LB 2021: Education Day


By: Marla Guarino (LB '21), Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Inc

Leadership Buffalo kicked off its Education Day in hopes of learning more about equity in education, alternative education choices for students and the differences in educational environments. The day proved both informative and inspirational.

Equity in education was discussed during a panel with Jason Hall the Director of Buffalo City School District’s Office of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Initiatives, Derek Baker the Principal of Sweet Home Middle School and Tommy McClam the Senior Director of Boys and Men of Color Initiative at Say Yes Buffalo. These passionate leaders face the historic and everyday issues of inequality in our schools. Investigating curriculum for historic omissions and discrepancies, educating the education professionals on topics such as microaggressions and changing hiring practices to include black and brown educators are just a few methods being used to shift the balance in our Euro-centric educational system. COVID-19 shed light on the overt inequities. Homes without internet meant some students could not virtually learn. Some parents lost jobs because they had to stay home with children and economic disparities compounded. The school districts scrambled to help, but problems of poverty and food insecurity have hardly been solved. And while Diversity and Inclusion trainings are expanding, until students can see their faces reflected in their teachers and learn the full and rich history of their people we will not see the change truly needed.

The opportunities of alternative education for students who opt not to take the path toward college or the military was addressed by both Dr. Mark Laurrie, Superintendent of the Niagara Falls School District and Stephen Tucker, President & CEO of Northland Workforce Training Center. Dr Laurrie has lived and worked in NF all his life. With high poverty and unemployment rates, he understands the challenges his students face and has innovative solutions in alternative education. He envisions a transition from high school to the well-paying jobs in the area and he is working with the trade unions and construction companies to develop curriculum to start exposure to these trades by third grade. A NF high school diploma will come with endorsements and will show the apprenticeship path the student has been on. Not all students will head to college, and there are jobs that provide a financially rewarding path that he wants them to consider and prepare for.

The Northland Workforce Training Center has become an exemplary facility for low to no cost education for lucrative careers in advanced manufacturing and energy. The East side of Buffalo, where Northlands is located, has a rich history of manufacturing and the Center is serving as a beacon for revitalization. The Center’s programs have a 62% completion rate, compared to approximately 30% at community colleges. They attribute this to their intense wrap around services. For instance, transportation is provided during their courses as well as 90 days after graduation. Also, each student has a support team consisting of professional experts in admissions and financial aid, and coaches who help with outreach, awareness and recruiting for job placement. All these measures ensure the student has the best possible chance for success.

Western New York has an array of educational institutions and our final panel of the day brought in principals from public, private and charter schools. Fred Carstens of Tapestry Charter School, Lisa Dombek of the Stanley G. Falk School, Sarah Jacobson from the Nichols School, William Kresse of PS 195 City Honors School, John Starkey of PS 207 Lafayette International High School discussed their communities with their differing challenges and goals. COVID has brought social isolation to all in degrees. These leaders talked about the loss of social mental framework for their students, but the ability of the schools to be able to alleviate this loss was markedly different. While Nichols students

were feeling the pressure of the high cost of tuition and of wondering about having the right courses for college acceptance, they were also feeling the loss of the school traditions. Yet, because of the size of their campus, the students were able to learn in-person five days a week and were enjoying outdoor classroom experiences. In the public realm, City Honors seemed to have more in common with Nichols, then with PS 207 Layfette. At Layfette, twenty different languages are spoken and successful on-line communication and economic woes have added to the loneliness of COVID life. In the Charter schools, Tapestry prizes itself on “hands on” skills being taught and this is lost without classroom time. At Falks, counseling services are built into the curriculum to meet the needs of the students who did not thrive in other school environments. Because they were already smaller classrooms and had special needs they had in-person classes and more counselors. All these leaders are trying their best to meet student needs especially during the stress of COVID. Their communities span the range of social and economic means. Because of this some schools have more resources to deal with problems as they arise, but all have the passion and caring to listen to their families and attempt to make the best for them.

Education is a multi-faceted topic, and it can be a hot, divisive subject to discuss. How we educate in our schools is the distillation of how we deal with our overall society. It offers the beginning and the growth of our future society. Right now, economic disparities are evident, racism is subtly (sometimes overtly) taught, and politics can determine what is taught and how schools are structured. A few times during the day the LB Class noticed not much has been changed in decades, yet the system is crying for innovation and strong, daring leadership. We met some daring leaders today who are exemplary of servant leadership. They know their communities, they listen to their families and they try to advocate for them and try to make the best decisions by them. What we learned today was scratching the surface, but I am sure many in the LB Class of 2021 will be paying closer attention and when called to help, will do so.