By and large, we are in favor of any and all strategies that will improve the education that Buffalo school children are constitutionally entitled to receive. The administration can object, the School Board can object, the teachers union can object, the State Education Department can object. It doesn’t matter. Buffalo’s students have been so badly served for so long that it is past time for politeness.
But it does seem strange that the proposed forced transformation of two district schools into charters comes without any noticeable support from parents in those schools. There is no widespread opposition, either, but still, a change so important should be able to draw significant support from the parents of the children it is meant to help.
That suggests that the leaders of the nonprofit Chameleon Community School Project have more work to do before they should be given permission to implement their planned takeover of two of Buffalo’s lowest-performing schools, Waterfront Elementary and East High School.
The Buffalo organization, bypassing the school district, filed a detailed proposal with the state to close the two schools and reopen them as charters. That infuriated members of the School Board, who insist they are not opposed to turning low-performing schools into charters. They say they just didn’t like the way Chameleon did it.
That is certainly a possible reason, but the district has never had a comfortable relationship with any of the city’s charter school organizations, which they see as pilfering education dollars that could be coming into the traditional district schools. This latest effort also would mark the first time existing city schools would be transformed into charters. The existing charters were all started from scratch in buildings not owned by the district.
Chameleon might have been smarter to bring the School Board in on its plans earlier, not to soothe any hurt feelings, but to better ensure the success of a plan that could benefit students.
The parents have to be a part of the equation – and a big part, at that. Chameleon’s leaders say they haven’t been able to speak with large numbers of parents, but Chameleon has to make the effort to spread the word and start organizing meetings. An informational meeting Tuesday night attracted only a few parents. That’s not good enough.
The other factor that needs to be considered is that, as troubled as these schools are, they are now showing signs of improvement. The schools still have a long way to go to reach adequate, however, and every possible lifeline, including more charters, must be looked at.
Board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak asked a key question of the Chameleon representatives: “Why now, when we have a new superintendent, a highly qualified superintendent, a distinguished educator and Say Yes to provide wraparound services? Tell me, why do you think you can do a better job than these highly qualified people we have?”
If the organization can provide a compelling answer to that question, and convince parents of it, they should be given authority to open the charters. That’s the test they still need to pass.