Monday, January 12, 2015

An Open Letter to Mayor Stephanie Miner

Dear Mayor Miner,

It has been nearly a week since you appointed Mark Muhammad to fill Bill Bullen's seat on the Syracuse City School Board, following his sudden resignation. Mr. Muhammad's credentials - both academic and as a long-standing community activist - were glowingly recounted in your office's press release. Also acknowledged is the fact that Mr. Muhammad is a minister with the Nation of Islam.

In the days since the appointment was announced, many in the city have struggled to understand how it can be that a representative of the Nation of Islam - not just a representative, but a MINISTER charged with preaching its word and doctrine - could be appointed to the school board.

So we ask you... Why?

Are you unaware that the Nation of Islam is - at the end of the day - a group that preaches a radical separatist agenda? One that advocates for SEPARATE SCHOOLS for blacks and whites, boys and girls. One that advocates for black children to be taught by their own teachers - teachers who are left free to teach as they wish.

How is this appointment in the best interest of
ALL children in Syracuse?
Regardless of Mr. Muhammad's countless achievements as an academic, a mentor and a community activist, this is an inappropriate appointment in light of Mr. Muhammad's high rank within the Nation of Islam.
It is wrong in the same way that appointing a white supremacist or a Neo-Nazi or member of Westboro Baptist Church or an anti-Islamist would be wrong.
It is wrong because it is exclusive, not inclusive.
It is wrong because it is a tacit endorsement of the philosophies that Mr. Muhammad represents as a minister of the Nation of Islam.
It is just wrong.
We urge you reconsider your appointment. Mr. Muhammad has made - and will certainly continue to make - many, many, many valuable contributions to the city of Syracuse. But neither he, nor any person holding separatist beliefs, belong on the school board in a city with the rich diversity that Syracuse is blessed to have.
The Writers and Editors of the "SCSD Take Back Our Schools" blog

Monday, December 22, 2014

Oh, the Hypocrisy!

On Thursday, December 18th, Superintendent Sharon Contreras spoke at the Thursday Morning Roundtable, a program sponsored by University College of Syracuse University. She spoke about the challenges the district is facing, as well as programs that are in place and recent successes. Following her talk, time was allowed for a Q&A session. One gentleman in the audience questioned Superintendent Contreras about the stabbing that occurred at H.W. Smith K-8 the prior day. The superintendent essentially chalked that incident up to a violence in the community spilling over into the schools and is even quoted in the article highlighting her talk, as having said she "will not own all the violence in the community."

By attributing this specific incident to community violence, she continues to absolve herself and the district from the violence in our schools.

A teacher pointed out recently...

When there is tragic behavior in school,

the Superintendent can absolve herself by saying
"That's what the community sends me."


When dedicated teachers who work long hours
are less than successful working with
underprepared/poorly behaved/emotionally compromised/asocial children,
it is all because the teachers are bad.

Does anyone else see the hypocrisy in this?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

It Ain't Pretty...

Here is a transcription of the 911 calls to schools in the month of December.

Remember - this is in a district that reportedly
ACTIVELY discourages building personnel from calling 911
and we still had THIS many calls in just 12-1/2 school days...

As you review them, notice how many schools are NOT represented. Do you think it's because those schools have no issues? Or is it because administrators in those buildings are afraid to rock the boat? 

9:06 - Disturbance @ Danforth
9:28 - Fire @ Fowler (police and fire department dispatched)
13:14 - Call @ Fowler (reason unknown)

10:39 - Lost/found property @ Roberts
12:45 - Larceny @ Nottingham
13:33 - Call @ Danforth (reason unknown)
14:52 - Call @ McKinley Brighton (reason unknown)
17:58 - Juvenile complaint @ Henninger

Lost/found @ LeMoyne

12:50 - Fight @ ITC

8:03 - Stabbing @ Fowler
11:06 - Disturbance @ Grant
14:04 - Call @ Corcoran
14:09 - Disturbance @ Delaware
14:36 - Disturbance @ Blodgett
14:57 - Alarm (fire) @ HW Smith
16:56 - Intoxicted person @ Frazer

8:19 - Suspicious @ Salem Hyde
8:24 - Harassment @ Nottingham
9:21 - Harassment @ Nottingham
12:05 - Disturbance @ Danforth
12:28 - Call @ Huntington (reason unknown)
13:48 - Alarm fire @ Delaware
15:07 - Assault @ Frazer

9:35 - Criminal mischief @ Salem Hyde
10:59 - Assault @ Nottingham
14:14 - Domestic @ Blodgett
14:49 - Call @ McKinley Brighton (reason unknown)
16:10 - Alarm (fire) @ King

13:00 - Call @ Weeks


No calls - Oh, wait... This was a snow day!

