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94.6% No Confidence and the Following Storm

February 20, 2011

The latest here in Rochester, NY in our “war for the soul of our schools”. The teachers’ ballot vote of no confidence for Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard passed overwhelmingly with 94.6% of those who voted stating that they had no confidence in Brizard. The numbers broke down to the following:

Of the 2868 votes cast, 2713 indicated that they do not have confidence in Superintendent Brizard while 140 indicated that they do have confidence in his leadership. 15 ballots were disqualified. This is the first time in the history of the Rochester City School District that a vote of no confidence in the superintendent has been conducted.

Following the vote last week, there was an onslaught of dismissive, distracting, dishonest media diversions intended to insert confusion and delegitimize the vote. One example of such uncritical media support for Brizard came on Feb 7th as the Gannett publication the Democrat and Chronicle published an editorial entitled, “Voices of Brizard’s supporters need to be heard.” Following the vote of no confidence, Al Simone, the former president of Rochester Institute of Technology, wrote the piece Rochester area business leaders are behind schools chief Brizard on behalf of the Rochester Business Alliance. Howard Eagle, a trusted ally and fellow member of the Community Education Task Force, wrote the following rebuttal to Simon’s article:

An Open Letter To Big-Businessman Albert Simone

Dear Mister Simone,

We didn’t need to wait for the state Board of regents to issue a report to inform us of the fact that minuscule percentages of our students are graduating “ready for college or a career [or] receive a diploma at all.” You know better than most that this is very old “news” (decades, if not centuries old). So what’s you point? We have TALKED (surely for the entire period of your tenure as president of RIT, and actually a lot longer) about the “evidence that city schools must make major changes if we want a better future for Rochester’s children.” Again, this is very, very old “news.” So, what’s your point?

Stop lying — you know darn well that “it is [NOT] because he is proposing change that Brizard is [so-called] being attacked by the teachers’ union.” On the contrary, huge percentages of teachers, parents, grandparents, activists and other community members have voiced, and will continue to voice opposition to the direction in which Brizard (with lots of help from the likes of you, Sandra Parker, Eli Broad, Bill Gates and other corporatists) is attempting to take our school district. Your rhetoric about “treating every child as a work of art” — is just that —nothing more or less than cute, abstract, rhetoric. This is not about teachers or their union leaders rejecting accountability, but it is largely about them rejecting the idiotic idea that standardized test scores can be utilized as a valid or legitimate means of holding teachers accountable. The whole idea is ludicrous! Furthermore, with regard to the critical issue of accountability — why are we only discussing teachers? Why aren’t we beginning with the Superintendent himself, and then moving to 1) the six-figured, salaried, so-called Superintendent’s Employees Group (many of whom can’t lead their way out of a paper bag, and are in fact afraid of many of those whom they are supposedly leading, i.e. parents and students) — and whom they have minimal to no contact with; 2) numerous so-called “consultants” and outside contractors; 3) those who are charged with the responsibility of leading at the building level, i.e. principles and other highly paid administrators; 4) various support staffs; 5) parents, and 6) students. You see mister Simone, we have to talk about and devise plans by which we give it our best attempts to hold EVERYONE within the system accountable, and this should logically be the starting point for the discussion about accountability — period. It is interesting (to say the least) that you would mention “modernizing school facilities” — because many within the communities that are most negatively affected are absolutely convinced that so-called Facilities Modernization is what this whole thing is all about, i.e. elements within the business community in particular, salivating at the mouth to get your greedy paws on the 1.5 billion dollars, which will flow through this community over the next 15 years or so — as a result of the largest public works project in the history of the city. Say it ain’t so mister Simone. I, and many others are plain sick and tired of being sick and tired of hearing and reading rhetoric about the unsubstantiated contention that the Brizard-Broad-Gates-Parker so-called “reforms are based on models that have worked in other cities.”We challenge you, Brizard, Parker and others — to name the “models [and] other cities” where your voo-doo education”reforms have worked.” If you can’t — then abandon the empty rhetoric.

