School saga is failure of leadership - The Buffalo News

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School saga is failure of leadership

I’m beginning to think she has a professional death wish.

It may be the best explanation for Pamela Brown’s recent behavior.

Figuratively falling on one’s sword is how a boss honorably takes blame for institutional failings. Nobody, as far as I know, is forcing the Buffalo school superintendent to publicly self-destruct. But she sure seems determined to do it.

Brown’s latest fiasco was so befuddling, so incomprehensibly stubborn and – in its needlessly prolonged agony – so unnecessary, it made me think she no longer cares about professional self-preservation. There is no other obvious explanation. With next month’s School Board elections likely to end her slim majority of support, and consequently her tenure, she may be playing out her version of professional hara-kiri.

The ridiculous attempt to keep a couple of top administrators in jobs for which they lacked state certification was an exercise in futility. It further eroded the ever-shrinking morsel of communal faith in the district. Shelling out $13,000 for catch-up certification programs and trying to back-door their employment as “interns” was a waste of time, money and credibility.

Not even the second PR spinmeister Brown unsuccessfully tried to hire last year could have wrapped a tidy bow around this travesty. It mercifully ended Wednesday, with the School Board’s unanimous dismissal of Yamilette Williams and Faith Morrison Alexander.

“It became a public trust issue, and we lost a lot of traction,” said reform-minded board member James Sampson. “Spending weeks looking for alternatives” to letting the administrators go “only created ill will.”

Worse, the cluelessness of Williams and other imported administrators about state regulations alienated a key parent group – and has held up $36 million in federal funding for failing-school turnarounds.

“It set us back six months,” said Samuel Radford, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. “They didn’t understand that a designated parent group had to be part of the (grant) process, even though we kept telling them that.”

The needlessly prolonged drama sent the public a message, rightly or not, in flashing neon letters: “We Don’t Know What We’re Doing.”

I think that’s the inevitable conclusion. If this is the way Brown & Co. handle an issue splattered across the front page, there’s no way anyone has confidence in how they deal with matters flying below the public’s radar.

Sadly, the administrators-to-interns soap opera was just the latest contradiction of Brown’s promise for greater transparency and renewed bridge-building with the board.

She undercut the board’s power with a last-minute shift on remedies for three in-crisis schools. Her no-outreach move on troubled Bennett High School alienated longtime business partner M&T Bank. Her shape-shifting on the former Pinnacle Charter School left parents and students of the closed charter feeling betrayed. She rehired consultant Mary Guinn, after the board terminated her. And now, the bizarre administrators-to-interns saga.

All of it reeks of an Imperial Superintendency, which is the last thing a morale-battered, poverty-afflicted public school district needs.

“It’s disappointing, because she’s very intelligent, works hard and is committed to students,” said Sampson, who – like Radford – said the board shares blame for the district’s dysfunction. “But she doesn’t have a good understanding of her role in governance or how to create partnerships with the board or the community.”

No argument there. Sadly, it sounds more like an epitaph than a legacy.


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