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Regent Cofield Conundrum

May 20, 2011

In Rochester, NY on Wednesday the 18th, the Parent and Community Coalition for Educational Change, which the Community Education Task Force is a part of, organized a forum at School Without Walls featuring New York State Board of Regents Vice Chancellor Milton Cofield. Coalition for Justice in Education, a partnering organization in the Parent and Community Coalition for Educational Change, was central in organizing for this event.

Regent Milton Cofield

We collaboratively publicized and attracted community attention to the event. By Wednesday night, there was close to sixty people present at School Without Walls, including parents, teachers, students, education scholars, retired administrators and concerned community members. Many in the audience intended to raise crucial issues and questions about the New York State Board of Regents’ policy agenda. The Regents recently appointed a new Education Commissioner, John King with no parental input and approved an unsound new teacher evaluation system intended to pressure 40% of teachers evaluations being based on state-based standardized tests. These two nascent issues together with a host of other questions regarding state educational policy, leadership, and democratic representation were bound to come up on Wednesday night.

However, when I arrived at School without Walls, I had this growing feeling that we might be stood up. I wanted to think, “hey, you’re just being cynical and doubtful, he’ll show up”. However my first instinct was correct as we waited to no avail. His secretary had confirmed that it was on his schedule so everyone expected him to be there. After making phone calls to his house which went straight to voice mail and attempting to contact him several ways, we rightfully concluded that he wasn’t coming. I noticed that a few close allies of his that frequently come to events he is present in were not present at this event and solemnly concluded that we had been blown off. There was palatable frustration and anger in the room, as this felt like a stinging embodiment of the dismissive, flippant betrayal of democracy and public dialogue  many of us throughout the nation have been on the receiving end of for some time.

We discussed further action and a broad range of educational concerns for a period of time and went home with an injurious list of objections to Cofield’s absence. I immediately began a response for Regent Cofield when I got home and sent it the next day, featured here:

Dear Regent Cofield,

I am writing as a member of the Parent and Community Coalition for Educational Change. I was extremely disappointed that you failed to come to the forum on Wednesday (5/18/11) at School Without Walls. It was disrespectful and insulting that you failed to notify us that you did not plan (as promised) to attend, and did not respond to our attempts to contact you.

There was over fifty educators, parents, students and community members present who were expecting a meaningful dialogue on crucial educational issues of concern to our community. As the Vice Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents representing the greater Rochester area, it is deeply problematic that you would neglect public concern as evidenced by your absence without notification Wednesday evening.
Along with many others, I expect an opportunity to be able to publicly meet with you, as was the intention of  Wednesday’s forum. If you represent me and others, you need to know us and know our concerns.
I look forward to hearing back from you promptly.
Sincerely,
Mark Friedman
RCSD Teacher
Community Education Task Force member
Parent and Community Coalition for Educational Change member
I felt that this note accurately and appropriately reflected the fact that Regent Cofield had failed to call or communicate to anyone at our event that he was not going to be there. This concern and sense that something was off in this turn of events was shared by others. Also Cofield did not respond the next day despite several attempts to reach him by members of the Parent and Community Coalition for Educational Change. This drew a line for me and others that provided clarity as to what level of respect Regent Cofield held for us. For this reason I emailed my concerns to Regent Cofield, all the other Regents, contacts in the press, and other education allies throughout the state. Given that decision I wasn’t exactly surprised to come home from a day of meetings and organizing to find a response from Regent Cofield at 10:45 pm on Thursday night:

Dear Mr. Friedman

I do not know you sir but assure the matter of which you easily impugn me is one of miscommunication  and planning rather than malice or thoughtlessness.  I will be able to correct the first matter and will contact organizers of the event you attended to arrange this.  On the second matter I meet and have met regularly with a wide variety of constituents, including  many who may have attended your event, in my 9 year tenure Regent.  During all of this time my personal integrity has never been assailed in the cavalier manner of your response.

Milton Cofield, Regent

I strongly believe that all stakeholders require engagement and communication, especially those who are directly affected by the educational policies the NYS Board of Regents sets. The parents, teachers, students, retired administrators, educational researchers, and concerned community members from Monroe County and beyond who came to Wednesday’s forum with thoughtful ideas and important questions require undivided attention and respect.
When I asked the stakeholders and allies who attended eager to participate in Wednesday night’s event, they all indicated that they had never had the opportunity to participate in one of Cofield’s meetings with this “wide variety of constituents”. When I contacted statewide allies who are actively involved in educational outreach and community educational concerns throughout the state, they also held the same concern in regards to many Regents’ lack of responsiveness and openness to dialogue with ALL stakeholders. I know that in my community in the city of Rochester where I live, teach, organize, and build solidarity, there has been no such meaningful dialogue with Cofield or any other Regent that anyone can site and provide evidence for.I did discover that after I had sent my original email to Cofield, he later responded and seemed willing to reschedule. That being said, I feel that it is even more necessary that Cofield reschedule the meeting he did not attend on Wednesday night in order to responsibly and democratically engage constituents.
I hope that Cofield and other public officials can recognize that these types of conversations are reflections of the deep issues in our state and nation regarding representative democracy, public education leaders, and the need for direct dialogue with the people most immediately effected by educational policy. I certainly look forward to further dialogue while raising policy issues at the  rescheduled forum with Cofield, which will presumably be announced shortly.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan Middleman, M. Ed. permalink
    May 21, 2011 5:13 am

    Good for you for holding his feet to the fire. So many of these gov’t officials live behind a nylon curtain. They don’t want to come out (in their role, at least) to face the public, because they know that what they are doing is unpopular. They also know that you are far more knowledgeable than they are. So to meet you, would lead to questions, which would lead to responses, which would then lead to further questions. In the end he would reveal his ignorance. And that’s embarrassing. I think the whole Sarah Palin/Katie Couric interview 3 years ago made guys like Cofield think twice about attending your event. Even members of Congress are afraid to meet their constituents.

  2. Peter Veitch permalink
    May 22, 2011 8:12 am

    I don’t really care enough about him to assail his personal integrity, but I think Regent Cofield might be taken more seriously if he contracted the nun who taught my seventh grade English class to proofread the grammar and punctuation in his badly written correspondence.

    I’m also willing to guess that engaging in “meaningful dialogue” isn’t one of Mr. Cofield’s strengths.

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