After watching Wednesday’s School Board meeting and visibly seeing the palpable racial tensions on the board – at several times percolating to the surface in brief but volatile exchanges – it is obvious that Carl Paladino has become a deeply counterproductive force on the school board.
Let me first say that Dr. Pamela Brown is far from a perfect Superintendent. She lacks relationships in Buffalo and she’s not familiar with the body politic, which has caused community members to feel ignored and slighted. She doesn’t like to politick and she’s uncomfortable in aggressively public roles, causing staff and parent groups to complain of her insular behavior. She sees herself as a workhorse, which leaves a leadership void.
Leadership traits are important for a CEO or Superintendent – especially for large, complex organizations that are difficult to micromanage. Words become powerful tools that set the tone, culture, and values of the organization – which will determine the behavior and decision making practices of subordinates. It is the role of the leader to, for lack of a better word, proselytize the mission, plan, and agenda of the organization – rallying the entirety of the organization behind shared big-picture objectives.
So, of course, Dr. Brown needs to up her game. She is planning a weekly press conference, radio appearances, and a more engaged posture with the community. For the first time, she began yesterday’s Board meeting with a presentation, even approaching the lectern in a way that was visibly more engaged. Still, her lack of political awareness at times showed (like when she lists “Antoine Thompson” in her PowerPoint as one of the major partners launching the planned Medical Campus High School).
All of that being said – I feel ashamed of how this city has treated Dr. Brown since she arrived – which was almost entirely a result of the (perhaps astute) race baiting politics of Carl Paladino and the Cuomo Administration’s Department of Education. Both Paladino and the Cuomo Administration have competed for the most rightward posture on education reform (which in terms of policy is the correct direction), though frequently using Dr. Brown as a proverbial punching bag.
Even if Dr. Brown were incompetent (and she certainly is not), she wouldn’t have deserved to be treated like our media treated her. I would go so far as to say that, if Dr. Brown were a white guy with exactly the same credentials and resume, this City would have welcomed her unreservedly with open arms: undergrad at Stanford, two masters degrees, a doctorate from Harvard, Spanish fluency, having managed three elementary schools and held senior leadership positions in Richmond and Philadelphia.
At Carl’s behest, this woman was put through a public lynching on her career and integrity. And despite unprecedented political attacks and missteps grossly exaggerated by the media (that few, if any of us have ever experienced), she has maintained a calm, grounded, grace and dignity under the most difficult and high pressure circumstances. She deserves enormous credit for that – any of us would have put Carl in his place a long time ago.
Carl should apologize to Dr. Brown in order to maintain his own relevance. His influence on the Board, even among those who have voted for Dr. Brown’s dismissal, is waning quickly. Almost all of Paladino’s resolutions failed, and his final resolution – to publicly admonish Dr. Brown for not reaching out to parent groups – didn’t even receive a second.
In a telling moment, Paladino and board member Sharon Belton Cottman got in a heated exchange about the book “While the World Watched,” recounting the civil rights movement leading up to the church bombing in Birmingham in which three young girls lost their lives. Shockingly, in an exceedingly tense moment, Carl said the book was racially divisive (as if he’s concerned about divisiveness all of a sudden), and suggested that it would be like forcing students to read books about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, then insisting that we should be teaching Italian American history in the schools.
It was a laughable moment if it wasn’t so sad, twisted, hypocritical, uneducated, bigoted, and brute. Of course we should be teaching all histories and a diversity of perspectives – not because the school system is endorsing any part of a particular narrative – but because we should be imparting that depth of critical thinking in young people.
If we let Carl continue to spew his animosities and play his politics, then who is going to write the book “While Buffalo Watched.” Like I said before, words are very powerful – and for persons who seek to provide this region leadership, we have to demand of them a maturity of thought, a fairness of intention, and seriousness of purpose before we put every off color remark that they can muster on the front page of the Buffalo News.