12/12 - (half day)
10:48 - Alarm (fire) @ Henninger
11:06 - Fight @ Delaware
11:16 - Domestic @ King

9:16 - Civil dispute @ Bellevue
12:54 - Alarm (fire) @ Ed Smith
13:16 - Domestic @ Corcoran

7:40 - Suspicious @ Meachem
7:40 - Stabbing @ H.W.Smith
13:56 - Trespassing @ Henninger
18:40 - Criminal mischief @ Blodgett

8:29 - Disturbance @ McKinley Brighton
15:20 - Criminal mischief @ Frazer

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Enough Already!

A stabbing in the H.W. Smith middle school wing today... As various people on debate how serious the wound was, how the altercation started, whose fault it was, whether or not the district is minimizing the incident, and on and on and on,

we lose sight of the reality that
a 12 year-old child stabbed another 12 year-old child -

And we are all becoming used to it because, sadly, it is an all-to-frequent occurrence. This cannot continue happening!!!

No one...

Not students...
Not staff...
Not parents...
Not administrators...

No one should be AFRAID to go to school!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Can a Small Group of Determined People Accomplish???


A small group of parents and family members managed to get the attention of SCSD district administrators in a big way this morning. They staged a protest at Lincoln, making bullying the center of their pulpit. Frustrated by a lack of response from building administrators, specifically when confronted with bullying issues, they took to the streets showing up today with signs shouting "Stop the Bullying" and "Stop the Violence.

Great job!

These parents have vowed to show up every morning and afternoon to show their support for the kids who have been forgotten in the Code of Conduct debate - the victims. So, every morning at 7:00 they will be there with their signs supporting the students as they arrive at school. And again, every afternoon at 2:10 they will be there.

And now they need our help!

Come to Lincoln to show YOUR support for safe schools. We can never forget - there is power in numbers! The more who show up, the more attention will be shone on the issue of violence in the Syracuse City School District - and the community as a whole.

And stay tuned for future protests at a
school (or board meeting) near you!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Creation of a Fairy Tale

Anyone who attended last week's Board of Education meeting was witness to a wonderful fairy tale.

As evidence that discipline is still being meted out at virtually the same rate as prior years, the Superintendent informed the Board and the public that the numbers of both referrals and suspensions are virtually unchanged for September/October of 2014 when compared year-over-year to the same timeframe in 2013.

This would imply that behavioral challenges remain about the same, 
in spite of teachers' outcry to the contrary.

If this is the case, then why do so many teachers, parents and students continue to feel that they are not safe at school? That behavior continues to spiral downward, at an increasingly fast pace? That students are no longer concerned that misbehavior will warrant a disciplinary referral?


If you believe in fairy tales, you might also believe that statistics don't lie? Or that the district is being 100% transparent in their reporting of disciplinary numbers. They certainly wouldn't intentionally try to mislead us, right?


When the Superintendent compares referrals year-over-year, she does not mention that Level One behaviors no longer get referrals. Level One behaviors include, but are not limited to...
  • refusing to respond to staff directions or requests;
  • non-compliance with classroom rules and procedures;
  • goofing off in class;
  • teasing, taunting and name-calling;
  • throwing objects without injuring others;
  • making excessive, distracting, or disruptive movements or noises;
  • engaging in confrontational arguing or backtalk;
  • cutting class; and
  • minor hall or public space misconduct.
When faced with these behaviors - and other Level Ones that are not listed - staff now redirect students and write up "observation notes" to document the behavior. Additionally, unless the violation is egregious, children in grades K through 2nd no longer receive referrals - again only "observation notes."

So... In order to compare statistical apples-to-apples, one would have to take all of this year's referrals and add in all of the "observation notes" documenting Level One behaviors and the behavior of our younger kids. Only then would you have a truly accurate year-over-year comparison. 

