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Bernie Tolbert: Why I'm Running for School Board

Buffalonians have been characterized as apathetic on school improvement, but that is an inaccurate portrayal. A motivated many offer solutions for poverty; educational leadership; Board dysfunction; segregated schools; treatment and training of teachers; school reform; and uninvolved parents, all of which are symptoms of our public education crisis.

Forgetting it is possible for everyone to be right and valid, conflict arises when the caring and motivated disagree about what needs to be solved first. The conflict has dominated the news and deteriorated to affixing blame.

It is said that the difference between winners and losers is their response when there is a setback or a lost game. Our inability as a community to work together and win for our children and be resilient in the face of setbacks is our greatest challenge.

We may debate “how” to improve public schools, but our ability to do it genuinely and effectively depends on our ability to believe that every child in this city is family and work together for meaningful results as if they are our own children.

Working together in a collaborative and harmonious way is not the end goal but a precondition for success. A precondition that enables us to do the more difficult work of building consensus around a blueprint forward and sustaining our focus over time through inevitable changes in leadership and investment.

We did not become an economic powerhouse that attracted industry from across the world, become a national model for schools integration, or develop the waterfront and medical corridor by not being able to work together. Buffalo was once a model for national education leadership and we are as capable as other great cities of reinvention out of crisis. We have more parents engaged in our schools than ever before, and business leaders acknowledge that improving our schools is fundamental to attracting and keeping business.

We know the cost of failing to adequately educate our children: increased crime, joblessness and poverty. Persistent failure shapes whether streets are safe, whether employers come here or flee. It shapes Buffalo’s quality of life. Young people who slip through the cracks of our education system aren’t ready to fill new jobs, to support their families, or become contributors to building a better community.

The generations that came before us built Buffalo into a dynamic and flourishing community and left it to their children and grandchildren; to all of us. Our schools were always, and still are, the engine that will determine Buffalo’s future. If they succeed, Buffalo thrives.

I attended schools 31, 6 and 76 and graduated from Lafayette High School. My first career was an educator at Bennett High School. I attribute my successes in life, in part, to the education I received in Buffalo Public Schools. I suspect that there are many in Buffalo who have been given much from the city and who at the stage of life like myself, only wish to contribute and give back. They hold a wish and hope for their children and grandchildren to benefit and expel the dreadful cycle of poverty and pain that has emerged.

It is heart-wrenching, but motivating, to see us not succeeding. There is no substitute for shared success and we need shared success with our younger generations. Every season regardless of the Bills’ record, we rally, advise and debate plays. We never give up, make excuses or concessions. We are the Bills’ greatest critics and greatest champions, and it shouldn’t be any different for our schools. We owe it to our children and our forerunners to restore and maintain the value and benefits of our public schools—to make every year a championship year.

- Bernard Tolbert, Buffalo

Tolbert is a candidate for an at-large seat on the Buffalo Board of Education

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