In this special installment of the Equity Advocate, we’ll be featuring some of our long-time partners to celebrate our 5-year anniversary, reflect on the past, and uncover what the future holds for the fight for educational equity in New York.
“The biggest room in the house is always the room for improvement,” said Samuel L. Radford III.
Sam, a parent advocate and leader in Buffalo for 30 years, has always pushed for improvement and equity in Buffalo Public Schools from various avenues. To name a few: he’s been a 7th and 8th grade math teacher, a previous president of the Buffalo District Parent Coordinating Council, co-chairperson of We the Parents of Western New York, and an advisory board member and constant partner of Ed Trust–NY.
Sam also represents the Better Schools, Better Neighborhoods initiative at the Community Action Organization of Western New York, a poverty fighting organization in Erie and Niagara counties that is part of the New York Equity Coalition The initiative works with block clubs and community organizations to ensure education leaders and neighborhood residents are partnering together to increase quality of life and social outcomes.
“Schools don’t exist in isolation,” Sam said. “If we want better schools, we have to make sure neighborhoods are better as well.”
But that’s not a linear equation unless students’ and parents’ voices are elevated, respected, and heard. One way to help ensure this, Sam said, is to keep an intergenerational conversation going between families in the Buffalo community to ensure knowledge is passed down. In school districts serving low-income communities, parents often lack access to resources and also may not have had a good educational experience themselves. That’s why it’s so important that there’s a paradigm shift so they can better advocate for their children.
“If there’s no shift, then we’ll have a generational transfer of bad educational experiences and not give the support necessary to help our children succeed,” Sam said.
We the Parents of WNY builds upon this notion by creating relationships between parents new to the Buffalo public school system and those who have navigated it — like Sam himself, who has been there every step of the way when his 14 children were school-age.
“Student voice and parent voice is the missing key element to accelerating learning in urban communities,” he said. “Whether [a policy or initiative] is going to work has to do with partnership with parents — they have to reinforce it at home. And students tell you whether it works or not.”
When Sam joined Ed Trust–NY’s advisory board five years ago, he was already amplifying stories in the Buffalo community and empowering parents to advocate. Yet while the qualitative perspective is essential, Sam said, Ed Trust–NY’s data-centered approach to furthering education equity gave him and his peers the extra boost to accelerate their local advocacy. The coalition also helped him network with education leaders from different regions and set equity priorities for the state — something that can impact Buffalo locally.
“It gave us the research that helped us back up our issues as parents. We weren’t just responding emotionally to what was going on with our children,” Sam said. “You can’t have a serious impact on education just on a local level — your effectiveness is limited if you don’t have a state agenda.”
When reflecting on the past five years of work with Ed Trust–NY, Sam sees and thinks of “emergence.” Emergence of empowerment and breakthrough. And the ability to breathe.
“No one wants to spend their time reacting and fighting all the time,” he said. “You want to spend your time making better outcomes for our children. That’s the excitement about [our partnership with Ed Trust–NY] in the next five years.”
Thank you, Sam, for your fierce advocacy and leadership as Ed Trust–NY has grown over the years!