If you had the opportunity to view James Sampson’s for Buffalo School Board Facebook page you would be lead to believe his leadership and the majority were solely responsible for any academic improvement or innovative initiatives in the Buffalo Public Schools. Under his leadership they have improved the graduation rate to 61% and have a 33% increase of schools in good standing. Also he trumpeted how well this current board works together, with their unanimous hiring of a new superintendent and working relationship with the New York State Education Department (NYSED). Also the expanding school 45 and the expansion of Lafayette High school were also listed under his accomplishments. He makes a good case for himself if these accomplishments were accompanied by proper governance and a moral compass on his part, but that is far from reality. When you look at the whole body of Mr. Sampson’s Buffalo School Board work; I would say he would grade out a less than effective, and the evidence clearly makes that determination. He mentions nothing of his charter school tries or his association with a Buffalo charter school (West Buffalo Charter School), the constant changes at superintendent, School board dysfunction and inability to work with all stakeholders. He also fails to mention his lack of leadership in the Superintendent of 2015 search, school board vision statement of 2014, Johns Hopkins debacle, teacher contract, hypocritical statements and charter schools use for space proposals.
First off I have some first-hand knowledge of Mr. Sampson, having run for school board when he ran in 2013 and participating in a few forums together. The first forum; at the Burchfield Penny Arts Center, he showed that he would be disingenuous with the public by making a statement that would make him seem independent and supportive of the current superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown. He said he thought she was doing a good job, but it was the school board that was dysfunctional and needed to be overhauled. I on the other hand I thought she was a bad hire and wasn’t vested in stakeholder participation; and I believe no one can say any different. So what happens; I get calls and text messages saying did you really say that and I got the African American women on the school board mad at me. Believe me it’s no big deal, I grew up with three strong African American women and they were mad at me all the time. So what happens is Mr. Sampson looks like a centrist in the Buffalo News the next day; along with his statement as a headline, barley defeats a write in challenge by Ralph Hernandez and two months later is working to get Dr. Brown fired. I was thinking to myself this guy just said a few months ago that she was doing a good job and now this. One thing was clear Mr. Sampson played the old political game of playing to the middle during the election and governing to the right after it. I believe that this action alone should eliminate him from a second term in the minds of the voters on the West Side, Blackrock and Riverside, but there’s more.
Mr. Sampson doesn’t mention the Johns Hopkins debacle; right after he was elected board president, in which the college backed away from East and Lafayette High school right before the school year, putting those students at risk for another year of failure. You might ask how Mr. Sampson is at fault in Johns Hopkins leaving. Well I have it that they were tried with the districts dysfunction and inability to work together. That Mr. Sampson and the current majority where taking over seemed to hasten their departure, not assure them that the current environment would improve. You also add in under his leadership the placing of students in BOCES Harkness Career & Technical Education programs proved to be a bust. Even at mid-year the attendance rate was 30% and more importantly he failed to factor in the cultural and social issues that would occur with integration of urban and suburban students, which were many. One thing is clear, and that is these two schools suffered that year due to the shortsightedness of the board majority under the leadership of Mr. Sampson.
Also under the leadership of Mr. Sampson the Dr. Don Ogilvie saga played out. Dr. Ogilvie was named superintendent in July of 2014 with only the input of the board majority. This hire could have been a golden ticket; he was a educator without peer in the WNY area, but for some reason within a few months Dr. Ogilvie was on the outs, because he wouldn’t go along with the board majorities’ vision for the Buffalo Public schools crafted in July of 2014; I’ll speak on that vision a bit later, and would resign as superintendent at the end of the school year. Dr. Ogilvie’s departure created a leadership gap that was blow to the district. This really put into focus the micro-managing of the school board majority, something that school boards should stay away from. It’s the school board job to oversee the district, but the academic policy is determined by the superintendent and their cabinet. This mindset is dangerous and leads to non-cohesive school districts; because the lines of responsibility are blurred, with no one understanding their role. To be sure again Mr. Sampson showed no leadership and again lacked the ability to follow through on his responsibilities as school board president.
Also Mr. Sampson s willingness to give away Buffalo Public School assets with the use of space proposals by Tapestry, Charter School for Applied Technology (CSAT), and Buffalo Health Sciences charter schools to create new schools within those school, showed a total lack of leadership and very poor judgment. He allowed charter school representatives to view the schools without board approval during the school day and was going to give away Bennett High School and Martin Luther King elementary school with free rent and utilities. It was said that it would be a partnership between the schools and the Buffalo Public Schools, but no students from the current school would be allowed to attend the new school. Mr. Sampson and the majority said that it was a partnership between the BPS and high academic quality charter schools, which they stated these schools were. It only took one school board meeting and a presentation by public school advocates Kevin Gibson and Mel Holden to put an end to that fabrication. From what I can piece together the use of space offer was given awhile back when the leases signed by all schools with Ellicott Development; Carl Paladino’s sons company, escalated after five years and would put a strain on these schools finances. As you can see from recent Buffalo News stories Tapestry is in a financial down-spin, mostly due to the escalation in lease payments to Ellicott Development. Remember Mr. Sampson was a past member of Buffalo ReformEd; which advocates for charter schools and also is a trustee at West Buffalo Charter School, I’m sure he and the majority were trying to set a precedent to allow more use of service in the future and allowing Ellicott Development to re lease the buildings to new charter school, making a bigger profit.
On Mr. Sampson’s Facebook page he takes credit for the hiring of a new superintendent, but fails to mention the dysfunction of the seven months leading to that hire, in which multiple candidates were tried through back door maneuvers. First Mr. James Weimer and then Mr. Kevin Eberle were tried and deemed not fit for public consumption, but Mr. Sampson’s lack of leadership keep the process going that created a void in leadership that could have been avoided. Also the process led to having a superintendent picked by the NYSED, at not by the board itself. How can you be proud of the choice you made with full board approval, when you had no choice but to the pick the person the NYSED told you to? Is this what the cozy relationship with the NYSED Mr. Sampson was talking about, because taking orders from the NYSED doesn’t show much leadership?
And last but not least how can anyone look at Mr. Sampson’s tenure on the school board and not mention the vision statement He along with the board majority and Buffalo ReformEd crafted in July of 2014. I could go piece by piece a dissect the statement, but I won’t bore you with the details, just the facts. The vision statement was all smoke and mirrors, and only true goal was to allow for the use of space in the Buffalo Public Schools for charter schools supported by the board majority. Any other initiative was never acted on, including settling the teacher contract situation that is sapping the moral of the BPS greatest resource. I even questioned a few superintendents of suburban schools that never were contacted by the BPS, in reference to a part of the board majority’s vision to place Buffalo Public School students in high performing suburban school districts. I’m sure Mr. Sampson hoped the vision statement would go away, but it’s his too own and his failure to do so shows a total lack of leadership or credibility.
Mr. Sampson makes a case for reelection on his Facebook page giving you a false narrative of his accomplishments, while ignoring the vast number of major failures during his term on the Buffalo School Board. He has shown himself to base his decisions on others outside the majority of public school stakeholders and therefore never acts in the best interests of the Buffalo Public Schools. In each issue that has plagued the school board the past two years, it has never been resolved through collaboration or compromise and Mr. Sampson’s leadership or lack of it is the reason why. When you’re beholding to others outside the system, you can never improve the system because your decisions are based on their approval, not the students, parents and staff you swore to serve. In the case of Mr. James Sampson returning for another term on the Buffalo School representing the West District……Request Denied!