It’s beyond comprehension why you would boast about “chairing the 2004 Blue Ribbon Task Force on improving Rochester schools.” Obviously, it wasn’t effective. In fact, it didn’t amount to anything at all — other than another expensive, dust-collecting report stuck on shelves. Let’s NOT have any more — please. In these economic hard times — scarce resources need to be utilized to work on solutions to problems —as opposed to studying the problems (literally to death).

I’m sorry mister Simone, but we are long past the days in which many in our community are willing to accept unsubstantiated, abstract theories of “change” — solely because they are put forth by a disconnected, former college president. Perhaps you’re longing for the good-old-days, but they are gone forever.

Mister Simone, I hope that you are not an oppressor. I was taught that oppressors constantly seek to give definition to and/or change the definition of everything (to suit their goals).What made me think of this is your statement concerning what “a no confidence vote says.” You claimed that”it says more about union leaders than the Superintendent,” but because I am a critical and analytical thinker, I know that what the vote of no confidence really “says” is that the overwhelming majority of RCSD teachers have declared that they don’t have confidence in Superintendent Brizard’s leadership — period. No matter how hard you try — you can’t successfully spin this clear fact. So, stop acting like an oppressor. Here’s something that you may not know (Brizard knows), but he probably hasn’t told you: There is an unfolding plan, which includes”meaningful alternatives to improve student outcomes,” and which was developed by people from within the communities that are most negatively affected. The Rochester Teachers Association, Rochester Association of Paraprofessionals, and the Board of Education Non-teaching Employees have had input, and are fully supporting the unfolding plan. Brizard and his well-paid SEG are not supporting it. You really amaze me with accusations concerning people “fighting to protect the status quo” — because you and many of your henchmen and women, and counter parts have made lucrative livings by working to protect the status quo, which of course in the past, has meant that a relatively few upper and ruling-class elites go into a backroom together, and make decisions for us (without our input). Mister Simone, I tell you, those days are gone forever.

With regard to attempts to define and/or redefine reality —the last paragraph of your little article below —represents a classic example.

The same”overwhelming majority of Rochester teachers”whom you described as “highly trained, hardworking and professional,” and whom casts votes of no confidence in Brizard — apparently are not “highly trained and professional” enough to understand that what “Superintendent Brizard is proposing” is not in their best interests. You need to make up your mind about whether you want to compliment or insult them. Which is it? Surely, you don’t think (as some oppressors do) that you can get away with engaging in dual tactics, i.e., complimentary insult, or do you? Once again, if you would like more information regarding “constructive suggestions to improve the education of Rochester students and work with the superintendent to make the changes happen,” email me at:

Meanwhile, Brizard responded with the following press release immediately following the announcement of the no confidence vote results.

Although not surprising, this outcome is unfortunate given the large number of supportive comments I have received from teachers, most of whom are not as eager as their union to express their opinions publicly.

Teachers are a key part of our reform work to improve our schools and support student achievement. The strategies we are using have been successful across the country and they are getting results here in Rochester. In fact, if you look at the ideas Dr. Urbanski has put forth over the years, you’ll see they are not far off from what we are doing right now; in many cases, they are exactly what we are doing right now.

As a former teacher, the husband of a former teacher, and the son of two teachers, I have nothing but respect for those in this profession. This is why we are developing a system to recognize our high-performing teachers and provide them a meaningful career ladder that supports their effective work in preparing our students for post-secondary success. This is one of the proposals we are discussing with the RTA in our negotiations. I am confident that with the help of a third party, we can reach agreement in the near future and devote our energies to improving the education of our children.

