BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A new chapter began in the Buffalo Public Schools Tuesday afternoon. Patti Pierce and Larry Quinn were both sworn in as members of the Buffalo Board of Education.
They are part of the new board majority that elected Jason McCarthy over Dr. Barbara Seals-Nevergold, by a 5-4 vote, as Vice President of Executive Affairs.
Members elected James Sampson as the new school board president and Dr. Theresa Harris-Tigg as Vice President of Student Achievement, at their annual re-organization meeting on Tuesday.
Quinn, Pierce, and Sampson said they consider finding a new superintendent, settling on a new contract with teachers and addressing requests by roughly 3,000 students to transfer into schools in good standing to be the board’s top priorities this summer.
Quinn and Sampson hinted that Buffalo’s next superintendent may be a familiar face to Western New Yorkers.
Quinn said he would look for “somebody that really is familiar with the district, has great management experience, and can come in and get quick results. We don’t have a lot of time to spend deliberating on this. We’ve got kids at risk, and we’ve got to work on it right away.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean a current employee of the district, Quinn said.
“I think they should certainly come from this area. I don’t think it’s the time to go outside of Buffalo and hire somebody.”
“I think in all likelihood, the person will come from outside the district, but be familiar with the district, familiar with the community, have experience in education, and I think very importantly, also have a good relationship with the State Education Department,” Sampson said.
“I’m just looking for a dynamic leader that’s going to come in, step in and make the district the best that it can be. And we’re going to increase student achievement, and we’re going to work with the parents,” Pierce said.
The last valid contract between the school district and the Buffalo Teachers Federation expired over 10 years ago. Since that time, several superintendents’ administrations have had on-and-off discussions, but never come to agreement with teachers on a new deal.
“We want to look at a new deal for teachers,” Sampson said. “We want to look at the organization, to make sure we’re doing absolutely everything we can to support teachers in the classroom and principals. I think we have a sense of urgency now.”
Quinn added, “Our teachers are really the key to education, and we’ve got to create a new model for that. I think the current model’s broken. But I think we can do that, and I think we can treat teachers like professionals, which is what they are.”
Tuesday, the new board was already receiving a vote of confidence from another key stakeholder group, the District Parent Coordinating Council.
“Without question or a doubt, the district is headed in a more parent-friendly direction,” DPCC President Sam Radford told News 4 after the meeting. “We’ve met with the new school board members; we’ve been part of the process. So there’s no question about the fact that it’s a much more parent-friendly environment. And we’re excited, and we’re looking forward to collaborating with the new school board.”
Radford said another issue requiring immediate attention is the number of students with pending requests to transfer into schools in good standing. Last fall, the tally was 2,100. Now, the number is closer to 3,000.
The DPCC on Tuesday asked the State Education Department to appoint a “special master” to devise a plan for how those students can be placed in schools in good standing for this fall.
“We can do short-term things. can transfer kids to other districts, if they can find places. We can put them in private schools. We can do… short-term. Those aren’t the long-term solutions,” Quinn said. “But short-term, I think we have to do everything we can possibly do to get a child a seat in good standing… I’m open to anything.”
“And that’s the right attitude to have about it,” Radford said. “We’re happy to see that Mr. Quinn and the new school board [are] willing to think of ways to create capacity to comply with the law, but also to comply with what parents’ wishes are. With that attitude, we’re confident that we won’t have this problem going down the line.”
Outgoing board members Florence Johnson and John Licata attended their last meeting last week, where the board made a decision to wait and revisit a controversial plan to turn MLK Elementary into a high school next year.