Sunday, September 23, 2012

It Strains Credulity

Buffalo News columnist Donn Esmonde got in touch with his inner gull the other day when he threw down on behalf of the "reformers" from Chameleon Charter Group whose attempted hostile takeover of Waterfront and East High School was met with a chilly reception from the Buffalo Board of Education. Donn bemoans the Board's refusal to let this bunch of lawyers, lawyer's wives and hangers on get up and explain why they felt no need to talk to the Board before they appealed to their charter-friendly regime in NYSED to hand over the two schools to them for the asking. The Chameleons didn't feel any need to consult with any of the outside groups working at East or Waterfront either, nor did they bother to account for the number of emerging English learners, a significant figure at Waterfront. This is probably because in keeping with the charter schools' "best practices" they tend to get rid of those nettlesome ESL kids anyway who have a nasty habit of dragging down a school's standardized test scores. Their arithmetic needs a little remediation too as they are promising to teach so many kids in so many rooms in a building that was not designed for a loaves and the fishes miracle. In short they don't add so good or they hoped nobody would check their numbers more likely. The Chameleons didn't bother with the teachers or the parents at either school either, knowing as all "reformers" do what's best for education though none of them has spent five seconds anywhere as a teacher or an administrator. How is that exactly ?

In spite of the myriad of facts Donn somehow missed, he paints poor little Steve Polowitz, (lawyer) and poor little Amy Friedman (lawyer's wife) and poor token angry minority man Emilio Fuentes (a "parent" and Co-lead applicant on the application whose kids attend neither of the schools) as the victims of those big bad sorority sisters plus Ralph and the 3 white guys on the Board of Ed. After all Polowitz and Co. are all ready running Tapestry Charter School, you know the one with the fewest students receiving reduced price lunches of any school in the city limits, the school whose students must have private transportation, wink nudge, and we know who that's going to keep out of the lottery don't we ? Essentially this guy and his crew are running a private school full of middle to upper middle class kids with the ever present charter spectre of "counseling out" a.k.a. "expelling" any kid who shows a learning, emotional or behavioral issue. If you can shoot fish in a barrel your aim doesn't have to be all that good.

Wait til one of their uncertified charter teachers or TFA's 6 week wonders comes head to head with a real live kid from a Buffalo High School who doesn't  come to school much or take orders from greenhorns.  But Donn doesn't seem to allow for this scenario -- tipsy as he is from the jug of "reform." In Donn's world whatever the charterians tell him is gospel and there's no need for a follow up question or a second guess. If they say they care about kids then that's the reason they're doing this. If they say Buffalo is "failing" these kids and the manifest confounding variables of their lives, drugs, violence, gangs, family dysfunction, abuse, neglect and mental illness are NO EXCUSE for a poor school performance. In Donn's world it's the union's fault and we all know unions are made up of people and in this case Donn has informed us that it's the teacher's fault, same as the "reformers" all insist.  Please don't waste your breath telling me his wife is a Buffalo teacher either, I see no mitigating good judgement from him as a result of this fact.

Likely the most hilarious detail of Donn's Modest Proposal was when he pointed out the advantages of Buffalo teachers who'd have dibs on all the cool non union jobs available at Chameleon East High and WaterChameleon Elementary. Of course, their benefits would be long gone and their salaries subject to the whims of Steve and Amy et al. And from the infamous Barber of No Illusions, Mr. Emilio Fuentes, comes the most enticing piece of the tempting job offers at ChameleonWorld Inc. At the July meeting they held with less than 24 hours notice Mr. Fuentes was given his 15 minutes of fame to lay out some of the perks, here is his exact offer as quoted by George Sax in Artvoice :   “There are a lot of adults who are going to get a haircut: no benefits, lower salaries…I’m sorry, but I’m not interested in adults; I’m interested in children.”   Standing near the back of the meeting room, prominent veteran community activist Samuel A. Herbert growled, “That’s cold, cold.” (Later, he told Artvoice that this amounted to an attack on the already low morale of teachers and that he has been advocating for separate funding streams for public and charter schools.) East High vice principal Benjamin Willis asked Fuentes, “How could you say this when the adults in the building are connected to the children?” I haven't met Mr. Willis but I have traded barbs with Sam Herbert in the News comments section (before they shut it off) on several occasions and I have come to enjoy and appreciate Mr. Herbert's  refreshing candor and his absolute refusal to suffer fools, including me. We usually agree, eventually. 

