By Jessica Bauer Walker
Nelson Mandela said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
If this is true, then the soul of the City of Buffalo is in peril. Almost half our children live in poverty, with more than 20 percent experiencing “extreme poverty.” Buffalo Public School graduation rates have hovered around 50 percent, with rates for black males in some schools in the 20 percent range. Buffalo students exhibit multiple risk factors, including high rates of sexual activity, exposure to violence and lack of a stable home environment.
The District Parent Coordinating Council is an association of parents in the Buffalo Public Schools who are fighting to change these statistics. The DPCC’s primary objectives are focused on building partnerships and parent capacity, and making sure the district is accountable to its mission: “Putting children and families first to ensure high academic achievement for all.”
The parents in the DPCC are diverse in demographics, circumstances and matters of opinion, but we have one thing in common: We are committed to all of our children. It is deeply troubling to us that some of our students are doing remarkably well in a small cohort of “good” schools, while the vast majority faces extreme adversity in the rest of them.
Despite the magnitude of our challenges, the DPCC operates from a place of strength. We believe that we as parents have much to offer our children and our schools. We provide critical information to parents about programs, services, rights and responsibilities; and we also advocate on a policy level to create change. The DPCC works actively with our teachers, administrators and the Board of Education. We have parent representatives serving in each school and on many committees and task forces throughout the district on issues such as health, special education, multilingual education and school budgeting.
While the DPCC prefers a partnership model, partnership requires various parties willing to work with each other in a spirit of cooperation. Too often, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, district administration and the Board of Education have placed blame on each other, and even on parents and students. In doing so, they have failed to fulfill their mission to put students and families first. In the process, tens of millions of dollars have been lost or squandered, creating a highly divisive environment in which our children continue to suffer.
As we enter the new year, the DPCC renews its commitment to work closely with students, parents, teachers and administrators to improve our schools. We urge everyone who cares about education to speak up, assume responsibility and demand accountability for the sake of the future of our children and of our city.
Jessica Bauer Walker is second vice president of the District Parent Coordinating Council in Buffalo.