intentions as one of the newest members to the Buffalo Board of Education, starting Monday. 

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2013-14 Buffalo school calendar and other fun stuff

The school calendar for next school year was unanimously approved by the board at its last meeting with little fanfare. I should have posted it sooner, but here are the highlights. The calendar:

  • Extends the school year by one week, but adds a winter break in the third week of February, from Feb. 17 - 21.
  • The first day of school will begin Sept. 5, the Thursday after Labor Day, and end on June 26, 2014.
  • It schedules spring break the week before Easter, instead of the week after because of the timing of state testing dates.
  • Winter break runs from Dec. 23 - Jan. 1. Students report back Jan. 2.

The calendar has been approved by both the school board and the Buffalo Teachers Federation, which is required to sign off on the calendar.

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In honor of high school graduates

The Buffalo News, and this blog space, often focuses on the many serious challenges facing the Buffalo Public Schools and its students as they struggle with issues of student achievement, attendance, staffing and funding. But among the stories that get told far less often are the individual stories of remarkable student achievement in the face of so many obstacles.

Every day this past school year, there have been many children and teenagers who have come to school and committed themselves to the business of learning. In a district, a community and an urban society struggling against poverty and other social challenges, such a commitment requires more than brains.

It requires courage and strength.

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More on music teacher cuts

While much of the media, including The Buffalo News, was focused Wednesday on getting reaction to the school district's recently released 2012 graduation rates, a lot of other ground was covered during the board's Finance Committee and Executive Committee meetings Wednesday night.

Among them was an official report by Chief Financial Officer Barbara Smith regarding staff cuts to the district's instrumental music programs. The report was produced at the request of a board member after The News ran a story last week stating that, according to music teachers, 14 of 28 instrumental music programs in the Buffalo school district were being eliminated next school year and another four were being reduced.

Teachers had estimated that nine instrumental music positions would be cut as a result of school-based budgeting choices made by building principals who were using their discretionary dollars to shore up core subject areas at the expense of the arts. Some district administrators, however, suggested the teachers' facts and figures were off.

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Superintendent's response to the BPS graduation rate

The New York State Education Department released the 2012 graduation rates for all school districts on Monday. As noted in a previous post, The News subsequently had reporters spend considerable time looking up and analyzing the the graduation rates for all Erie and Niagara county high schools over the past three years.

The Buffalo graduation rates occurred prior to the arrival of Superintendent Pamela Brown, but as head of the Buffalo schools, The News solicited her comments on the 2012 graduation rate for the district, which had fallen from 54 percent to 47 percent. Instead of speaking with The News, Brown's spokeswoman released a statement to us.

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Understanding the graduation rates

News reporters spent hours Monday sifting through a few hundred pages of dense graduation rate data released by the State Education Department in order to boil everything down into an abbreviated chart showing the three-year graduation rates for every public and charter high school in Erie and Niagara counties. That chart accompanies my story in print and online today.

But for those of you who crave even more information, more is available. The state releases not only summary graduation rates by district and by high school, but also breaks down those numbers by poverty levels, race, gender and other student population factors. In addition, the state also breaks down the information to show how many students graduate in four years, five years and six years. 

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BTF takes legal action on teacher evaluations

The News first reported two months ago that the Buffalo Teachers Federation was preparing to take legal action against the Buffalo Public Schools for voiding a written agreement with the union that pledged the district would not use two years of teacher evaluations as grounds for teacher firings.

That legal action has started. BTF President Phil Rumore said last week that the BTF has filed a notice of claim against the district in State Supreme Court. A notice of claim is the precursor step to filing a full lawsuit.

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Interesting education bills going nowhere fast

When it comes to education legislation, I get interested when it looks like the a weighty bill shows real signs of gaining approval and changing the business of education. Otherwise, other stories tend to command my attention.

Aides to Republican State Sen. Mark Grisanti have been trying to stir up interest in the senator's success in getting various education reform bills passed in the State Senate. The problem is that they aren't yet going anywhere in the State Assembly.

This week, Grisanti got a bill passed in the senate that would give Buffalo voters to the right to vote directly on the Buffalo school district's education budget. Currently, voters have remarkably little input into the city schools budget process.

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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 |