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Long Story Short: Not so classy


illustration by JP Thimot


The kids aren’t alright                    

Last week, the Buffalo Teachers Federation released the results of a teacher survey on school discipline. For parents and others outside the system, the responses seemed shocking, almost incredible. To teachers everywhere, they sounded familiar. 


The details:

Some Buffalo schools are among the most challenging educational environments in the region. Even as a former high school educator in a small city district, I can attest that the staff there felt much the same things—though less acutely. The survey concerns were intensified versions of school life everywhere.


Some findings:

91.4% of teachers feel that disruptive student behavior is not dealt with effectively. 31.1% said this behavior is out of control or nearly out of control.
76.6% do not believe administrators discuss behavior expectations with students before returning them to the class.


But the comments shape the story

Teachers responded to the survey anonymously, so they were free to tell their stories. Here are some typical comments:
• The abuse and physical assault on teachers by students is unacceptable, whether [the students] have a disability or not.
• The school is out of control. The students are running it.
• Students walk out of the classroom at will.
• Administrators constantly cite how suspensions must be kept to a minimum.
• Teachers are trying everything within their power to maintain control within the building, but administration seems unable to adequately support staff.
• Teachers walk around in tears because they are humiliated, disrespected, and, in some cases, physically abused.
• Students do not fear being written up due to lack of consistent consequences.
• We are told [we] need a paper trail in order to get a student into alternative or other higher tier interventions. However, when we do the write ups, they are used against us as examples of how we have poor classroom management.
• Student behavior is blamed on teachers.


Hundreds of comments address the same problems: discipline inconsistency, threats of violence, no student consequences or accountability, repeated disruptive behavior and disrespect, and lack of administrative support.


As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the state includes the number of suspensions as part of a school’s rating. Administrators have reason to fear a poor rating. Their schools, and jobs, are at stake.


The takeaway:

Postings about this report appeared on two education Facebook Pages: Buffalo Allies for Public Schools and the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization. Comments on the parent group tended to dismiss the survey or call for dialogue. Buffalo Allies, which includes many educators, strongly supported the results, with matter-of-fact affirmation. The problem is complicated. It’s costly to address. But sticking our heads in the sand is not the answer.  



We’re number five! (but we’d rather not be)

In 1969, the Buffalo River was declared biologically dead. Over the past decade, government and nonprofit efforts have removed a million cubic yards of contaminated sediment, and restored much of the shoreline. You might think, after that, the river would be in good shape. Yet, a new study rates it as the fifth unhealthiest river in New York State. And Two Mile Creek in Tonawanda is number eleven on the sick list. What’s going on here? And where’s Scajaquada Creek on this list?


The details:

In the 1600s, the Buffalo River was an extensive marsh, with a stream running through it, barely big enough to fit a canoe in the summer. Later it was dredged to accommodate larger boats, and industry began using it to dump waste.


It’s since taken over $50 million dollars to dredge out a century of industrial discharges, sewer overflows, and agricultural run-off. Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper volunteers have removed invasive plants and replaced them with native ones. They’ve also made the river and shoreline homey for turtles, fish, and bees by creating natural habitat parks.


But last week an analysis by the Natural Heritage Program of the state Department of Environmental Conservation revealed that the river is still quite ill, and rates fifth worst out of 1,673 watersheds in the state. Only New York City has worse waterways. Two Mile Creek in Tonawanda isn’t much better, at number eleven. People wondered why Scajaquada Creek didn’t win top dishonors for waterway illness. Turns out, it was included as part of the Two Mile Creek watershed system, which is what made Two Mile’s overall health score so low.


Some of what hurt the Buffalo River and Scajaquada Creek in the ratings include things that won’t change anytime soon. Much of the land along these waterways is privately owned, and buildings and other structures increase runoff and reduce “canopy cover” (shade).


Ray of hope and a silver lining

There may be some good news here. For one thing, even with all the problems, fish and macroinvertebrates seem to be making a comeback in both waterways. The scientific information in this study will act as a guide for prioritizing restoration efforts in the state. Funding sources might become available because of the miserable ratings, and the study helps identify what needs to be done. It might take many years, even decades, before the Buffalo River and Scajaquada Creek are truly healthy. But we’re making some progress.



Local politicians react to federal initiatives

Lately there’s been a whole lot of reacting going on. First it was Congressman Chris Collins and Brian Higgins reacting to Donald Trump’s call for a $1.5 trillion dollar infrastructure program. (They seem to be under the impression that Trump will get what he wants.)


Then it was Assembly members Sean Ryan and Crystal Peoples-Stokes, with State Senators Chris Jacobs and Tim Kennedy, who joined Preservation Buffalo Niagara to raise alarm over new federal tax laws that will hurt local development.


The details:

During Trump’s State of the Union Address—with his customary scarcity of detail—the President called for a massive Federal infrastructure program. The next day, Congressmen Collins and Higgins began dreaming out loud about what they will do with New York’s share of the colossal Congressional pork barrel. In a rare moment of bipartisan agreement, both said they want a Peace Bridge Plaza. Like kids writing their Christmas lists, they went on to other items, including: repurposing the massive DL& W Terminal, repairing crumbling bridges, improving water treatment plants, and building broadband internet in rural regions.


Here’s the thing: it’s a stretch to imagine that the Republican controlled federal government will approve another deficit-expanding bill, right after passing a massive, deficit-expanding tax cut. What is likely is that Trump and the Republicans will call on private industry and states to foot most of the bill, while the government kicks in relative chump change. Then they would pass the cost on to local taxpayers. That won’t go over well in most states. The smart money says it’s not smart to expect a big federal expenditure.


Then there was the group of unlikely allies, including Ryan, Peoples-Stokes, Jacobs, Kennedy, and Preservation Buffalo Niagara, who were reacting to the fact that the recently passed tax bill weakens New York State’s historic tax credit, which has been instrumental in spurring adaptive reuse of historical structures in Buffalo. They’re asking Governor Cuomo to take steps to undo the damage. This would require the Governor to make changes to his proposed budget. This might happen; we’ll see.


A metaphor

Last Friday, at 6:00 a.m., there was a super blue blood moon. A blue moon is when there are two full moons in a month, which, as the old saying suggests, is rare.  A lunar eclipse happens when the moon passes into Earth's shadow (and turns blood red). Supermoons are when the moon’s orbit is closest to the earth during a full moon.  Only rarely do all three happen together, the last one being 152 years ago.


Infrastructure spending has ebbed and flowed over the decades, but only once in a blue moon do all the economic and political pieces fall into place, and serious federal development spending occurs. You have to go back to the 1930s and the depression-ending New Deal to find the kind of massive spending Trump is proposing, comparatively making it as rare as a super blue blood moon.


I got up early to look at the much anticipated super blue blood moon. I opened my window, and looked out. It was cloudy, so I went back to sleep. That's the problem with hype.




Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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