BUFFALO, N.Y. -- When a school district needs help -- hiring a
top administrator, facing consolidation, streamlining its
transportation services, developing its big-picture plans or
staring down most any of the highly charged decisions confronting
the sometimes turbulent world of elementary and secondary education
-- who are they going to call?
With increasing frequency, they call the University at Buffalo
and, specifically, UB's Western New York Educational Service
Council, which provides a cadre of former superintendents who bring
their experience and ability together to assist districts.
Experience has shown when school districts do call, they need those
qualities the council brings to bear: Independence. Neutrality.
Expertise. Knowledge. Familiarity with the local educational
"We don't have anything to gain, so we look to the facts and the
research," says Bren T. Price, executive director of the council
since 2005 whose educational resume includes years as a teacher,
principal and superintendent. "We bring a neutral yet broad-based
approach to superintendent searches and the other consulting work
"We help districts to zoom into focus what they need.
Oftentimes, the data is obvious. But it's up to the districts to
decide what to do and what not to do."
The list of the council's recent studies and projects reads like
a shopping network of educational consulting services. For example,
there's the long-range finance and facilities study the council did
for the Holland Central School District. The esoteric health
insurance broker and third-party administrative study for Niagara
Falls. The emotional merger study of Brocton and Fredonia Central
School districts. The more specialized and technical waste disposal
study for Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES.
In each case, Price looks to his 10 consultants -- most of them
retired school superintendents who worked and still live locally --
and tries to match his staff's skills with the project needs of the
district. Chances are someone on that roster fits the bill.
Although the council is a non-profit agency, school districts
pay a fee for services. In the case of school superintendent
searches, the local Board of Cooperative Educational Services would
provide that function at no charge to its members. But the council
would provide a dimension and depth that comes with someone able to
devote attention to the task fulltime, and doesn't need to balance
the assignment with other job responsibilities.
Although Price emphasizes the council's services engage a wide
variety of school district personnel, many of whom seldom see
in-service training so essential in keeping educators current,
it¡¦s hard to overestimate what a good superintendent
means to the district. And given today's era of economic hardships
and Albany confusion, finding a good administrator may never have
been more difficult.
"Strong and dynamic school leaders have always been hard to
find, even when state aid was increasing each year to meet the new
standards imposed by the Board of Regents," says the council's
search consultant Vincent Coppola, who has conducted about 90
superintendent searches in the past 12 years, mostly in New York
State. "However, in today's environment, where state officials are
forced to reduce school aid, resulting in massive staff cuts and
program reductions, fewer educators are seeking to pursue a career
as a school superintendent."
Being a district superintendent these days means balancing
competing interests of stakeholder groups and the school boards who
oversee the work of superintendents. This often leads to a more
hostile environment, Price and Coppola say, and makes the job of
superintendent less attractive to prospective candidates. As a
result, the average superintendent now spends five years or less in
any one district, a statistic both former administrators call
"More has to be done to encourage and support bright and
creative educators to pursue the superintendency," says Coppola.
"Otherwise, our schools will lack the skilled leadership necessary
to provide a world class education to the future graduates of our
"Sometimes a district doesn't have as clear an idea of what they
are looking for as they should," Price says. "A good consultant can
help the district identify what's important and help them to
understand the process more.
"I don't think there is anyone who researches a district,
recruits candidates and does as much background checking when doing
a search as we do," Price adds.
Although administrative and superintendent searches are a
mainstay of the council's functions, it also provides several other
services, such as:
-- Professional Development. The council holds administrative
seminars, study groups and regular professional development
workshops on current topics at reasonable costs. "It's a sharing of
knowledge with folks who sometimes don¡¦t normally get
that kind of opportunity," Price says.
-- Executive Leadership Study Groups. Designed to give school
superintendents the opportunity to examine current issues in an
educational and practical context, the council's School Site
Leadership Study Group sessions stimulate thinking about ways of
improving administrative practice and offer an informal support
base among highly competent peers.
-- Other activities include school board workshops and other
daylong conferences designed to build this network of educators
that go beyond district boundaries. For example, the council
sponsored a "Non-instructional School Leaders Conference" in July
for those who work outside the classroom, such as transportation
supervisors, cafeteria managers and human resources personnel.
-- The council also brings researchers and those in the
education field together to share information and ideas. Among the
recent programs were presentations by Graduate School of Education
professors Douglas Clements and Julie Sarama on their Building
Blocks program to help at-risk pre-kindergarten students learn math
skills. And UB researcher Gregory A. Fabiano, who works with
high-risk teenage drivers to improve their driving habits as well
as their relationships with their parents, will give a daylong
seminar on behavioral management issues on Sept. 23.
"School leadership is complex work, complicated even further by
ever-changing state and federal policy, as well as local political
dynamics," Price says. "The council is determined to accomplish its
mission -- service to the educational communities of Western New
York -- with passion and vision for the future. The children who
inhabit our schools deserve no less."
For more information about the council's work, call 645-2932 or