A defense attorney, school social worker and an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office have confirmed that they are running for the Buffalo School Board.
Samuel P. Davis, an attorney and former substitute teacher; Gizelle Stokes, a charter school social worker; and Patricia A. Pierce, who spent her career in law enforcement, join eight other candidates in the race for three at-large board seats.
Davis, 40, is a Chicago native who spent more than two years working as a full-time substitute teacher in New York City after graduating with a political science degree from Western Illinois University.
He moved to Buffalo in 1999 to attend law school, then started his own practice. For the past two years, he has been a lawyer with Cantor Dolce & Panepinto. Through his defense work, he said, he has seen students with the greatest needs getting the fewest resources.
He wants the district to provide more personnel in the court system to advocate for students who have been charged with a crime. He also wants the district to provide interpreters in the court system, so that students who don’t speak English are able to understand what is happening.
Davis said his first priority is to find ways to cut unnecessary spending in the district.
“We need to look at where we’re spending the money and cut the waste,” he said. “We have profiteers posing as philanthropists trying to break up the school system. We need to cut the waste so we can provide the services these kids need.”
Davis has a 5-year-old daughter who attends School 81.
Stokes, 31, is a Bennett High School alum who earned a masters in social work and has been a founding social worker and school counselor at Buffalo’s King Center Charter School since 2012. Her father, George, married Assemblywoman Crystal People-Stokes, D-Buffalo, in 2010.
She studied sociology at Syracuse University, did prevention education work, then served as a recruiter for the University at Buffalo. She returned to Syracuse for her master’s degree and worked with college access groups like On Point for College and Say Yes to Education. She also worked with Vera House, doing domestic violence prevention and crisis management work. After returning to Buffalo, she was a social worker and college adviser at Tapestry High School before joining King Center Charter School.
Stokes has one daughter who attended Bennett Park Montessori School 32 and is now a first-grader at Olmsted School 64. She said she appreciates the diversity of a traditional public school setting for her child and wants more parents to feel they have strong public school options.
As a candidate, she said, she wants to focus on changing the focus of standardized testing from fixed scores to measuring student growth. She also wants to place more focus on a bottom-up approach to education, particularly when it comes to budgeting, and more school collaboration with legal and mental health agencies.
“My mantra is putting children first because that is what I believe,” she said.
Pierce is trying for the second time to secure a seat on the board. She last tried two years ago.
Pierce studied court stenography at Alfred State College. She became a report technician with the Buffalo Police Department and worked her way up to detective. She joined the Erie County Sheriff’s Office in 1998 and retired as chief of patrol and investigative services seven years later.
Pierce, 58, is now a criminal investigator who primarily handles domestic violence cases in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. “My goal would be to educate rather than incarcerate,” she said. “I’m out in the homes, and I see the level of chaos, the level of dysfunction in the homes every day. We expect teachers to deal with so many issues.”
Truancy is one of the biggest problems in the district, she said, and the schools should marshal more resources to determine why. She suggested bringing more social service agencies together to address the problems that individual children are facing.
Pierce also proposes creating a courtroom dedicated to dealing with students who refuse to go to school.
She has two adult children whom she raised in the suburbs.
Eight other candidates for the five-year School Board term include Adrian F. Harris, a Lancaster teacher’s aide; board member John B. Licata; Wendy S. Mistretta, a member of the District Parent Coordinating Council’s Executive Committee; Larry Quinn, former part owner of the Buffalo Sabres; Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold; Bernard Tolbert and Sergio Rodriguez, both Buffalo mayoral candidates last year; and Erie Community College student Stephon Wright, a former School Board student representative.
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