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Rod Watson tests results dishonor school names

August 6, 2010

Dr. Antonia Pantoja (1922-2002)

Buffalo News journalist Rod Watson wrote a disturbing and troubling column critical of the  recent test results in the  Buffalo Public Schools in the City of Buffalo, calling the scores “dismal and ridiculous.” And Watson continued, “If the idea of naming schools after community or national leaders was to inspire, the brainstorm has failed about as miserably as the schools themselves.”

He encouraged the readers to “scan the list of schools behaving badly (low test scores) in teaching 3rd through 8th grades.  The names (of the schools) read like a who’s who of luminaries who never would have achieved their success if they had performed like some of these kids.

Sadly, too many of the schools with the lowest test scores he mentioned  such as “the Dr. Antonia Pantoja Community School of Academic Excellence, … the Grabiarz School of Excellence, the Frank A. Sedita School and the Herman Badillo Community School enroll the highest number of Latino students and those identified as English Language Learners (ELLs).

The Buffalo Puerto Rican Press cited a report , “Raising the Achievement of English

Herman Badillo

Language Learners  in the Buffalo Public Schools” published in the winter of 2009-10 by the Council of the Great City Schools that also sent shock waves in the educational community when the Buffalo News reported the findings and had a link to the publication on its website in May. Specifically, it  states that “ELLs in Buffalo have less than half the graduation rate of ELLS in New York State: 21 percent versus 55 percent.”

Watson added, “And to think, there were actually community campaigns to name schools for these role models. As a colleague noted, descendants should demand that their loved ones’ good names be scrubbed from the buildings.”

However, instead of scrubbing the names of the schools Buffalo Schools officials  should consider appointing Latinos to head these schools as they did in the past when they appointed Carmen Rodriguez the first Puerto Rican Principal at  Herman Badillo when it first opened  as a bilingual school  in the 1970s. And  to  similarly open up opportunities  for Latino  today is what Latino leaders have asked the district to do but feel  ignored and denied a voice in these appointments. Yet, it is a problem in these schools related to the lack of  academic progress of Latino children as the Council of Great City Schools report corroborated in its findings.

In the past, the Latino community  participated in developing the bilingual program  at Herman Badillo through an advisory group that helped to choose the leaders of the school as well.  Yet, forty years later  many feel things in the district are back to what they were before in the late 1960s, causing the problems the Council of Great City Schools report emphasized, i.e. principals not familiar with the bilingual programs, Assistant Superintendents in Central office lacking the background to properly give direction to them, etc.,

Since the early 1970’s Herman Badillo had a Latino administrator first Carmen Rodriguez then David Caban who replaced her when she left sometime in the 1980s but when he took another position  in the district in Central Office in 2001 as one of the Assistant Superintendents, the District appointed an administrator with hardly any previous experience working with a bilingual student population in a bilingual school or  fluency in the Spanish language to  communicate with students and parents.

“But whatever we do, let’s stop slurring famous achievers who deserve better..” Watson said. It’s incomprehensible and indefensible that schools in the Latino community especially Herman Badillo and Dr. Antonia Pantoja with the highest enrollment of Latino children do not have Latinos at the helm of these schools. Since 2001 Herman Badillo School has not had a bilingual Latino head of school and its 8th grade test scores are among the lowest both under the old and the new test scores. And Dr. Antonia Pantoja has never had a Latino head of school though the community organized itself to change the name around 2003.

Certainly, one does not criticize the two women heading these schools now because the district appointed them but it’s the mentality in Central Office in the Buffalo Schools that is noticeable in how they make the  appointments to these schools that Puerto Ricans and other Latinos are not fit to govern them.  And this spills over to many other things especially to the children enrolled in these schools affecting their graduation and drop-out rates.

It’s no wonder the “Raising the Achievement of English Language Learners” and Latinos in the Buffalo Public Schools is a futile mission unless  the district  appoints Puerto Ricans and other Latinos  to these schools.

Although the Buffalo School officials have recently reached out to the community to begin to discuss some of the issues in  the Council of Great City Schools report by holding a meeting last month and reaching out to the parents of  other children who are English Language Learners  it was not held at the  Herman Badillo School.

Instead  school officials held the meeting at the International School #45, perpetuating the idea that Puerto Ricans are immigrants, foreigners, refugees,  or international students in the Buffalo Schools when they are U.S.  citizens simply denied similar opportunities as other students in the district.  Puerto Rican leaders believe  holding a meeting in  a school where   Puerto Rican children are not enrolled diminishes  their role   in the decisions made about educating of the ELL population since they are over 50% of the group affected. Basta Ya!

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