As promised, following is the platform for Dr. Patricia E. Devis, who is running for North District seat for the Buffalo Board of Education, along with these candidates posted on April 25. Now it’s time for you to decide who to vote for. Take the time to learn about candidates in your respective districts, and do your city a favor by getting out and voting for school board elections on May 4!
New to the world of elected office, Devis was moved to run by an urgent sense of the need for “regular people” to stand and represent for “we, the people”. When she reflected on what she knows best–students and teaching–her mission to serve the needs of children and public education was born. Devis’ introduction to serving the public through elected office resulted in her first campaign, last year, for a nearly-successful run at-large on the Board of Education. Not one to quit or give up when things are not easy, she decided to regroup and run for the North district seat in the pending election for the North district seat.
Devis has been a resident of North Buffalo for twenty-four years–the span of her distinguished career as a professor of Chemistry at Erie Community College and Buffalo State College. Her concern over the increasing needs academically of her students and the challenges they encounter in reaching for and completing higher education had troubled her for some time. That concern has crystallized with her commitment to serve before they reach the college door and the first tuition bill.
Devis knows firsthand the miracle of opportunity that a quality education can create. Born in South America, she arrived in the US mainland at age 11 with her mother and three sisters and did not speak any English. Her mother worked as a sweat shop seamstress and struggled to provide for her family. From those humble beginnings, she learned to succeed by setting very high standards to be the best she could in all things and working–as hard as it takes–to get there. Today, she holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and has been a college Chemistry professor in Buffalo for 24 years.
Quality Education for All: Often bandied about, the term “quality education” for Devis means: Teaching for life, not just test scores. While facts (she is a Ph.D. in chemistry!) are critical to informing understanding of the world, being able the formulate ideas and analyze them and value insight is often not attained in bubble boxes on machine-read forms. In the broadest sense, education encompasses literacy across many areas (health, finance, culture, media, etc.), critical thinking and character development. We must deliver an education that addresses all these dimension of community and economic participation so our students are well prepared for success in the 21st century in WNY. This will help stop the chronic exodus of our population (“the brain drain” and pervasive sense that our region lacks opportunity for a high-quality life).
Highly qualified teachers and conscious student engagement are absolutely necessary to the “deep learning” required in education today. Buffalo’s current hiring structure does not offer our schools the best choice of new teachers or adequate diversity. Timelines are so late for hiring decisions that many of the most qualified candidates are long gone by the time the district makes hiring offers. Devis will work with the district to change that.
Teachers and principals need to be heard about conditions in the classroom and buildings as well as issues in students’ lives that can block progress and success. Providing cutting-edge professional development and making sure that “Central Office” is connected to school building life are key to assuring that educational outcomes are the best possible.
Buffalo students deserve teachers and administrators who are the most highly trained, motivated and expert in their field or content area. When teachers are well trained, administration is well informed, and parents are empowered to participate and advocate we will be more successful in addressing troubling rates of truancy, drop-out, persistently poor test scores in some schools. Flexibility in responding to building needs, and empowerment of principals to be leaders can make these things happen.
Parental involvement: Lack of parental support and participation for too many young people today is an issue she feels she–and we–can address more successfully. When parents are invited to participate–even in today’s shaky economic climate when so many parents have to work multiple jobs and are tired, busy, and stressed, she realizes that parents do support and help–in whatever way they can. Stronger, more open, accessible communication is often needed from our public education system: the rate of adult illiteracy in our city is 1:3, adults and parents need caring, personal communication needs to be well ahead of time so that parents can attend meetings. Parents also need to be welcomed into partnership with schools, respected for the many capabilities they develop for survival, and heard–responsively–about their needs and concern for a child’s education. Devis knows the board and our schools can do this better.
Violence and character education: School safety is the first prerequisite for learning for all. We need to more effectively deal with students’ needs so that respect and safety are the tone of all our schools. A climate of discrimination, threat, or abuse creates inability to teach or learn and we must address these–in behavior, role modeling, and across the school day and year. While specific training is needed, setting a climate in every classroom and hallway, on school grounds and in transit throughout the day is essential. We can do this by implementing broader training in diversity appreciation, conflict resolution, and mediation; and by bringing more of the “real world” and community into classrooms to help children understand expectations many of us take for granted. No child or staff in our schools should be fearful of going to school. We need to address lack of understanding of others, low-level anti-social verbal and other forms of intimidation and conflict. We need to set the tone that school is safe and that learning is its purpose. This applies equally to staff and to children, including those with special needs, those learning English, any sexual orientation. The community can play a significant role here as well, beyond the school building and by participating in education through school partnership, mentoring and support.
Parent and school choice: Parents and students benefit from school choice. Charters offer some of that needed choice, but the current funding method places children in district schools at a disadvantage and means that some children are “left behind” in schools that are under-resourced. These are often the children with the highest academic, social and other needs. We need to address this structural problem so that a high quality education is offered in every school to every child in the district. We need to be realistic that poverty, while a serious impediment, is not the only factor that places children at risk of academic failure. Other factors which do not respect class or color include: single parent households, lack of parental education, not speaking English proficiently, and social ills like substance abuse. Providing quality education and services in every building, according to the needs of the students, will address some of these ills. Engaging all parents and the community in our schools will also go along way to ensuring that all students,even traditionally disadvantaged ones, have the wherewithal to succeed in school and in
Extended time: When we offer consistently high quality, adequately funded services, children benefit from extended school time, whether in the span of the school year or day. We can also strengthen outcomes for children through effective community alliance with the schools. Wherever a child spends his or her day, it needs to be based on the idea that children are like “walking hard drives”, always absorbing and learning. We can do better to deliver learning that is healthy and effective for their success in life and work by enriching program offerings and content, top quality staff, effective school and parent partnership. Mastery takes more time that “passing” and we should explore every opportunity for that higher level. Having programs–high quality ones–in school and community sites can help us raise kids from marginalism to excellence. Ideally, these include mindful character and values infusion as well as academic content. In some cases this happens well and consistently in our schools, but we need consistency across the district for every child. In addition, we have to remember that education is more than instruction: children need “free time” to reflect and apply what they’ve been taught in a world beyond school walls. Play is the work of children to develop their minds and functional independence, so a balance is critical. The “tested” environment does not begin to encompass what a child’s life, interest, or abilities might become.
Labor and contracts: Teachers and school staff deserve to work in a safe environment and to be fairly compensated, even as we wrestle with severe economic challenges. Contracts need to be negotiated in good faith by all parties, then respected. We waste dollars that are urgently needed in the classroom on legal battles after an agreement is made with bargaining units. On the other hand, our bargaining units need to work with the district to create a committed, motivated body of educators–from top administration, to the classroom, to the lunch room. These are not easy challenges and Devis is committed to being fair and holding high standards to meet those challenges. Additionally, our standards for performance need to be the highest possible and there should be more effective, less costly ways to assure that teachers and other staff are well above “mediocre”–we all need to be accountable for educational results and to be equipped to raise them. Better evaluation, a commitment to continuous improvement and respect for our professionals in true partnership with parents in the educational process can accomplish these goals.
Dr. Devis is a committed, highly qualified educator with the time, energy and passion to represent the North District on the Buffalo School Board. With a lifetime of service and respect for everyone it takes to educate children, she will be fair and focused.