Credit Where It’s Due: Parents Are Responsible for BPS Progress

Oh no they didn’t. Did a local news station just run a glowing, self-congratulatory story about the phenomenal improvement of Buffalo Public Schools graduation rates – giving credit to everyone but Buffalo parents for this hard-fought accomplishment? Did a “Johnnie-come-lately” school board member join this brazen attempt to hijack the fruits of our intense, impassioned, consistent labor? Did they really just casually list some of the factors that contributed to the turn around, without reporting that parent activism is responsible for… all of them? Oh no they didn’t. 

The School Board member quoted in the piece invites the reporter to go back further than the past four years of graduation rates, to say, 2012, as he marvels over a number that went from 49% to 76.3% during that period. It’s incredible growth,” he says…as if Lafayette and Bennet, former failing schools, just decided one day to close and revamp themselves, as if  “Say Yes” Officials chose Buffalo in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and the graduation rate just kind of rose with global warming.    

District Parent Coordinating Council Co-Chair Sam Radford was at least included in the piece, and his comments expressed concern about an inevitable skewing of the numbers because of cancelled Regents Exams. That’s because parents of the most underserved, most ill-prepared children in the nation want to know that graduates are actually ready for college, for careers, for life. For us, the condition of public schools is not a PR campaign…a highlight for a new brochure, or an opportunity to make the “inner city” appear less scary. Moreover, allowing others to usurp credit for our magnficent feat would profane the very maxim that made it possible: the steadfast conviction that our children are our responsibiility. We can’t afford to forget that now… to relinquish our progeny once again to the hands of those who assure us they’re the “professionals;” more qualified to steward our children than we are. We can’t afford to drop our guard again, and return to the crush of bills and the stresses of life, content that at least somebody else has this part covered. 

So… we stoke the fires of our remembrance. We go back further than 2012 – to the 1960’s, when the mighty BUILD organization was stomping the yard at the School Board Meetings, fighting for “Parity,” equal funding for all schools. We reminisce with the CAO’s L. Nathan Hare at a 2009 Parents’ meeting, where he describes our schools when he was growing up as the “principle integrators of the community.”  He tells us how parenting and non-parenting adults were integrated with each other around the locus of the school. Siblings attended the same schools as their own parents, and the same teachers who taught them were waiting on you when you got there. But “We killed that,” he said – “because  somebody sold us a bill of goods. When we said that if you’re gonna spend $2800 in 1963 in a majority Caucasian school, then you gotta spend $2800 per student at School #53. We only asked that the money be made right. That’s the only integration we asked for. But they gave us forced bussing. And Magnet Schools. It destroyed 22 African schools that we had in the community. 

Sadly, it would get worse. Much worse. By the time the Buffalo Local Action Committee and the DPCC picked up the baton in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, we took on a combative, recalcitrant district in shambles. Black and Brown boys, as well as ELL (English Language Learners) students had a graduation rate of 25%. Students were being suspended on a whim, especially around exam times. A policy of social passing routinely pushed functional illiterates out into the streets or into waiting jail cells, and the city’s schools, after White flight, served as cash cows with the singular purpose of feeding the surrounding suburbs. And that doesn’t scratch the surface. Right here on these noble pages, where this journey was chronicled as it was happening, we’ll remember. Because those who forget history…