Do you think that the picture would look as rosy? 

We don't... It is time to demand the truth from our district leaders! And to also demand that our city and county leaders stop continuing to blindly accept that which they are being told by those in charge at 725 Harrison.

Only when the truth is fully told can we

- as a district, city and county -
begin to work together to address the problem and
help our children succeed.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Last Night's Board Meeting

We left last night's Board meeting disappointed, perplexed and a little bit angry.


One speaker quoted from our blog, although the quote was misattributed to our friends at Be the Change. While we appreciate the fact that our blog is being read, the way in which it was quoted was misleading. The speaker quoted from our "We're Back... Unfortunately..." post on 11/3/14, where we stated that the Code of Conduct, Character and Support  was "abysmally implemented" thus far. The speaker neglected to also highlight (from the same blog post):
  • that we believed that the Code was borne out of wonderful, powerful ideas and philosophies;
  • our concern with the lack of personnel and funding to properly implement the Code of Conduct, Character and Support, as it was intended;
  • we are also concerned that most schools do not have staff trained in using Restorative Justice techniques;
  • our request that each of us closely watch how the Code of Conduct, Character and Support is actually being implemented and ask ourselves if we really believe that it will nurture and teach students in the SCSD how to behave in society at the level they need to be successful.
The same speaker said we should move past the document - it isn't what is important now. It is old news. Now, action is what really matters. And, our blog was critical of how the Code has been implemented and how staff have been trained. Apparently that is a no-no. Why? If the actions are what matter now, why can't we question the actions that the district has taken to "get this show on the road."


The district's roll-out of the Code has been lacking in both timely and substantive actions, in spite of the fairy tale that was woven in the Superintendent's remarks last night. And this is where more people in the audience were perplexed. After visitors were allowed to speak, the Superintendent made her remarks. And last night it became crystal clear why the agenda is set up that way.

Because this way, no one can call attention to her 
misrepresentations or omissions


  • While foster grandparents are in place at most schools, that is a recent development. And already at least one has been punched.
  • 180+ community partners in the buildings. This is not all new personnel! Some of these organizations have had staff in the buildings for years. Sort of like re-gifting...
  • More than 200 people attended the Keeping Kids in School Community Summit. That's news to many, as we've not heard an estimate higher than 125 actual attendees. And many of those were politicians and community agency representatives... BUT, let's suppose that all 200 attended AND they were all parents interested in keeping their kids in school. That still represented less than 1% of the entire student body. When examined statistically, it doesn't seem to be the rousing success that was hailed last night...
  • Students have been trained in the Code of Conduct. Indeed, they have. What was omitted was the fact that the training didn't take place until TWO MONTHS into the school year. Or that at some grade levels, the scripted lessons included exercises in learning their classmates' names, as if they hadn't done that in the first two weeks... Or that most teachers didn't receive the lessons until a day or two before they had to present them, giving them inadequate time to become familiar with the material.
  • While referrals and suspensions statistics are virtually the same year-over-year, no one mentioned the fact that Level 1 offenses are no longer referrals. Instead they are now "Observation Notes" that no one is reporting on. If one added all of the "Observation Notes" to the statistics to present a true year-over-year behavioral snapshot, we'd see a picture of a district spiraling out of control.
Another head-scratcher... How could a metaphor about building a city - a metaphor that highlighted the need to put out fires as they occur, rather than letting the a scheduled timeline dictate continuation without regard to problems - somehow turn into a comparison with how "Eminent Domain" has been used in the past to take over and destroy housing in some of the poorest neighborhoods, even here in Syracuse? What?!! Have we become THAT literal? Or are we expected to be so committed to this path that we follow blindly and abdicate our right to critically and honestly examine the path and make adjustments as necessary, which was point that the original story illustrated.

Now some questions for the Board President...
  • Why are one or two audience members consistently allowed to comment disrespectfully to speakers they disagree with?
  • Why is one Board Member allowed to smile and nod assent to the speakers they agree with, while smirking and laughing at those with whom they do not?
  • Why are those speakers whose positions favor the Superintendent allowed to consistently exceed their allotted time, while those who do not always agree are generally kept closer to the three minute limit.

One can only hope that maybe
next month will be better...