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Meet the candidates for the East District

In the story that ran on Tuesday, we told you a little bit about the candidates for the East District seat that officially becomes vacant today, as that's when Vivian Evans' resignation becomes effective.

The district still has not released the list of candidates, but here's a little more about who the candidates are and what issues are important to them:

The Rev. Chris W. Brown Jr., associate minister at St. John Baptist Church and a counselor with his own practice.

As a third-grader in the Buffalo Public Schools, Brown was diagnosed as mentally retarded. But when he was retested in eighth grade, he was found to have above-average intelligence. That experience makes it easier for him to identify with many students’ struggles, he said.

“I know how it is to be ostracized, educationally and socially — to be labeled for being something that you’re not,” he said.

A graduate of Bennett High School, Brown, 48, has a master’s degree in counseling and has been in the health field for 20 years. He currently consults two days a week with St. Joseph's University School.

He would like to see the public schools fill in the gaps in services to better address students’ and parents’ needs, many of which are linked to financial challenges their families face.

"Our children come to school with a whole litany of problems. There are so many needs that are not being addressed," he said. "If they are not being addressed, we can't educate these students at all. And a lot of these parents are in need of mental, emotional and social support. I think it's our duty as a board of education to help them get those services that they need."

Theresa A. Harris-Tigg, who spent 13 years teaching junior and senior high in the Buffalo Public Schools, including time at School 11, School 66 and McKinley High School. She is in her fifth year as an assistant professor in Buffalo State College’s English department.

Harris-Tigg, 56, ran against Evans for the East District seat in May and lost by 15 votes.

Her interest in the seat has sparked opposition by the Buffalo Teachers Federation because some teachers have said she crossed the picket line in the 2000 teachers strike.

That’s not true, Harris-Tigg said. She said she was already at school, tutoring students, when the strike was called.

“I learned sometime in an hour or so that a strike was called,” she said. “I had children with me—I wasn’t going to leave them. So I stayed. I didn't cross a picket line. I'm not anti-union. But I had to make a decision.”

What's the most important issue facing the Buffalo Public Schools? The atmosphere in the schools, she said.

"I'd like to see some calm in the schools," she said. "My top priority is student achievement, having a safe place, a place of honor for our kids. Create an atmosphere that's safe for them and calm. We have great teachers in Buffalo. We just have to find a way so they can feel confident and share that publicly."

She emphasized the importance of ongoing professional development for teachers and principals.

"I'd like to see the teachers lifted up," she said.

Frank Leli, a 64-year-old resident of the Broadway/Bailey neighborhood. After working in quality control at an industrial ceramics plant for 39 years, Leli returned to school in 2006 and earned a master's degree in secondary education at D'Youville College. He is certified as a secondary social studies teacher, and has been substitute teaching in several local districts for the past few years.

During his time working at the plant, he noted, he served as a union steward and was involved with negotiating two contracts.

The lifelong resident of the East Side said he has become increasingly concerned about the dropout rate in Buffalo. Other districts, he said, have graduation rates about 80 or 90 percent.

"What are they doing that is right, and what are we doing that is wrong?" he said. "What if we could invite them into the district to see what programs we have. Maybe we could get enlightened on something. Something has to be done to convince these children to stay in school.

"I see all this money going into these new schools, and what justifies it, with a 47 percent (dropout rate)? Some of these schools look like palaces. When I was in school, the object was not the place where we were studying. It was our education."

Kent Olden, a 2002 graduate of Hutchinson-Central Technical High School who went to Morehouse College in Atlanta. He recently completed a master’s degree in public relations management at Buffalo State College.

At 26, he is the youngest of the known candidates.

He said he became interested in the East District seat when former board member Janique Curry brought the vacancy to his attention. He had worked on her campaign for the board.

“She really feels like I would have a lot to bring to the position,” Olden said.

He believes the most important issue facing the district is the residency requirement for teachers, something the board has been discussing for several weeks. He supports the residency requirement.

"I think it would be a good idea to have the residency there just because these are Buffalo students," he said. "It's good to have someone they can relate to in the classroom with them. There's plenty of qualified candiates in the city. I just don't know if everything is being done to find them."

Rosalyn Taylor, a retired Buffalo Public Schools administrator. She started teaching in 1969 and worked her way up to become assistant superintendent of elementary education and then assistant superintendent for school operations before retiring in 2006.

After she retired, she taught for two and a half years at the University at Buffalo. With recent cutbacks, she lost her position there.

"When I heard that Vivian Evans had resigned, I thought, this is my opportunity to serve the children in the East District as well as the children in the whole city," she said.

During her tenure, she worked to raise student achievement and was closely involved with the Joint Schools Construction Project, she said. Taylor said she had a good working relationship with Mary Ruth Kapsiak, now the board’s Central District representative, an elementary supervisor who worked under her.

Taylor, 63, said she is passionate about improving educational opportunities for children in Buffalo.

“It’s in my blood,” she said. “I’ve been living in the East District for over 30 years. I’m committed to doing whatever I can to improve things.”

If she gets a seat on the board, she would continue to emphasize student achievement, she said.

"My top priority would be to improve the student performance on the assessments, to improve the graduation rate," she said. "And I would look forward to making sure the reconstruction effort has touched as many schools as possible as it comes to a conclusion. And I would work to improve teacher performance overall."

Co-Leen Webb, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council.

She works closely with Samuel Radford III, the group’s vice president, to try to get parents more involved in the Buffalo Public Schools. In the past couple of years, the group successfully advocated to have a paid parent coordinator in each school.

She did not respond to phone messages or e-mails seeking comment.

Applications for the East District seat will be accepted through noon Friday. Resumes may be sent to James M. Kane, chief of staff, Room 801, City Hall. Candidates must be eligible voters who live in the East District.

- Mary Pasciak

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