State Commissioner of Education John B. King Jr. didn’t show to face the firing squad Thursday evening at Lafayette High School, but he wasn’t far from everyone’s mind.
Organizers taped his photo to a white board and directly addressed it throughout the 45-minute meeting called to discuss issues facing Lafayette and East High schools, as well as the directive handed down from the commissioner’s office mandating the schools partner with the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES).
“I just want to say, Commissioner King, you have offended us and this community by not being here today,” said Corey Becker, a recent Lafayette High School graduate, addressing King’s picture. Becker offered a testimony of his time at the school as part of the event hosted by VOICE-Buffalo, which sought to persuade the commissioner to come to Buffalo and meet with community residents to discuss issues plaguing the struggling city schools.
Branding the schools as “failing,” Becker said, is too broad a designation and doesn’t account for issues unique to the schools. After transferring to Lafayette midway through his junior year, Becker said he accumulated more knowledge about the world and his classmates in his time there than he did in his time at private and charter schools. At Lafayette, Becker said, he learned of foreign wars his classmates have experienced.
“This is like the United Nations of Buffalo,” Becker said.
“We’ve all come to the conclusion there needs to be some intervention of some sort, but how do you make a decision ... if you haven’t stepped foot in this building and seen the context of the situation?” he added.
Schools with large immigrant populations require added resources, said Lafayette Principal Naomi Cerre. At Lafayette, where students speak 45 different languages, there’s a need for resources such as interpreters and an understanding that, oftentimes, students’ needs transcend the classroom. For some, their time in school coincides with a need to acclimate to life in the United States, which includes such tasks as crossing the street and navigating public transportation. Cerre pointed to international schools in New York City that are governed by separate requirements as a model to consider.
Duane Diggs, president of VOICE-Buffalo, said the commissioner should “have the respect for our community to come and sit down,” and establish an understanding as to why he feels the BOCES proposal will help solve the city’s educational problems.
In a phone interview with The Buffalo News editorial board earlier in the day, King reiterated the position that he will not come to Buffalo to further address his mandates for East and Lafayette.
Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, wrote a letter to King that was read aloud by one of his aides. Kennedy wrote that the state Education Department should provide funding to the schools for the BOCES proposal.
“Considering the higher price tag for the BOCES programs, it’s only right that NYSED find a way to pick up the tab for their unfunded mandate,” Kennedy wrote.
King told The Buffalo News on Thursday that the district has enough money to pay for the BOCES partnership as well as for a program run by Johns Hopkins University to lead Lafayette and East.
News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org