There is no shortage of quarreling in the Buffalo Public Schools over what’s best for kids, whether it’s the district versus the teachers union or board member versus board member.
But at least one group has appeared to settle its long-standing differences: the parents.
Two parent factions – the District Parent Coordinating Council and the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization – have buried the hatchet and with the encouragment of school officials devised a unified Parent Congress to serve as the district’s recognized parent voice.
While the two will still maintain their own identities, each will send as many as three parent representatives to monthly meetings with Superintendent Kriner Cash to discuss a host of district-wide issues. Also at the table will be parent representatives from a special education advisory council.
In fact, the Parent Congress will be open to other organized groups with a special interest - maybe advocates for English language learners or student athletics - who are eventually expected to join.
The School Board gave its approval over the summer and the first meeting of the new Parent Congress was held Sept. 8.
It’s a stark contrast to the tension and rivalry that has historically been displayed between the DPCC, established in 1999 and long the district's formally-recognized parent group, and the four-year old BPTO, which has fought to make space for itself at the table.
The Buffalo News sat down with Samuel L. Radford III, president of the Coordinating Council, and Larry Scott, co-chair of the Parent-Teacher Organization for an explanation:
Why two parent groups?
Radford: Early on in DPCC history, it was only represented by schools in good standing. It was like eight members, basically. Then, later on in DPCC’s history, we got another 30 schools to be a part of it and the vast majority of them were schools not in good standing. Two of the schools – City Honors and Olmsted - were polling the same, but everybody else is talking about how terrible things are. So, that ultimately became the drum call of DPCC.
Scott: We started to have conversations with actual parents and educators, people in the system who had a completely different perspective than what I was hearing about in the news. Knowing there were others out there that had similar interest in wanting public education to advance and strive in Buffalo, we organized. And our mission - which it still is today – is to celebrate the good things going on in Buffalo schools.
Why tensions between the two?
Radford: Our perspective on it was that the teachers union had essentially formulated the BPTO as a counter to the fact that we were saying stuff that the union didn’t agree with. So we didn’t really listen to them in the beginning. We just perceived them to be a puppet of the union.
Scott: I understand the perception that we were affiliated with the union because it all happened at a time when they got a grant through the National Education Association and it was for a marketing campaign to market Buffalo Public Schools. So we were aligned with that, there’s no secret to that, and I think that made people, like Sam, skeptical – and I don’t blame them. But we’ve tried hard to maintain our independence from the union or any other entities that have an agenda and want to impose their ways on the district.
I think I was guilty, too, about making assumptions about Sam, because all I knew about him is what I saw on the news. He’s a passionate advocate and he had strong positions about Buffalo schools and what should happen.
Scott: For me it was this past fall. I’ll be honest, I was pessimistic that we would ever get to this point and it was when Dr. Cash mentioned to us that Sam had a willingness to meet with us and form a unified parent voice. Even when he said that, I’ll be honest I was skeptical. When I reached out to Sam he responded and we set up a meeting. I think it was that meeting, and probably a second meeting, that I felt like things were different. There was a willingness to work together.
Radford: I think the main thing that changed, first and foremost, was just interacting with Larry. As a representative of the BPTO, he wasn’t there beating the drum of the union. Even though you can have that perception, that just wasn’t the reality.
Issues to tackle jointly?
Radford: The big issue for me right now is the sustainability of what the district is doing. As far as I’m concerned, we’re moving in the right direction. We’ve seen our graduation rates go up, all the things we're doing with community schools, after school, summer school, parent centers. My concern is if we don’t come up with a sustainability plan it can fall off a cliff.
Scott: One of the bigger issues is budget advocacy – ensuring that there is going to be adequate funding to sustain the good things that are happening.