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As goal shifts from mayoralty to School Board, Rodriguez seeks to ‘make a difference’

Sergio R. Rodriguez has made his Board of Education campaign a full-time venture since November, when he lost in the election for Buffalo mayor.

“This is what I live and breathe for,” he said, relishing his experiences campaigning. “Clearly, I want to make a difference, and I want to provide the leadership I feel is necessary to move the city forward. If we’re looking to make the city better and truly achieve its true potential, it starts with the education system.”

Rodriguez made education a focus of his mayoral campaign last year, frequently citing the importance of the public schools as a factor in the city’s success.

At the time, he advocated for mayoral control of the School Board. He cited increases in graduation rates in Yonkers and New York City after each of those cities adopted mayoral control.

But now, Rodriguez says, it’s no longer a good idea for Buffalo.

“If we had the right type of leadership – me, for example – I think it would be the right type of approach,” he said. “But I don’t think the current mayor really has it in him to make the kind of reforms we need to turn around the school system.”

Rodriguez has also changed his mind over the last few months about whether Pamela C. Brown should continue as school superintendent. He had supported her as recently as this winter, but he now believes she should be fired.

“I think during anybody’s first year, that’s a learning-curve stage,” he said. “We weren’t able to see how her decision-making process works. The last few months, we’ve been able to see it. I haven’t been impressed.”

However, the problems in the district extend beyond the superintendent, he said. “She isn’t the problem,” he said. “We’re all the problem.”

If he is elected to one of the three at-large seats on the board in next Tuesday’s election, Rodriguez would like to focus on improving student attendance. He wants to hire truant officers to crack down on students who are skipping school. And he wants to institute in-school suspensions so that students who are suspended would come to school and be supervised by a certified teacher.

The South Buffalo resident also would like to increase parent participation, primarily through the parent portal, an online interface that the district has created to enable parents to access information about their children’s performance.

“We need to make sure we have parental involvement,” he said.

Rodriguez does not want to see any additional charter schools open in Buffalo.

“I’m not against charter schools. Because the system is so dysfunctional, it became a necessity. But I don’t think we should expand or continue to move in that direction,” he said. “But it’s difficult to convince parents they should keep their child in our school system and not go to a charter school, considering what we’re offering is a failure.”

Citing the importance of early childhood education, Rodriguez said he wants kindergarten to be mandatory in Buffalo. He also supports the expansion of universal pre-K throughout the city.

Rodriguez, 33, was born in the Dominican Republic, where he lived for 10 years before moving to Long Island, where he grew up. After high school, he spent five years in the Marine Corps, then earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from D’Youville College and a master’s in organizational leadership from Medaille.

His most recent full-time job was as Medaille’s coordinator of the Office of Veterans and Military Affairs, and he is publisher of GI Bill magazine. For more than a year, he said, he has been living off savings, income from rental properties and other sources of income while focusing primarily on campaigning – first for mayor and now for the School Board. He has said for several years he wanted to serve in elective office, and ran unsuccessfully for a Common Council seat seven years ago.

During his campaign for the School Board, Rodriguez met with the Buffalo Teachers Federation to discuss its support, but the union did not endorse him.

“We’re not looking for other endorsements,” he said. “We haven’t approached people, really, to go out and endorse us. We want to stay as independent as possible.”

Sergio R. Rodriguez

Age: 33

Occupation: Publisher, GI Bill magazine

Campaign supporters: No endorsements from major groups

Position on retaining Superintendent Pamela C. Brown: No

More charter schools: No

More city funding for education: No

Priorities: Improve student attendance, increase parental involvement

Quote: “If we’re looking to make the city better and truly achieve its true potential, it starts with the education system.”