The State Legislature is faced with several vacancies on the Board of Regents and a higher than usual number of candidates, especially in the Western New York district. Still, the decision should be easy: Re-elect Robert M. Bennett. Unanimously.
The spotlight is shining bright as Bennett works toward a fifth, five-year term as a Regent, but he has consistently proven himself over the years to be a strong and dedicated champion of students.
He is not cowed by unions that would prefer things their way. Nor is he diverted by frightened parents who don’t want to see their children tested and taught in a way that varies from their decades-old experiences.
Bennett is fully committed to improving schools in New York and moving forward. He is tireless. He has 98 school districts in his region, which he visits frequently, and listens to the students, parents, teachers and staff.
As the former head of the Buffalo & Erie County United Way from 1985 until 2000, where he helped create programs dedicated to improving education and early childhood development, Bennett brings years of experience to the table. Moreover, he has spent 20 years teaching teachers seeking an advance degree or leadership certification. He has a unique understanding of the issues facing New York State schools and he stands ready to continue offering his tireless effort and, yes, sometimes upsetting people who don’t like change.
Those who have opposed the Common Core Learning Standards – the unions would be at the top of that list – perhaps fail to understand or acknowledge Bennett’s long-stated position. The standards are a set of goals children should reach at the end of each grade. Opponents of teacher evaluations and testing have misplaced their ire on Common Core, but they are separate issues, as Bennett explains at every meeting on the standards. Did we mention he is a patient man?
Bennett stands by his principles. He is a staunch advocate of the Common Core and also remains an advocate of former State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., who left his Albany job to join the Obama administration. Bennett is also closely associated with New York Education Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch.
There are others vying for Bennett’s spot: former Buffalo School Board members John B. Licata, a longtime trial lawyer and currently attorney for the Erie County Water Authority, and Catherine Collins, an associate professor at SUNY Empire State College and nurse practitioner whose career has focused on health and education.
Also in the running are Sylvia Smyntek-Gworek, an adjunct professor at the University at Buffalo and a former middle school teacher; and David L. Lowrey of Elma, a teacher who serves on the Iroquois Board of Education and Erie 2 Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
The 17-member Board of Regents has a lot on its plate. It oversees all educational policy and services in the state and faces a huge task ahead in finding a replacement for King. In addition, the volunteer board members are tasked with overseeing a wide range of other institutions.
It is a job that Bennett has willingly, generously and devotedly taken on. He has a vision for quality education, and the children in this state need his continued and uninterrupted services.
The Western New York State legislative delegation should support him unanimously in his bid to return to the Board of Regents.