Susan Gillick is a retired educator whose main priority is seeing that the Buffalo Public Schools spend less time suspending and punishing kids and more time focused on progressive discipline that keeps kids in school and focuses on their needs.
“Suspension doesn’t work for anybody,” she said. “Restorative justice works for everyone.”
Gillick, 66, most recently worked as director of pupil personnel services at Tapestry Charter School before retiring in 2008. She held a similar title with the Depew school district for nearly 30 years and spent two years teaching graduate courses on special-education law and inclusion. She has a doctorate from the University at Buffalo in clinical psychology.
Gillick is a board member of Citizen Action, an advocacy group affiliated with the state and local teachers unions. Because of her work on revising the student disciplinary procedures associated with the district’s Code of Conduct, she said, others approached her and urged her to run for a Board of Education seat.
“We fought to get them to change their Code of Conduct,” she said. “It is a major, major win for everyone in Buffalo. With all those successes I had working on the outside, and with it now being passed, I now wanted to work on the inside to make sure it was implemented effectively.”
Gillick has two main platform issues.
One is “solutions, not suspensions,” a concept that revolves around the adoption of a progressive disciplinary model that works harder to keep students in school and focuses more on righting wrongs and repairing harm than on punishment for punishment’s sake.
Studies have shown this model not only dramatically reduces suspensions, she said, but also greatly improves graduation rates.
Her second issue, she said, is keeping schools safe from “the attacks of privatization,” particularly the establishment of corporately sponsored, for-profit charter schools. None exist in the City of Buffalo, but Gillick said she believes there is movement in Buffalo and across the nation to privatize education.
Finally, she said, she wants to “bring the community back into the school.”
“Our students need services that our community already provides,” she said, “so let’s change the perception of education by bringing the two together.”
Gillick is only mildly supportive of charter schools, though she was previously a charter school administrator. She said she does not believe in limiting a parent’s choice of schools and would not object to the creation of additional charter schools.
But she would strongly oppose corporate charter schools and pointed to research indicating that only 17 percent of charter schools offer a better education than public schools, while 37 percent offer a worse one. She also expressed concern about how children with special needs or behavior problems can be “pushed out” of charter schools and denied educational services.
“I think they offer some wonderful things,” she said of charters, “but I don’t think they offer the solution for our public schools.”
On other issues, Gillick said she thinks it’s too early to know whether Superintendent Pamela Brown is doing a good job. She doesn’t believe in a city residency requirement for teachers, and she does not believe that the district should move to a neighborhood school model versus the current school-choice model.
Gillick’s own children attended public schools in Depew, while living in Buffalo, during the time Gillick worked for the Depew district. They later attended Nardin Academy, a private, Catholic high school.
Members of Citizen Action and the Working Families Party have managed most aspects of Gillick’s run for office, ranging from a news conference and fundraising outreach to setting up her website and filing campaign finance reports.
“If I had attempted to do it by myself, I would have been very, very tired,” she said. “That way, I felt I could cover the distance.”
Her belief in education, however, comes from within, she said.
“Without that degree, I would have had many fewer opportunities,” she said, “and I think that’s true for everyone.”
News staff reporter Mary Pasciak contributed to this story. email: firstname.lastname@example.org