It's really a sign of the times we inhabit to see this incurious clod of kneejerk fluff coming across Esmonde's monitor. I remember when Officer Skip McDougald, a frequent sub at Burgard Vocational, was shot and killed by a neighborhood thug who went by the street name of "Face." Esmonde walked up to a hood basketball court with his notebook and had a conversation with the young men playing ball, some of whom sociologists might call true members of the "oppositional culture." These were hardass hood thugs who showed no empathy or remorse for McDougald's fate. They spoke of him sneeringly as "Skippy" and revealed a horrifying contempt for him, his badge and essentially all that Skip stood and gave his life to protect. I was truly amazed Esmonde was able to capture the pure distillation of the hostile ether many of us have whiffed in the hallways of our public schools. I gave him a lot of credit for getting that conversation out of those guys and for having the stones to wade into that court and report the despair, the simmering rage and the hopelessness of these young men and the vortex of violence, fast living and early death that comprises their milieu. What happened Donn ? You had it when it came to street hardened ghetto kids baring their fangs and smirking over the cold blooded murder of a Buffalo cop but when a lawyer opens his briefcase and his "school reform" pals pass you a jug of "reform" moonshine you get drunk as a schoolgirl and forget who the hell you are. In the words of the "reformers" there is simply No Excuse.


  1. I e-mailed Donn yesterday out of frustration... these are some remarks:

    This band of reformers has not one professional educator among its staff. The "leader", Valarie Nolan, has a Bachelors and Masters degree in English. Her resume includes writing grants and proposals, but not any elementary or high school classroom experience. The third person in this group is a parent activist whose children attend tapestry Charter School, as do Steve's. The fourth , Emelio Fuentes is the parent of children who attended the Waterfront School. Check out his background for yourself.

    There are about 960 students registered at the Waterfront. The Chameleon "Plan " of 20 students per class ( which would be wonderful if that were the limit in every school), will displace about 300 of the present kids. Which ones will be "counseled out" ? ELA, LBD, behavior problems, poor "test-takers, or well behaved high performing students?

    These folks want to get in on the ever expanding money-making business that is turning public schools over to private corporations who are dedicated to increasing the "bottom line". So far they have not "managed" even one school...successful or not.

    ...These two laws( NCLB and RttT) have imposed so many dysfunctional mandates, that by 1014 there will be 98% of the schools in the country on the "needs improvement" list and 80% will have to be "turned around or "turned over" to private enterprises. Think about it. Private companies ,each with its own agenda, making decisions using public money, not subject to any local elected "Board"...It would be an unthinkable and undo-able mess.

    ...Jobs that will provide less money, no legal representation, fewer benefits, longer unpaid working days, less privacy when after work ( students will have their phone numbers),no input on working conditions... Yes, that sounds like a "Real Deal" ( like at a street corner Used car Dealership.)

    Longer days are a matter for negotiation in the teacher's contract.
    The unions don't make "rules", the State and Federal government non- educators make up the "Rules".
    That is the problem. Local Boards' decisions are pre-empted by "far away" politicians in state capitals and D.C. Is that how it is supposed to be?...( six hundred career politicians making all the decisions?
    No one at The News knows much about the complexities of our education system, and they fill up the paper with S'Mores and jello...nothing but the hype and propaganda of the day...whatever sells... pitiful!

  2. Well said....Peg and Sean......Thank you from a BPS teacher!