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Psychologist gives Buffalo School Board family perspective

A few weeks ago, Catherine Flanagan-Priore got a message from her husband that the Buffalo School Board was in search of candidates to replace ousted Board Member Carl P. Paladino.

"LOL," she messaged back. "Are you considering this?"

"No," her husband wrote. "I mean you."

"I think they need someone like you who knows children and works with families," he told her.

Flanagan-Priore, a pediatric psychologist, was sworn in Wednesday as the newest member of the School Board, after the other members chose her from among 15 candidates to fill Paladino's vacant Park District seat and represent the residents of South Buffalo.

"I am certainly not Carl Paladino," Priore said in an interview prior to taking the oath of office. "I don't believe in any way, shape or form much of what he has said."

Priore, 43, is a pediatric psychologist with Women & Children's Hospital in the Hematology-Oncology Unit. She also has a small private practice.

A native of Lake View, she attended Mount Mercy Academy before going on to earn her bachelor's degree from Boston University. She returned to Buffalo, where she received her master's and doctorate degrees from the University at Buffalo.

Her husband, Charles Priore, is a corrections officer with the Erie County Sheriff's Office and her 4-1/2 year old daughter attends Notre Dame Academy on Abbott Road.

While she has paid attention to what has been happening with the School Board, Flanagan-Priore acknowledged she will have to further educate herself on some of the specific issues.

But, she said, her job as a psychologist has taken her inside many Buffalo schools to meet with teachers and administrators to discuss a student's cancer diagnosis. It has given her a good perspective on what's going on in the classroom and what families deal with in the schools.

"I heard a lot about the barriers to parental involvement," said Flanagan-Priore, who goes by Cate. "When an elementary school child misses the school bus and the parent has to take three city buses to get him to school — and still get to work on time — obviously that child isn't going to get to school."

So when her husband encouraged her to submit her name as a board candidate, she thought about it for 10 days and realized how much her involvement in the schools sparked conversation at home about education.

During her public interview, Flanagan-Priore expressed her feelings about the importance of focusing on early childhood literacy, raising the high school graduation rates in the city and her concerns that charter schools are taking funds away from the district.

It's not clear yet how her appointment affects the dynamics of the often fractious board, but Flanagan-Priore said she will work collaboratively and doesn't believe her being obstinate will get the board anywhere. She doesn't view the appointment as a personal gain or political stepping stone.

"I come at it from the exact opposite. It's not about me, it's about serving the community," said Flanagan-Priore, something she learned from her late father, Tim.

In fact, Flanagan-Priore said she was surprised she was selected to the board considering the quality of the competition, which included a retired school administrator and two former School Board members.

But she's getting good early reviews from some of her new colleagues, who were impressed with her interview and the depth and breadth of her experience.

"She has insight, passion and has demonstrated commitment and devotion to working with children," said North District Board Member Hope Jay. "She will be a tremendous asset as we move forward with our work on the board."

"I am thrilled," said East District Board Member Theresa Harris-Tigg. "Her resume and her interview demonstrates she already does a lot with children. She offers us a lot."

Seven of the eight board members spent more than an hour behind closed doors Monday night discussing the candidates, before they emerged and unanimously named Flanigan-Priore to the vacant seat.

At-Large Board Member Patricia Pierce, a Paladino ally, said she favored candidate Lou Petrucci, a former School Board president who could have hit the ground running with all his experience serving the district. But she said the votes were swinging toward Flanagan-Priore and she didn't want to cast a dissenting vote.

"I don't want her to think that I didn't want her," Pierce said of her new colleague, "because there's no doubt about it,  she was a star during her interview. She spoke well, she's highly educated and she had great answers."

Larry Quinn, another board ally of Paladino, was absent throughout the process. The board majority wasn't going to listen to him, anyway, Quinn explained, and he thinks Paladino still has a chance to return to the board through his court appeal.

"She seems like a really wonderful woman," Quinn said of Flanagan-Priore, "but the problems of the district are systemic and financial and when you lost Carl — whatever you might think about him — you lost that voice that brings to light the systemic things that are wrong."

"This mix of nine people needs more of what Carl brings," Quinn said.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia removed Paladino from the board in August for publicly disclosing private information from a School Board executive session — which happened in the wake of his inflammatory comments about former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.

Paladino's attorneys this week asked a State Supreme Court judge to prevent the School Board from filling the vacant seat until the appeal process is complete, because appointing someone new will only complicate matters should Paladino win in court. The judge denied the request.

Flanagan-Priore, meanwhile, didn't find out she was picked until it was reported in the media the following day.

Her husband woke her up early Tuesday morning to inform her she was the new Park District representative and that her cell phone was blowing up with texts from well-wishers.

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