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School parent groups, often at odds in Buffalo, coordinate

It's been awhile in the making, but two battling parent groups will be speaking with one voice moving forward – thanks to efforts of the Buffalo School Board and Superintendent Kriner Cash.

School district leaders encouraged the two groups -– the District Parent Coordinating Council, the school district's officially recognized parent organization, and the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization, which has ties to the teachers' union – to set aside their differences and begin to find common ground.

The parent groups listened and came together recently to work with district leaders to develop a model for parent involvement that can be used as the framework for an official policy.

The model provides pathways for all parents to be involved, said DPCC President Samuel L. Radford and BPTO Co-chairperson Lawrence J. Scott. The two leaders jointly presented the new structure for maximizing parent engagement during a meeting of the School Board Wednesday.

"The model represents a more inclusive framework that provides an opportunity for all parents. We've been working very closely with parent leaders. They did all the heavy lifting," Cash said. "They worked together to come up with a framework. It's always better when the groups work it out themselves. That is what has occurred."

Radford acknowledged that there have been a lot of challenges over the past few years that blocked the two groups from working together.

"We focused on attacking each other instead of focusing on what's in the best interest of the children," Radford said. "But we were able to come together with a unified plan for parent involvement."

The model – which the groups worked on with Cash and Associate Superintendent Eric Rosser – will show how parents and other parent groups can be involved in the decision-making process at every level of the district.

The model focused on five points:

  • Parent participation at the school building level.
  • Parent participation at the school district level.
  • Foundation for how district-wide parent organizations will be recognized by the board.
  • School governance and how parents can play a role in decision-making at the school.
  • Parent congress of representatives of each parent organization to participate in district-wide shared decision-making.

"I think it’s something that the Buffalo community and Buffalo Public Schools and especially families should celebrate," Scott said.

School district officials seemed encouraged.

"We really want all of their efforts and everyone moving in the right direction," said Darren Brown, the district’s chief of staff. "We want to make sure all the groups are working together."

The school district’s official parent involvement policy is supposed to be updated annually but that hasn’t happened since 2008, Scott said.

The district now will have a framework to help guide the revision process.

"They need to revise that policy," Scott said. "Finally we have an agreement between parent leadership groups on how that should be done and what that would look like. I’m sure there will be details to work out but at least we have a collaboration foundation, a model that we can work from."

Getting unified has been a long, convoluted journey.

DPCC has been the school district’s official parent organization since 2001. But in 2014, some board members wanted to strip the DPCC of that role, saying that other voices should be incorporated to make parental engagement more inclusive.

It didn’t help that DPCC has been highly critical of district operations. DPCC leaders, for instance, have blown the whistle on the school district for shutting parents out of school improvement and grant spending plans.

The organization repeatedly sought intervention from the state. In  2014, the state Education Department withheld $36 million in grants because of DPCC complaints that it wasn’t involved in the process of seeking that money and determining how it would be spent. The money has since been released.

Meanwhile, BPTO was formed in November 2013 to focus on publicizing what the Buffalo Public Schools are doing right rather than what has gone wrong. The group said it did not want to replace the DPCC as the official parent group, but wanted to be included.

In the past, the two sides have often found themselves on opposite sides of issues like last May when BPTO boycotted a pro-charter school speaker brought to town by DPCC to address a parents symposium.

But the two groups have put aside their differences to help develop the shared vision for parent involvement.

"To me it’s really exciting," Radford said.

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