It took 1½ years, but Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela Brown finally attended her first meeting Tuesday with the District-Parent Coordinating Council to talk about the ways the district is trying to involve parents in schools.
Brown received a warm welcome despite long-standing tensions between the leaders of the school district and the leaders of the parent council, which represents parents districtwide.
When council President Samuel Radford III invited Brown to address the roughly two dozen parent representatives attending, he encouraged everyone to give her a standing ovation.
“We are honored to have her present,” Radford said.
He mentioned that this was Brown’s first meeting with the parent group, to which Brown responded, “The first, but not the last.”
Though Brown has often talked about engaging parents, she has been criticized for not attending any parent council meetings since she came to the district in 2012. She finally agreed to attend a council meeting after being publicly asked to do so by a School Board member in early December.
Brown spoke for roughly 15 minutes and reviewed the ways she has worked to improve parent involvement over the past year.
Under her tenure, she said, the number of parent facilitators grew from 54 last year to 58 this year, enough to cover every school. She said she also requires that there be interpreters present for the top six languages spoken in the district at district-sponsored events.
She made reference to the district’s controversial school-based budgeting, which was rolled out last year and designed to give individual schools more autonomy over how their financial resources are allocated.
That school-based budgeting process was supposed to involve parents, but many parents later complained that they were either not properly consulted or not consulted at all.
Brown said the district is providing more training this year to make sure that this year’s budgeting process fully engages parents as part of school-based management teams.
The superintendent and the district’s Office of Parent and Family Engagement are also providing more parent training overall and more district forums, assemblies and events to engage more families than last school year, she said.
“There is nothing more important in educating children than making sure that we are partnering with parents, families and community members to enhance what we are able to do in our schools,” she said.
Brown left the meeting after a half-hour because she was scheduled to meet with another parent group at Math, Science and Technology Preparatory School.
Before she left, a parent representative asked that Brown consider having the district create more elementary programs for gifted and talented children, instead of having only one, highly competitive districtwide program for gifted elementary students at Olmsted School 64.
Executive Committee member Bryon McIntyre also asked that Brown consider some sort of survey or evaluation tool for parents who interact with district personnel.
“A lot of parents are feeling just disrespected or just not being held in high regard when they enter in their buildings to do their work, whether to advocate for their children or other children,” he said.
Brown encouraged any parents with issues regarding their treatment to speak with Heath Frisch, the director of the district’s Office of Parent and Family Engagement, or to call the Office of School Leadership.
“It certainly is my expectation that every parent will be treated with dignity and respect,” she said.
After Brown left, Radford gently pointed out that while the superintendent claimed the district had no parent facilitators in Buffalo schools before she came on board, parent facilitators have been in existence for five years.