The new Buffalo School Board has made a strong and adept beginning to the enormously complicated project of fixing the city’s failing school system. It’s been a heartening start.
To be sure, a strong start to a complicated project doesn’t guarantee success. Think of the Confederate army at Bull Run. Nor does a weak start foretell failure, but it certainly makes success all the more difficult.
The report in Friday’s News detailing how the new School Board majority began its work documents a group of individuals who are looking to build bridges not only with important external groups, but internally, as well, with the still-seething members of the former majority who were voted into minority status this spring. We’re not sure what more the new leaders could have done.
Leading the way was Larry Quinn who, just elected to an at-large seat and with comity aforethought, made his first call to Samuel Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. The council is an active and passionate group that had been all but ignored by the previous board and the administration of former Superintendent Pamela C. Brown. Who has a more compelling interest in the education of Buffalo’s students than the parents? Their buy-in is essential.
It was a strategic move as well as a wise one. If parents support what the new board is trying to do, that will help to enforce cooperation among all board members.
There was more to come. In the weeks that followed, members of the new majority also reached out to Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore, State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. and Bill Phillips, president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network.
King, in his quiet way, has been relentlessly critical of the Buffalo School District and its leadership, and he made sure the new majority understood that. Significantly, Quinn and incoming board President John Sampson made the trip to Albany to meet with King. That’s a far cry from the imperial approach of the former majority, which once allowed that King was free to come to Buffalo any old time.
Also important, though by no means predictive of success, was Quinn’s meeting with Rumore, an adversary who seems to delight in the status quo. Nevertheless, given Rumore’s position and the power given him by state labor law, he wields tremendous influence over the future of the school district. He also, presumably, would like to see his members win a new contract – 10 years after the last one expired. That will require him to deal forthrightly with the board. To be continued.
Also of interest is what hasn’t happened. School Board member Carl Paladino, aka the human lightning rod, has been uncharacteristically subdued. Perhaps that won’t last, but perhaps, too, he understands that while bullheadedness has its place, it isn’t always the best way forward.
Most encouragingly, the new majority has made a point of including members of the board minority in decision-making. The exception was the appropriately fast decision to hire Donald A. Ogilvie as interim superintendent, but in other regards, the board majority has been more open than most of its predecessors.
Two events stand out, one in which the majority’s silence was respectful and another in which it specifically asked for the leadership of a member of the minority, Theresa Harris-Tigg, who has experience with school reform plans.
Will any of that be enough? There is no telling, but it was an honest and open effort that could, with the good will of all concerned, open the way to opportunities the board hasn’t seen in many years.
The students and their parents will be grateful.