Buffalo religious leaders and charter school advocates Monday demanded a better education for inner-city students, citing high dropout rates and low standardized test scores as proof that the city schools are in crisis.
“It is time that we start to speak up. As the faith community, we have been silent too long,” said Minister Joshua Hutchen of Friendship Baptist Church. “A lot of these kids bring a troubled home life into the classroom, but the kids are not dumb. They know when the teachers do not care. You have to actually engage the children and we’re not seeing that.”
Monday’s town hall forum at the church drew 75 people from a cross section of the community, including church and education leaders. Co-sponsored by the Northeast Charter Schools Network, the meeting was intended to spark an open dialogue to improve Buffalo schools and engage more parents in the process.
The public conversation led to positive energy.
Dotty Carr, a retired nurse whose son graduated from the public schools, liked what she heard. “This is just the beginning,” she said. “I have a concern for the children and just think we need unity.”
Unity resonated as a strong undercurrent of the forum.
“At the end of the day, everyone wants their child to succeed,” said Katrinna Martin-Bordeaux, representing Black Lives Matter. “We need to be on common ground.”
Beyond racial injustices and a mostly white school staff teaching African-American children, some said the school system is not in sync with the needs and culture of today’s students.“Our school system isn’t right for our time,” said Terrance L. Heard, a former Buffalo teacher and Common Council candidate.
Some social workers called for “out of the box” thinking and crafting creative measures to right a troubled school system.
“We have created a culture where it’s cool to videotape fights,” said Pastor Edward Jackson of Friendship Baptist Church. “It is a cultural problem that needs to be examined. We have to look at everything, at the whole landscape.”
Others pushed for freedom of choice in deciding which schools their children will attend. Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, didn’t mince words. “Every parent should be able to make the choice of what works best for their children,” he said, raising his voice. “Just because you’re poor shouldn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to say, ‘Whoa, this place isn’t good for my child.’ Let the parent make the choice, whether it’s a public school, private or charter.”
“The system is not working for black and brown children in this community.” said Duncan Kirkwood, the regional charter school network’s advocacy manager. “Every single child in the city is talented and deserves a world-class education. But if we want it, we’re going to have to work for it.”