NY Parents Rally Behind Governor Cuomo’s Ed Reforms

Students, parents, faith leaders, and education advocates across the State of New York have launched district branches of the “Student Lobbyist Association,” a campaign that supports Governor Cuomo’s efforts to save struggling schools and to appoint an Education Commissioner.

The campaign looks to bring students and parents around the State to support the self-proclaimed “Student Lobbyist” and his proposed efforts to implement an effective teacher evaluation system and prioritize performance and improvement.

This week, Buffalo ReformED, the District Parent Coordinating Council, United Partners for Public Education, parents, students and education advocates met to launch the Buffalo Student Lobbyist Association campaign to put students first.

Buffalo currently has 13 schools that are ranked as Persistently Low Achieving (PLA). And unless the district and unions fail to submit an acceptable agreement on an improved teacher evaluation system at these chronically failing schools, then the district could lose $10 million in school improvement grants and potentially $42 million more for the 7 schools currently being considered for SIGs by the State Education Department.

Rochester has 40 failing schools — of which 12 are Persistently Low Achieving — and the district looks to lose $12.3 million to improve 10 of those failing schools this year, and up to $26 million more in the next two school years.

Cuomo wants to tie an increase in state school aid to the implementation of an effective teacher evaluation system — without which Buffalo could lose nearly $50 million in school improvement grants.

Samuel Radford, Vice President of the District Parent Coordinating Council, said:

“Governor Cuomo is clearly invested in transforming New York State’s schools and giving our children the education they deserve. Our kids are evaluated every-day in the classroom, we should hardly expect any less for their teachers. We need accountability and performance in our schools to ensure our students are receiving a quality education. We thank the Governor for fighting for our students.”

Hannya Boulos, Executive Director of Buffalo ReformED, said:

“If we are to build the country’s best education system right here in Buffalo, New York, then sweeping reform is needed and it starts with putting students first. That is why we support Governor Cuomo’s bold education reforms that will spur innovation, promote accountability, and ensure every student has access to effective teachers. We pledge to support these necessary reforms, and to work together to rebuild our education system to better serve our children.”

Helene Kramer, Chair, United Partners for Public Education in Buffalo, said:

“While the Governor understands the value of a stronger accountability system, our local leaders continue to react to financial threats rather than proactively drive change. In the interests of Buffalo’s schools, students, and teachers, we must implement an evaluation system that gives teachers who need it the training and resources to help them improve their teaching ability and, more importantly, ensures our students’ have effective teachers in their classrooms.”

Rochester was the first district in the state to submit its teacher evaluation plan and addendum, which was negotiated by Rochester Teachers Union and Superintendent Bolgen Vargas.

Parent and former Rochester School Board Commissioner Allen Williams said:

“Teacher evaluation reform is arguably the most important moment in public education of the last thirty years and this district has squandered the chance to bring real, substantive change for our children.

“The district is touting its evaluation as a model, but the public needs to know that the process used to develop it was done without board consultation, input or approval.

“Even as a school board member, the first time I saw the Rochester teacher evaluation plan was on the teachers’ union website, after it was submitted to the state.”

The negotiations were somewhat rocky after contracts reached a stalemate under former superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard. The Board then changed the terms of Superintendent Vargas’ contract during the talks to allow him to run for the permanent position.

The Rochester Student Lobbyist Association believes that what the public was promised was much stronger than that the evaluation plan negotiated by Vargas and RTA President Adam Urbanski. RSLA has developed a review of the evaluation plan, “5 Ways the Vargas-Urbanski Evaluation Plan is Unfair to Rochester Students and Taxpayers,” meant to spur a community conversation about the Rochester teacher evaluation, says a press release.

Bishop Willie Davis of the Greater Rochester Faith Community Alliance said:

“As Commissioner King reviews Rochester’s proposal and addendum, he needs to know that the Rochester community does not support this teacher evaluation plan and certainly does not think it should be replicated across the state, as Drs. Vargas and Urbanski do.

“The Rochester plan is not in the interest of our children, it is rigged in favor of special interests and only gives the illusion of change.”

Ernest Flagler-Mitchell, president of Rochester Parents United, said:

“For decades, Rochester parents have been fighting to speak for themselves. The state regulations clearly allow for parent feedback as one of the multiple measures in the evaluation. It seems that in his zeal to please the union, Interim Superintendent Vargas forgot to mention to parents this historic opportunity to shape district reform.

“Rochester has been hemorrhaging students over the last ten years. A high-performing, responsive district would want to know why parents are leaving.”

Flagler-Mitchell was citing a recent New York State Education Department report that stated Rochester enrollment fell by 5,300 over the last ten years.