It’s startling that it took so long for the Buffalo school superintendent to figure this out, but Pamela C. Brown has apparently had an epiphany: It’s important to communicate.
Brown’s lack of interest in that critical function of a public school leader has led many influential people in the community to doubt her abilities and has contributed to efforts to persuade her to resign. Her change of heart is sudden and unexpected, leading to a sense that someone explained the ABCs of leadership to her.
Thus, Brown made some changes last week, possibly in an effort to keep her job, but for whatever reason, welcome. Still, she’s also got to do more than pretend, and there’s reason to worry that rather than truly engaging the public, she is merely trying to project an image.
Even just projecting an image offers some advantage, though. She recently met for the first time with the District Parent Coordinating Committee. If pursued, that can lead to greater involvement. On Wednesday, she initiated what she calls a “myth-busting” campaign and on Thursday, in meeting with reporters, she said her New Year’s resolution is to be more proactive with the news media.
“I just want to demonstrate, through transparency, exactly what the situation is in our schools,” she said. It’s a fine impulse, and plainly the right one. Unfortunately, she immediately blew it up when The News asked for a follow-up meeting to discuss several topics. A district spokeswoman asked for a list of topics and then said no. Apparently, those were topics about which the superintendent deemed transparency to be unnecessary.
Brown also seems to be reframing some of the questions about her performance, saying she wanted to dispel the “myth” that Buffalo has failed to win millions of dollars in federal grants. First, that’s only part of the criticism. The other part is that the district, alone in the state, has been chronically unable to submit acceptable plans that are required by the Education Department, without hand-holding by officials there. And that has delayed the arrival of badly needed grants. And it says nothing of grants that haven’t been pursued.
It’s also worth noting that this decision to be more forthcoming appears at the same moment that Brown has come under intense pressure to resign. Not only did community leaders recently offer her a generous buyout if she would quit, but the School Board failed by only one vote to dismiss her last year. Board member Carl Paladino has said he will work to recruit candidates for this May’s election to change that outcome. That gives Brown just four months to change at least one mind.
Brown may have made a start on that, but she will need to do more if she is serious about transparency and ensuring that parents, taxpayers and board members are in her corner. That includes answering questions on topics that she would prefer to ignore.