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In North District, Mistretta is working to expand parental involvement

Wendy Mistretta clearly recalls when she made the decision to run for the Buffalo Board of Education. She was at a parent assembly in December when a board member thanked the parents for attending and called them all valued “customers.”

That’s not how Mistretta – who holds a doctorate in higher education – has ever seen her role as a parent. In her mind, she “hired” the Buffalo Public Schools to educate her children, and the district is ultimately answerable to her and all its parents.

“In my mind,” she said, “I’m their boss.”

Her key platform goal is to create “full parental partnerships” between the district and parents of the children the district serves.

Mistretta, 44, has been an active parent at International School 45, which her two children attend. She’s also on the board of the District Parent Coordinating Council. She previously served as director of faith formation at St. Louis Church and was assistant director of international education at SUNY Buffalo State for seven years until 2003.

Among her top platform issues, Mistretta said, she wants to recast the district’s definition of “parental involvement” into something more than getting more parents to attend parent-teacher meetings and sign up for volunteer activities.

They should be partners in decision-making, which is hard to do now, she said.

Mistretta espouses holding board meeting in more accessible locations instead of City Hall, advance posting of board committee meeting topics, and more support of the District Parent Coordinating Council.

“Parents who want to be more involved and are made to feel unwelcome – they are going to send their children to other schools,” she said.

Her other priorities include the implementation of the district’s new Wellness Policy that will ensure students get at least two hours of physical education a week, support of anti-bullying measures associated with the state’s Dignity for All Students Act, and equal access for all students to academic programs and extracurricular activities.

Mistretta said she’s witnessed firsthand the disparity between what the public considers the “best” Buffalo public schools and the rest.

Though one of her children qualified for Olmsted 64’s gifted and talented program, she wound up sending both to International School 45 to keep them together, even though she was advised to send her children to charter or private schools if Olmsted wasn’t available for them.

She rejected that advice and hasn’t regretted her decision, she said. But she’s also witnessed what children who go to the “best” schools get that many other city students never receive, in terms of offerings like art, music, foreign language programs and extracurricular and athletic programs.

“I just don’t understand how you could have a budget of $900 million and still have such great disparity,” she said. “This two-tiered system is unacceptable.”

On other issues, Mistretta said she supports a neighborhood schools plan that still gives parents some school choice within their community.

She does not believe teachers should be required to live in the city, and she thinks Superintendent Pamela Brown is moving the district in the right direction. She said she supports charter schools and converting public schools to charters, but only if the conversion is instigated and supported by the school community.

“I don’t think charter schools fix Buffalo Public Schools,” she said.

Mistretta is not officially supported by the District Parent Coordinating Council (which cannot officially endorse anyone), but she has received considerable assistance from council leaders who have worked on her behalf as private citizens.

She is well-connected through school and parent groups because of her long involvement with the district and its committees. Mistretta said she’s relying on that networking and on her participation in community events and door-to-door meetings to raise her profile among voters.

That network of support may be key to her election chances since she has raised no outside money for her campaign, she said.

“The only contributor to the campaign is me,” she said.