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Interim schools leader outlines strategy to Latino community

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

The new leader of the Buffalo Public School District has hit the ground running. Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie has already been meeting with members of the community with a packed calendar of appointments just weeks into his new role. In this Focus on Education report, WBFO's Eileen Buckley profiles Ogilvie's strategy.

Ogilvie appeared at the Father Belle Community Center on the city's West Side Monday to greet leaders of the Latino community. Of the 31,000 Buffalo Public School students, about 6,000 are Hispanic. It's the fastest growing population in the city district. 

But there is a high dropout rate and low graduation rate among those students. Latino leaders are hoping under Ogilvie's leadership, he can generate some change.

During a nearly 25-minute presentation, Ogilvie outlined his plans as the interim school leader as he works to resolve some of the crisis issues in the District. He started out be explaining that right now it's all about "restart."

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Interim Schools Superintendent Don Ogilvie address Latino members.

"It's gain through change, and it's not judgmental. It is not an approach that focuses on the past or the future exclusively. The last thing we want to do is bury the future with the past. What we want to do is bury the past with the future," stated Ogilvie.

In a district that has been divided racially and unable to resolve issues at failing schools, Ogilvie says he is working to bring people together.

"Until they feel it and see it and sense it, they wont believe it. So we will, during this interim, begin doing the kinds of things that let everyone know we are serious," said Ogilvie.

Ogilvie retired from being Erie 1 Boces superintendent after working with BOCES for 17 years. He also served as superintendents in other districts and has worked in education for 33 years. He admits he thought he had experienced all, until he arrived in the Buffalo District. Ogilvie said as interim leader, he will focus on making changes. 

"Among the first steps, is to make sure that with full-day kindergarten and with a variety of other programs and concerns, that we open the schools so that everyone has a place," said Ogilvie. "Letting them know how important their lives are to the work that we do. We want to connect that back."

As the summer winds down Ogilvie is taking first steps before new school year begins. He' i working on the Annual Professional Performance reviews and dealing with a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights regarding criterion for school. He's on fact-finding with the Buffalo teachers union and is now trying to resolve the request by Johns Hopkins University to end its partnership at East and Lafayette High Schools.

"We have a signed contract with Johns Hopkins and they can not just leave. Their departure has to be approved by the commissioner," said Ogilvie. 

Ogilvie also talks about building a team.

"One of the things that I believe in, as the leader of an organization, regardless of the size, is that sometimes organizations make good people ineffective," noted Ogilvie. "We want to make sure we have a good organization that brings out the best in the people that are there."

Ogilvie's first team building effort was the hiring last week of a new chief academic officer Linda Cimusz. She will help assess issues with in the District's Central Office. That's an area that Ogilvie says he wants to get right.

"That whole Central Office structure only exits to serve the buildings in the district and sometimes we lose site of that," said Ogilvie.

The District leadership has already met with priority school principals asking for heir feedback. They will be meeting again October 19. The district is also in the process of making principal assignments and could be completed in the next few days.

"I don't want to be disruptive with the principals. If we have an effective team, I want to keep that principal in place. If a principal has to be moved, I want to try to keep the people around that principal in place," said Ogilvie.

Ogilvie says in the interim, he will worked to created a better future plan and a "new culture" in the city school district.

Questions from members of the Hispanic leadership ranged from the low graduation and dropout rates to lack of parental involvement.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
SUNY Trustee Eunice Lewin encourages Latino community to come up with five main school concerns.

"Many of our schools are doing well. Many of our schools are failing," said Eunice Lewin, SUNY Trustee and former Buffalo School board member, who attended the meeting with Ogilvie.

"There's tremendous anxiety in the community and concern about these failing schools," said Lewin. 

Ogilvie tried to address their concerns. He says he is worried about how students are assigned to buildings.

"We don't want to demoralize people," said Ogilvie. "We want to let them know there is a goal."

While the new graduation rates for the city showed an increase, the numbers are not promising for Hispanic students, who trail other groups.

"That the graduation rates for Hispanics is so low, it's shocking," said Paula Alcala Rosner, the former executive director of Hispanics United in Buffalo. She told Ogilvie over the last 35 years, she has been concerned with education issues in the city and that graduation rate has remained an "emergency."

"We have offered assistance to work with the district," said Rosner.

Ogilvie most notably says he has a plan to begin including the young people to the education conversation.

"They know why the don't go to school. They know the impediments to slowing down their progress. They know the things that frighten them.  They know the things that satisfies them. They know the activities that need to define an entire school experience," said Ogilvie.  "We don't have the companion of the leader of student engagement. I will be proposing that mid-fall."

Ogilvie noted that everything he is involved in as an interim leader will be tied back to the classroom. 

"This is the beginning, but there has to be follow up and we all need to be at the table and agree on those five things," said Lewin.

After Ogilvie exited, SUNY Trustee Lewin encouraged Latino leaders to agree on five issues that need to be addressed within their community. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Interview Schools Superintendent Don Ogilvie meets with Latino members.

"As a SUNY Trustee, I'm telling you, I'm very concerned at remediation. We are talking about increasing our graduation rate. Yes, we are increasing our graduation rate, yet what happens, they are not ready for college work.

Lewin says parental involvement is issue number one. 

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