March is the month for Education Day Sessions at Leadership Buffalo and it is always a good one. By good, I mean passionate, controversial, complicated and frustrating.
Both the class experience and rising leaders days ended with a panel containing similar faces. The panels consisted of Principal of Lafayette HS, Naomi Cerre; Assistant BPS Superintendent, Dr. Will Keresztes; CEO of CSAT, Efrain Martinez; President of BTF, Phil Rumore; King Center Charter School Teacher, Tokue Mercado; District Parent Coordinating Council President, Sam Radford; Developer, Rocco Termini; and Carl Paladino, school board member.
Martinez mentioned our school system is a sin, and many agreed there needs to be change, but what does that look like? Paladino suggested, “We need to change the people first. Those that made the mess are not going to be the ones to fix it.”
Rumore tried to put a positive spin on our struggling system that “out of five regions in New York State, we are third at 53% graduation rate above Rochester which is at 43%.”
While it is better to not be in last place, it has been said that second place is the first loser. Furthermore, is he suggesting it’s ok that 47% of our children are not graduating? What does that mean for our community, for our economy?
It is important to realize that not every school has the same needs; one size does not fit all. The resources in our system are not being allocated properly. For example, Lafayette High School holds a number of refugee students totaling over 40 languages in one school without the proper instructors to see those students succeed. It took Cerre three years to get the ESL coaches needed for her school.
We noticed a theme of finger pointing. It was very easy for people to blame someone else for the challenges in our school system, but no one was willing to put a solution into action.
Keresztes brought up a great point though, “we should stop admiring the problem”. If we stay focused on who “dropped the ball” then we cannot move forward. He would like to see more autonomy in schools, which would encourage innovation. Allowing the teachers to thrive will allow our kids to succeed.
At the end of the day, this is about the students. “We need to move our focus back into the classroom,” said Cerre.
As my third year of Leadership Buffalo classes begins I find myself living in insanity during education day. The same things have been said for the last three years and it comes as no shock that nothing has changed.
Start doing something different and maybe we will see different results.