By Wendy Mistretta
On Aug. 21, Buffalo’s Board of Education approved a strategic plan that charts the course of the Buffalo Public Schools for the next five years, against the District Parent Coordinating Council’s recommendation.
The DPCC had been assured that the plan would go through a community input process before it was presented for approval. Sadly, this did not occur. Not only did the Strategic Plan Steering Committee and task forces not have an opportunity to sign off on the final plan, but the voices of tens of thousands of students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members have not yet had a chance to be heard.
From the beginning, the strategic planning process was top-down and lacking cohesion. Parent participation was limited, and we were told on which task forces we could participate. In addition, Superintendent Pamela Brown made the decision to allow only two parents on the steering committee. This severely hampered our ability to represent the diverse families and issues we represent. Students, who would appear to be the primary stakeholders in a plan for a school district that historically failed them, were completely left out of the process.
This situation reflects a larger issue of the district’s lack of transparency, accountability and community input. Brown has repeatedly asserted that she welcomes parent involvement, but her actions speak louder than her words.
The superintendent’s monthly roundtables, initially intended to be a dialogue with the community, devolved into special presentations on district initiatives. Brown has never attended a DPCC meeting and has made only brief appearances at our parent assemblies.
Despite our repeated calls for collaboration, parents are routinely involved minimally, consulted at the last minute or left out of the decision-making process entirely. District and school-based grant applications, plans and budgets are consistently designed and submitted with little to no meaningful parent involvement. Local, state and federal laws that govern shared decision-making are regularly violated.
We are told by the superintendent and many Board of Education members that it’s getting better. At some point, we cannot accept that “better” is good enough. Buffalo families should expect full inclusion in decision-making. The Board of Education’s bylaws state that “partnerships among schools, families and the entire community are necessary to meet students’ needs and foster student success.”
Thus, we expect the board to uphold our rights and to stop the practice of rubber-stamping the district’s plans. Until the systematic practice of marginalizing parents and disenfranchising students ends, Buffalo schools will never become fully functional and successful.
Wendy Mistretta, Ph.D., is a member of the Buffalo District Parent Coordinating Council’s Executive Committee.