The Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization (BPTO) held its general membership meeting at East High School Saturday, September 12.
Parents, teachers, school employees and community stakeholders attended the meeting to discuss positive accomplishments and ongoing concerns with the Buffalo Public Schools (BPS). As part of this, the meeting began with all present introducing themselves and giving a positive example about their experience with their schools, teachers or students. BPTO works to build positive relations with all involved with the schools. Its meetings are a welcoming and inclusive space to discuss and debate and work together to improve public schools.
As part of building its relationships, BPTO invited new Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash to attend the meeting and speak with the audience. He began his speech by acknowledging all present and particularly the men and fathers in attendance.
“It is so important for fathers to make a big comeback. Too often they’ve been absent: absent at birth, absent during the development of the young child . . . it is good to see the fathers here,” he said.
Cash discussed the importance of, and his commitment to, parent voices.
“The word ‘engagement’ is key. Not involvement, but engagement.”
He compared parent and community involvement to an army, saying, “You’re only as powerful as your numbers and your collective voice.” According to Cash, the school system needs persistent productivity in order to excel.
According to a community member who wishes to remain anonymous, parents and others at School Board meetings have objected to this language, saying, “Our children are not products,” they are human beings. Schools are not factories and the quality of education is not something that can be measured in this way.
Referring to a hypothetical “no-excuses organization,” Cash said that it is important for parents, administrators, teachers, community members and board members to take full responsibility for any and all aspects of BPS. “It is all of us all the time.” He encouraged all parties involved to “own all of it.”
Upon mentioning receivership schools, Cash made a statement that evoked a mixed response from the audience.
“I’ve got 26 receivership schools and they’re trying to find the best teachers they can find for the hard work they have to do . . . Why should you be left with the dregs in the worst schools? And it is continuous. It has been for 30 years. Those schools have the poorest human capital in it, I’ve studied it. I looked at it.”
He said that these schools need help, professional development and support, recognition, and encouragement; it is a process that cannot be done in six hours and fifty minutes.
Cash did not take any questions and then left. A co-chair of the meeting immediately objected to his claim that receivership schools have teachers and staff who are dregs, recognizing this as an unjust attack. Dregs are defined as scum, garbage, the most worthless.
She said, “Which teachers in this room think they are dregs?” None raised their hands. She asked, “Which parents in the room think their teachers are dregs?” And none raised their hand, showing that those present did not support Cash’s claims. Another co-chair later emphasized that the main reason schools are in receivership is not because of their teachers, but because of a single, unfair, state test that wrongly brands children as failures.
The issue of the unfairness of the state tests also came up in later discussion. Most of the 25 schools taken over by the state and in receivership have large populations of immigrants and refugees, ranging from 30-70% of the student body. These students, who are learning English, have to take the test in English and are graded the same as students whose first language is English. This is unfair and harmful to students, who are told they are failures.
One person also spoke to a double standard, where English Language Learners (ELL) in New York City are given a waiver from the tests for two years. She felt Buffalo’s ELL students should also get such a waiver. A third BPTO co-chair supported this and BPTO will make an effort to look into it. She also spoke to difficulties faced by non-English speakers. She encouraged refugees to attend future BPTO meetings to speak to the needs of their children and join in developing positive relationships.
It was brought out that BPTO works hard to be inclusive and build relationships among all concerned about the public schools, be they parents, students, teachers, aides, bus drivers, custodians, administrators or concerned citizens. Meetings are a place to appreciate the positives and tackle the serious problems the public schools face. The presentation on BPTO’s work included examples of these efforts and a stand against state takeover and in support of local public control.
Parents were encouraged to participate in Community Engagement Teams at the receivership schools and can do so by talking with their principal. Plans are going forward for a town hall meeting where all can come together to discuss the kind of public schools and education people want and need, and the work needed to have it provided equally for all.
The next BPTO meeting will take place October 24 at East High on Northampton from 9:00-11:00AM.