Outgoing Supt. Brown Highlights District Progress in 2-Year Tenure
In what has been a tumultuous tenure, outgoing Buffalo Schools Superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown says there is plenty to be proud of with still more room for improvement.
Dr. Brown presented statistics from her two years as superintendent to a crowd of several dozen people -- largely supporters -- Friday night at the New Covenant United Church-Christ on Clinton Avenue. She drew applause from attendees in the crowded pews about the 8 percent jump in graduation rate from 2011-12 to 2012-13 to 56 percent; the 7 percent decrease in the drop out rate (23.4 percent); increasing scores from black and Latino students as well as declines in chronic and severe absenteeism. She said if these numbers stay on trend, there can be dramatic improvement in one of the nation's most beleaguered school districts.
"We know that we have accomplished many things comparing where things were when I came to where they are now and emphasizing the fact that based on the progress that has been made, a stronger foundation has been established," Dr. Brown said to reporters after her remarks."
Board president Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold said this was an opportunity for Dr. Brown to present facts about her tenure personally because she says the media did not do that fairly.
"I think it's been very difficult to have the media, particularly the print media, to tell the story of the kinds of accomplishments that have been made in the district under Dr. Brown's leadership. Statistics that have been used really went back to 2011-12 before she even came. A lot of times I think there was distortions in the information about how the district has done under her leadership, so we wanted to set the record straight."
"If you don't tell your own history then you leave it to somebody else and you don't know how it will turn out."
But the crowd was also interested in something else. About 10 speakers expressed their appreciation for her work during her tenure and also praised Dr. Brown for her "grace" and "composure" in dealing with a board containing members calling her unfit for the position. Several people who spoke said racism and sexism were factors.
"She's not leaving for any other reason than a racial reason. 'Can't use the n-word? OK, we'll use something else: she's not qualified,'" one speaker said imitating the board.
Brown was asked if she thought racism or sexism was behind her departure.
"I'm not naive enough to think that we're completely in a post-racial era," she said. "We have to look at what people do and listen to what they say. I think that gives us evidence of to what extent there is that commitment to the children, first. When we listen to individuals talk are they talking about what is best for children and is that what the primary focus is and that will, I think, give us the indication that we need in terms of what is driving the words and the actions of each one of us."
Dr. Seals Nevergold was also measured in her response.
"I think we have to look at some of the statements that were made about her," she said. "I think we have to look at the tone and we have to look at the actions that have been addressed and whether or not they're racist or sexist, I think it really depends on taking a look at the actions and the statements and so forth that were made by certain board members about her. They weren't necessarily factual so it leads one to believe -- or, to wonder -- on what they were based."
Brown, alluding the disputes with the board, said she hopes the next superintendent is afforded the focus needed to attack a demanding job.
"It is very difficult to do that work when you have distractions that are constantly underway and some might even say efforts to undermine the work that is being done," she said. "I just think that the children of Buffalo Public Schools deserve to have a situation where the superintendent can focus entirely on the work that needs to be done."
While there were complaints from speakers about the current board, they also accepted blame for not turning out to vote, and for lack of coordination in assembling too many candidates that diluted votes.
District officials also updated the crowd about the search for a new interim superintendent: there isn't one. However, they say they want the process to be transparent.
Dr. Brown continues to serve as superintendent as she negotiates an "amicable" agreement on a buyout.