Buffalo’s new school superintendent is beginning to assess some looming challenges facing the district. Pamela Brown has already identified one aggressive long-term goal. Five years from now, she believes 80 percent of Buffalo’s students should be graduating from high school, a target that would mean increasing the district’s graduation rate by nearly 30 percentage points.
Brown sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer to discuss some additional issues involving education.
Here is a summary of some of the points made in an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full seven-minute interview at BuffaloNews.com/video.
Meyer: The [district’s] problems have been well documented. Where do you start? What’s at the top of your agenda as it relates to tackling these issues?
Brown: At the top of my agenda has been a very pleasurable activity for me. It has meant going out into the community, getting to know as many members of the community as possible, so that I can begin to connect with the folks who will benefit the most from ... the work that we do in the Buffalo Public Schools.
Meyer: Some people look at the socioeconomic ... and they [ask], “Can a school superintendent in Buffalo do anything but sort of putter around the edges of these problems?”
Brown: I certainly believe that as the new superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools, I can lead this district to great improvement for all of our students.
I think that the potential to do that has been demonstrated in many different places in different parts of the country. So we know it’s possible. With the experience that I bring to this position, I know not only that it’s possible, but I have been able to utilize some strategies in other places that have proven to be effective in working with urban schools.
Meyer: You’re a former principal. You were in the upper tier of administration in Philadelphia. Some, during this tumultuous selection process, were saying “but she never ran a district.” Is that germane?
Brown: It’s important, I think, that the individual in this role understands the work that is done at different levels and in different aspects of this organization. I’ve been a teacher. I’ve been a curriculum specialist. I’ve been a principal. I served in different senior leadership positions. So I know what the challenges are on a day-to-day basis in those different roles ... And I think that the skills that I developed and the experience that I bring with me after having served as an assistant superintendent [in Philadelphia] where I was responsible for the improvement and the progress of 30 to 32 schools per year certainly puts me in a good position to be able to bring some of those strategies that I believe were successful ... to Buffalo.
Meyer: Your predecessor, James Williams ... would say it’s not money that’s the problem. We have more than enough money to give a good education to every child in Buffalo. Do you agree with that?
Brown: I agree that there is a sufficient amount of money and resources in order to generate improvement in the system. Our challenge and our goal is to make sure that we are utilizing the resources we have in the most effective and efficient way.<INLINENOTE>Meyer: Half of all the money that the city raises in its property taxes goes to the school district. Is it a fair request that the city have some control – that there be some mayoral input in a real formal sense ... on how you spend your money?
Brown: I prefer to think of the benefits of operating in a more collaborative way with the city and the county. I think that bringing the Say Yes to Education Buffalo initiative into the city is going to really promote that kind of [collaborative] model.</INLINENOTE>