Interim Buffalo School Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie demonstrated the other evening why he is perhaps the best choice to lead the district during this period of transition to a brighter educational future.
A willingness to listen.
Ogilvie met with about 100 people from the community in Highgate Heights Elementary School for the first community forum that he has conducted since taking over as interim chief of the district earlier this month. Those in the audience took full advantage of the opportunity in asking tough questions about where the district is headed, how it will get there and where that path will lead their children.
Sometimes people just want someone to listen and hear their concerns. Ogilvie, a bridge builder, understands the importance of that need.
The forum was sponsored by members of the new School Board minority who include Theresa A. Harris-Tigg, Sharon M. Belton-Cottman, Mary Ruth Kapsiak and Barbara A. Seals Nevergold. They should all be commended for bringing together the interim superintendent and community members, and passing out blank index cards to those who wanted to write down a question for Ogilvie. This is a welcome turn of events given the objections raised by this group to what they felt was a secretive process by which Ogilvie was appointed earlier this month. Ultimately, they abstained rather than vote against his appointment.
Ogilvie has a reputation for getting along with others and has made clear his intention of working with the entire board. Moreover, he has a good relationship with the state Education Department, which is important in repairing that damaged bridge.
Again, communication is the key and so is involving all stakeholders. That didn’t happen during the administration of former Superintendent Pamela C. Brown and, as a result, the state put on hold $36 million until the district held “meaningful” discussions with the District Parent Coordinating Council, as required by state law. Ogilvie told the audience that his job is to ensure the district puts together quality plans – something else that didn’t happen under the previous administration.
It took at least a couple of tries before the state approved the Corrective Action Plan to provide placement in schools in good standing for every parent and student making the request. The district seemed to have trouble getting several plans approved. At one point, state Education Department officials sent personnel from Albany to help the district. That action reflected the concern from the department and Commissioner John B. King Jr., who had earlier appointed Distinguished Educator Judith Elliott to work with Buffalo schools.
It is no secret that the previous administration and the state did not always see eye-to-eye. In fact, there hasn’t been much harmony between the district and Albany for some time, and it has been destructive of virtually every other important relationship, including those between the district and parents.
It wasn’t long ago that King noted – imagine a state education commissioner having to make the observation – that under Brown’s leadership, the district had a disturbing reputation for “shading the facts.”
Those days appear to be ending, and there is strong reason to believe that under Ogilvie that relationship will improve. And if the recent forum is any indication, and we think it is, so will relationships with all the district’s stakeholders.
Communication is the key, and it is happening.