The sudden, totally unexpected, and dramatic cuts in vital programs in Buffalo high schools have galvanized and mobilized teachers, parents, and the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation (BTF) to reinstate, to full programming, the music and art programs now eradicated and thus canceling high school kids from the opportunity to earn a music sequence credential in preparation for county, all-star competitions and for talent-based, college music programs in New York State (NYS).
BTF President Phil Rumore announced in October 2019 that “Students are not getting the band and concert they are supposed to have under the law.”
Marleen O’Connor, a parent, worried at first when her son signed up for band at Hutch Tech. With an auditory processing disorder, he cannot process more than three commands at a time. But as a freshman two years ago, he thrived in the band, coming out of his shell, making friends, playing the saxophone at a jazz performance with the band, and he travelled to Philadelphia, and participated in the annual school concert, according to O’Connor.
But this school year, Hutch Tech stopped offering concert band classes; as a painful result, O’Connor has observed: “My son lost all enthusiasm for school and his grades have tanked,” appearing in writing, too, in an affidavit filed on December 14, supporting five teachers claims, who have taken the Buffalo Board of Education to court over the district’s, outrageous decision to eradicate the district’s music and art offerings.
Tiana Edwards, a district parent, writes: “It’s not just the high schools. My son is in the 2nd grade and is upset everyday there is no music or art classes at his school. Had I known that prior to enrolling him, I would have chosen a different school. I thought it was mandatory that children were offered these classes.”
Music and art classes are mandatory, as Rumore has often insisted, but nothing is moving district leadership to do move in the right direction for the future of the kids. Julie Van Dyke Gicewicz, a community member, agrees and writes: “This is why Buffalo schools continue to fail its community. We are focused on the ‘requirements’ rather than meeting the true needs of our students. The kids and their families deserve better.”
Led by two Hutch Tech music teachers, Amy Steiner and Laurie Ann Stephan, filed a grievance with the district and also filed an “improper acts” suit with the NYS Education Commissioner specifying a number of music curriculum violations perpetrated by Dr. Gabrielle Morquecho, principal at Hutch Tech, and the most visible and staunch defender of the district’s music and art cuts.
Dr. Morquecho is named at the center of the “improper acts” suit, claiming the callous eradication of a music program and retaliation against the two teachers, thereby negatively affecting 301 music students for 2019-20 school year, 141 in band and 160 in chorus. The suit will be heard in court later this week, and the teachers are looking forward to a reversal of fortunes for the future of kids, crafting a much-needed, impenetrable resolution and thus ensuring that music and art education is never compromised again by a principal.
The most pressing and most disturbing item, heading the list of violations, is the discovery that Hutch Tech students were placed in one-minute periods for band and chorus, before and after school, and illegally given full academic credit in the 2019 spring semester. Students are mandated by state law to fulfill required, classroom time and performance assessments in order to receive full credit in the music program.
These one-minute periods are wrongful, indefensible, fraudulent, and impossible for Dr. Morquecho and district leaders to explain and justify, leaving many teachers wondering why and how this blatant and hurtful violation was allowed to ever happen at Hutch Tech in the first place.
For example, a couple of years ago the principal at East HS and a few of the teachers at Riverside HS were cited and consequently placed on administrative leave for tampering with students’ grades and credits: The same consequence is appropriate and necessary for Dr. Morquecho’s violating actions at Hutch Tech.
To note, Steiner, the band teacher, and Stephan, the concert teacher, have patiently waited almost 20 years in the district to be an integral part of the Hutch Tech music program; ironically, both teachers were recruited a few years ago by Dr. Morquecho to lead the music program.
Parents are galvanized and motivated to resist and reverse the most unpopular decision in years by Dr. Morquecho to abruptly and callously eradicate a Hutch Tech HS music program, steeped in early 20th century tradition, dating back to 1920, when it was first organized as a jazz ensemble. What was once a treasured curricular gem, the most appreciated and most sought after, music program in the city of Buffalo is now extinguished into a pile of rubble with only painful and even shameful memories of what was once-in-place at Hutch Tech.