This response angered large amounts of teachers, parents, and community members further, as it was recognized that this was part of a “damage control” strategy designed to divide the union and union leadership from teachers. Several teachers I spoke with saw right through this, stating in a conversation how dismissive and frankly, disrespectful Brizard’s response was. One teacher stated, “as teachers, we ARE the union, and our union leadership is aligned with rank-and-file interests in taking this action. Any attempt to suggest otherwise is just an attempt to divide and conquer.”

As the momentum and pace of events continued, the RTA’s representative assembly, the Union’s representative decision-making body comprised of teacher union reps from throughout the district, met on February 15th, 2011.  The Rep Assembly met to formally pass a resolution, given the results of the vote of no confidence.  The resolution read as following:

RTA Resolution
to Affirm the Teachers’ Vote of  No Confidence
in Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard

Adopted unanimously by the RTA Representative Assembly

February 15, 2011

Whereas, Superintendent Brizard is unilaterally promoting and implementing pedagogically unsound policies and strategies that are harmful to our students, and

Whereas, Superintendent Brizard is ignoring and marginalizing the voices of teachers, parents and the school community, and

Whereas, Superintendent Brizard is neglecting the deteriorating conditions for teaching and learning in our schools, and creating an unsafe environment for students and staff, and

Whereas, Superintendent Brizard is failing to provide the leadership needed for improving our schools, and

Whereas, the Parent and Community Coalition for Educational Change has issued a resolution of No Confidence in Superintendent Brizard, and

Whereas, 94.6 percent of Rochester teachers voted “No Confidence” in Superintendent Brizard, be it therefore

Resolved, that the Rochester Teachers Association affirm the teachers’ No Confidence vote in Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard, and be it further

Resolved, that the Rochester Teachers Association urge the Board of Education to enter into negotiations with Jean-Claude Brizard for a mutually agreed upon and expedited departure date.

Teachers, parents, and community members showed increasingly solidarity and agreement with the strength in this resolution at the RCSD School Board meeting on Thursday, February 17 . The previous School Board video post includes many Community Education Task Force and allied organization members (Speaker comments begin at 29:00, Howard Eagle speaks at 32:10  I speak at 56:32, RTA president Adam Urbanski speaks at 1:18:45).

Several responses were issued from various camps following these events. One email came forwarded from Donald H. Smith by way of the organization Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence:

Sent: 2/19/2011 5:18:49 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Subj:  Re: [BNYEE]– Rochester teachers union reinforces no-confidence vote

Congratulations to the Rochester  Teachers Association for its no confidence vote on Superintendent  Jean-Claude Brizard. Mr. Brizard is a Fellow of the Broad Foundation which  trains its fellows to bring a corporate model to
public  education. The corporate model, now sweeping the nation’s  schools, indoctrinates students to become compliant workers rather  than independent thinkers, workers who will continue an economic system in  which a very few people own four fifths of the wealth. In opposing Mr. Brizard the Rochester  Teachers Association is not only
taking a stand for its students but also  for its own survival. The Broad Foundation and other corporate giants and  moguls like the Koch brothers have as their goal the elimination of  unions that protect workers.

In solidarity,

Donald H. Smith, Ph.D.

Former chair, the New York City Board of Education’s  Commission on Students of African Descent Founding member, the Citywide Coalition for Educational  Excellence Now!

Cynthia Elliott, a pro-mayoral control School Board commissioner from NYS Assemblyman David Gantt‘s circle, emphatically insisted during a break from the Board meeting to a group of CETF members, including myself, that we need to “hold RTA president Adam Urbanski accountable too if you’re going to come at Brizard the way you did tonight”. Elliott reiterated this statement for the more than willing press for an article that was featured the next day. The diversionary tactics, equivocation, and dodgy political jiu-jitsu will continue no doubt, but as an allied parent stated, “it’s getting harder for them to have that foolishness flow unchecked.” After all, as another CETF ally consistently reinforces in moments like these, we need to “plan our work and work our plan” with the growing coalition of teachers, parents, students, and community members who are ready for fundamental, meaningful, democratic changes in our schools.

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