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Saturday 26 November 2022
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AN OPEN LETTER TO COMMISSIONER JAMES PATTERSON

Op-ed by Howard Eagle

Howard Eagle. File photo.

I sincerely thank you regarding your appearance on Evan Dawson’s Connections program on 11/18/22 (see the first link below). 

Also thank you for acknowledging the vicious attack on me by Rochester Board of Education Commissioner Beatriz LeBron three years ago (see a link below), which of course was never adequately, nor acceptably addressed by her Board colleagues, the State Commissioner of Education, nor anyone else.  

Ms. LeBron has acted as a loose cannon on the Board for a long time. It was not difficult for anyone who has been paying attention relative to longstanding, ongoing Board dynamics __ to figure out that  she is the “one individual [whom you noted you’re planning to] request be removed” from the Board (even before you revealed her identity the following day), especially since you also mentioned Willa Powell’s name several times.

Again, if folks have been paying attention, they know that Willa Powell has already made a formal request to have Ms. LeBron removed from the Board, which was predictably dismissed by State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa because (according to many), Ms. Rosa and Ms. LeBron are New York City “home-girls” from way-back- when. On this particular note, I must say that Mr. Dawson still owes me an apology. He will recall that after Ms. LeBron attacked me, she waged a libelous campaign to convince white radio hosts in particular, including Bob Lonsberry, Brother Wease, Kimberly & Beck, and apparently Evan Dawson that I had made sexual advances and threatened her.

Rochester Board of Education Commissioner Beatriz LeBron with NewsRadio WHAM 1180 host, Bob Lonsberry. Photo provided.

Thus when both me and Ms. LeBron (as school board candidates in 2019) were scheduled for interviews at  the WXXI Studio on the same day __ when I arrived, Dawson treated me like a criminal, and told me that LeBron was so-called afraid of me, and that she didn’t feel so-called “safe” in my presence. Yet, it was me who had to retain my lawyer to send her a Cease & Desist Letter, and threaten to sue her and the District __ in order to stop her vicious attacks. Again I say, Dawson still owes me an apology.

You made a couple of statements during the program, which were thoroughly baffling, and which hopefully, you will rethink. One such statement was your response to Dawson’s question: “how is racism [,which you had mentioned] playing out” in the Rochester City School District?” 

Your response was that you’ll “let [Dawson] discuss that with Willa Powell and Amy Maloy.” The crystal-clear  implication is that Ms. LeBron subjected Powell and Maloy (the two white women on the Board) to racism, which could be true. However, if it is true, it’s by no means the major or most prevalent source, nor form of racism occurring in the Rochester City School District (RCSD). Thus, for you to raise the issue of racism in such a narrow and limited context is suspicious (to say the very least).

Secondly, you stated that your desire to go into RCSD Elementary classrooms and read to students is “not about just going in to read,” but instead it’s about “offering them [that is, students] a ticket out of poverty.” Frankly, it seems like you believe your presence will automatically translate into a magical academic prescription. Hopefully you are not under the impression that you’re the first or only one to SAY to students that “education is vital,” and even if you are, which is very, very doubtful, it’s critically important to understand that your voice, or any individual’s voice does not automatically or necessarily represent a panacea relative to academic success, and certainly not relative to “a ticket out of poverty.” So, I’m saying (respectfully) that some of your assertions are chronically simplistic.

I was also glad to see your Nov. 7th Rochester Beacon Editorial, which was discussed during the Connections program (again see a link below).

I like your declared intent of “building bridges and relationships [,and your] call to dismantle years and decades of hurdles and barriers in this community that have perpetuated and stifled our children’s educational learning process and success [,and your effort to] make this community aware of  [hopefully] the [people who control the] current system’s opposition to change,” which many of us have been aware of for decades. Still, it’s good to see a sitting Board member reinforcing the “news.” However, if I may offer constructive feedback, with all due respect (and yes I really mean it) _ I am thoroughly convinced that if you are to be successful regarding your declared-intent, it will be necessary to sharpen your message, which is in some ways very abstract and nebulous (see elaboration below).

1) If we want people to really understand what’s going on relative to systemic obstacles, it’s important to be very specific, rather than posting broad, sweeping generalizations such as (for example) __ you want to “make this community aware of the current system’s opposition to change.” It is very important to note that systems do not establish, perpetuate, and/or maintain themselves __ people do. To your credit, you listed (indirectly) members of two groups (principals and Board members) who are instrumental in helping to prop up and maintain the status-quo __ relative to one specific issue, e.g., allowing you into schools to read to children. However, we know that this particular issue is but one, little, tiny, minuscule aspect of much larger and deeper issues and problems (such as, for example, as you noted), “dismantling the prior reading and writing specialist program, which is a vital issue. And we also know (without any doubt whatsoever) massive opposition to change encompasses many more individuals than just some principals and some Board members. We need to identify specifically and fully where the opposition is coming from. That is, if we really want “this community” to have a clear and complete understanding.

2) As it relates to your expressed desire to “build bridges and relationships” _  other than offering to go into school(s) for the sole purpose of reading to elementary students, you didn’t offer any specific ideas relative to approach(es) and/or action(s), unless I missed it ? I would be interested in hearing/reading your thoughts about other potential, specific actions, especially regarding  addressing massive, widespread, chronic failure concerning “grade-level performance and skills to read, write and comprehend.”  Again,  hopefully, you are not viewing the idea of reading to children as being representative of a panacea. Also, hopefully, it is not your only idea as to how we might be able to “build relationships.”

In the final analysis, instead of focusing so much on what you might be able to do as an individual, we (the Take It Down Planning Committee/ Faith Community Alliance Coalition) would suggest that you partner with those of us who are aware of the fact that _ if we are ever going to experience widespread, significant, measurable, permanent change in the RCSD _  it is going to be absolutely necessary to build a deadly serious, ongoing, movement of parents, grandparents, guardians, students, extraordinarily committed educators, politicians, including and especially progressive school board members, and anyone else who is really serious about widespread, fundamental change and improvement _ working cooperatively, collaboratively and constantly around concrete, well defined, measurable goals, strategies, and tactics, which is in essence, what a movement is.

~Howard Eagle is a longtime educator and local anti-racism advocate, known for his campaigns for the Rochester school board and prolific political and social commentary. Eagle taught social studies in the RCSD for 23 years, before retiring in 2010, and taught as an adjunct professor in the Department of African American Studies at SUNY Brockport for 20 years, before retiring in 2020.

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