Standing out in front of the issue and unsupported, strangely, by colleagues and district leadership, Dr. Morquecho attempts to explain the music program’s sudden eradication this way: “Hutch Tech is an engineering school.”
That is certainly true, Dr. Morquecho, however, Hutch Tech has now naturally evolved into a cultural masterpiece and a cultural center that has been chosen, more often than not, by prospective parents as the number one, high school choice of parents for their high-school bound children, out-recruiting the highly-touted City Honors and Performing Arts programs in music and art instruction.
Unexplainably, it seems, Dr. Morquecho has ignored and even blocked numerous efforts by teachers and the BTF to meet and reconfigure the music program, but it has been to no avail, despite her training and background as a culture and trilingual education scholar. Dr. Morquecho has repeatedly displayed a lack of cooperation, an attitude of antipathy, and blatant resistance toward parents and teachers who continue to affirm the importance of an appreciated music and art program.
Dr. Morquecho’s contrived, insensitive, and polarizing stance to eradicate/uproot the highly coveted, music program remains puzzling to some that have uncovered scholarly evidence that Dr. Morquecho is, in fact, a cultural educator and a trilingual education scholar, and a proponent of establishing relationships and care in education settings.
In her doctoral dissertation, housed in UB’s recent archives, Dr. Morquecho cites and espouses teacher caring in her research findings, entitled: “An examination of high school teachers’ definition of ‘care’ and the caring behaviors they employ.” Nowadays, Hutch Tech teachers nor parents can see or feel her concern for caring as her scholarship portrays.
It must be painfully clear to Dr. Morquecho that her stance to close down the music and art program is a direct and disheartening contradiction of her training, values, and background: This is where theory and promise in education comes alive as a brazen beast, consequently fails, and then is unraveled in the unforeseen maladies of public practices.
And why is Dr. Morquecho standing alone on this pressing issue? The order to cut music and art programs was given by Buffalo Superintendent of Schools Kriner Cash; Sabbatino Cimato, assistant superintendent, was deeply involved in this issue from the onset, according to city hall insiders; he, too, is missing-in-action with Dr. Cash, thereby pressuring Dr. Morquecho to shoulder-it-all, while they wait and watch the program debacle from the purview at city hall, saying nothing.
Why, then, is the district brain-trust sitting-on-their-hands, demonstrating a leaderless public policy, and saying nothing? Instead what the district has done is roll out their own attorney, Nathaniel Kuzma, to fend off, say nothing substantial, and deflect all parental and public angst on the controversial issue. Strangely and misplaced, Kuzma even goes on the record to support and even compliment Dr. Morquecho.
“Shame on anybody who would try to criticize the principal (Dr. Morquecho) for what she’s done there as it relates to band and music. They should be thanking her,” he writes. Thanking Dr. Morquecho for what, exactly, is not known: No one else seems close to sharing Kuzma’s sentiments. That public support should have been generated by Dr. Cash or Cimato, the leaders at the top of the district hierarchy; they continue to be missing-in-action, literally hiding in the bushes, on this very critical issue affecting the future of kids.
To make matters worse at Hutch Tech, new coaching hires that were deemed in-house, highly-qualified, tenured teachers were not awarded advertised coaching positions, violating the teachers’ contract and inviting grievances from teachers who applied and deserved the new coaching positions.
Those wrongful selections for coaching inevitably creates rifts, tensions, and communication breakdowns with the principal, corroding away their confidence in the principal to do the ‘right thing’ for teachers; unfortunately for the teachers, Dr. Morquecho has violated often and even flagrantly at Hutch Tech and has a lot to answer for in the coming weeks.
Optimistically, justice appears in the foreseeable future, hopefully mirroring what Section 6 officials quickly resolved this week, reversing its ill-fated stance to correct the inequities placed on the participation of Buffalo students in Section 6 competition.