Hamburg Central School District parents, staff, board members and community members spoke of unrest and upheaval, innuendo and intimidation in the district Thursday night.
They also spoke of coming together and solving some of the problems that have seeped from the board room to the hallways to classrooms.
“We can’t pit ourselves against each other and change anything or fix anything, but together we can. We need to support one another,” said parent Ed Piazza, who led the meeting at Erie 1 BOCES in West Seneca. “Teachers, administrators, the union, need to work together. It’s not impossible. It’s not crazy. It can happen.”
The meeting was organized after a group of community members met with Erie 1 BOCES Superintendent Donald Ogilvie last month to see what could be done about the rocky relations in the district. Leadership on the School Board changed with the May election, the superintendent resigned, and the board, operating with three new members, has tried to govern the district where many do not trust members of different factions.
Teachers say they feel threatened at school, and many community members indicated by raising their hands that they felt intimidated and not free to speak out publicly.
Hamburg Village Mayor Thomas Moses, who has attended many recent board meetings, also spoke at the meeting and collected questionnaires asking what the problems are and how they can be solved. He spoke of being criticized on the Hamburg Educational Ethics Blog, an anonymous blog that posts items and comments about the district and education-related issues.
“We shouldn’t be afraid to speak to people,” Moses said. “I shouldn’t have to put up with that, and nobody should have to put up with that in our district. Nobody. I think the blog should stop.”
High School senior Gatlin Walters said it is hypocritical if the rules outlawing cyberbullying for students are not followed by adults, including teachers.
“If New York State passes a law that the schools have to follow, then that law should apply to the adults as well,” he said.
Parent Robert Johnstun said he has posted comments on the blog about educational issues using his name, and he has been contacted by parents with similar problems, and has tried to help them.
“There are some benefits that come out of the blog,” he said.
But he was in the minority on that view. Some suggested ignoring the blog, but others said it is impossible when comments about children appear. Beth Piazza said her children were threatened on the blog.
“It is affecting children. My children do not want to go to school,” she said. “It’s more than just a blog . It’s more than just ignore it. When the children are involved, I’m not ignoring it any more.”
Boston Valley Elementary School Principal James Martinez, who said he was speaking for himself and not as a principal, said he is not intimidated by those who run the blog or who are causing unrest.
“I can’t be intimidated,” he said. “They tape record, they lie, they give innuendo. They can come after me, I don’t care.”
Two board members, President David Yoviene and Holly Balaya attended, as did several former board members, including Joan Calkins and Eileen Rucker.
Moses said he has not been proud of the district in recent years. “Somebody said ‘You’re nuts to get involved.’ Well I’m not nuts to get involved, because if we don’t get involved, we’ll never solve the problem,” he said.
Piazza said another meeting to discuss how to improve things will be scheduled and posted on the Hamburg Education Information Facebook page.