Patricia Elliott-Patton is ready to send her child somewhere else. Her 11-year-old daughter has been at Buffalo’s Waterfront School for four years, ever since third grade. She hasn’t been doing well.
“She’s failing, to be honest,” Elliott-Patton said.
As her daughter prepares to enter seventh grade in the fall, Elliott-Patton will be among the parents applying to have their children removed from an underperforming Buffalo city school to another city school in good standing with the state.
And based on a new report recently submitted by Superintendent Pamela Brown to the state Education Department, the district should finally meet its legal obligation and place Elliott-Patton’s daughter in a higher-performing school.
The seven-page report commits the district to exploring a variety of ways to accommodate students from its 45 “failing” schools into one its 12 schools in good standing with the state.
Options range from expanding existing high-achieving schools to closing some existing schools and reopening them as “extensions” of high-achieving schools.
“They took a step in the right direction,” said Samuel Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, which has led the charge to get the district to change its rules. “We are in the exact opposite position than we were a year ago today.”
Until now, children like Elliott-Patton’s stood the chance of being denied a seat at a school in good standing because there were too few high-achieving schools to make up for all the ones the state has tagged as failing.
Last year, 95 parents who applied for a transfer were denied by the district because of lack of capacity.
The state Education Department ruled in late May that the parents of children attending failing Buffalo schools have the right for their children to be transferred to a school in good standing – regardless of whether those schools have the room to accommodate them.
The state demanded that the Buffalo district submit a “corrective action plan” by the end of last month to ensure that all parents who want their children transferred out of a “focus” or “priority” school are granted their request.
The district responded June 28 with a plan to enable transfers to one of the district’s 12 schools in good standing. Many of these more “elite” schools have specific admissions requirements that may be revisited.
Among the options the district has pledged to explore as part of its corrective plan:
• Setting aside a percentage of seats at schools in good standing for students who apply for “public school choice” transfers.
• Expanding seat capacity in higher performing schools at their current sites, where possible.
• Establishing “satellites” for schools in good standing.
• Housing more than one school in the same building, under the leadership of a principal of a school in good standing.
• Closing an existing school and reopening it as an extension of a school in good standing.
It’s unclear how the district intends to accomplish these options. The district has not yet committed to any one course of action as it awaits state approval for its corrective plan. The Buffalo News requested more information on the options but wasn’t given any.
A Public School Choice Committee is supposed to make recommendations on how to proceed. Among the longer-term issues it will examine in greater detail, possibly for 2014-15, is reconsideration of the district’s current admission standards for schools, such as Olmsted 64, Hutchinson-Central Technical High School, City Honors and others.
The district has apparently axed consideration of options such as transferring children from underperforming Buffalo public schools to Catholic or private schools but leaves open the idea of transferring students to a district-sponsored charter school or even a suburban public school.
Elliott-Patton said the district’s plan gives her reason to hope her daughter may eventually succeed at a different school. “She wants to be a doctor, for crying out loud,” she said. “If she’s not able to be taught the right things, she’s not going to make it.”
While the district is pledging to accommodate every parent who seeks a transfer for their child, it’s giving itself from Aug. 5 to Jan. 24 to accommodate all requests this fall.
It’s unlikely that the new district plan will lead to a huge rush of parents like Elliott-Patton requesting transfers this coming school year.
In theory, the parents of more than 27,000 children – out of an overall district enrollment of 34,700 students – are entitled to have their children transferred to a school that is not on the district’s watch list. But in reality, less than 3 percent of eligible parents typically request student transfers, according to district information for the past six years. For this past school year, only 502 parents requested transfers. Of that number, 165 transfers were actually made.
Parents seeking a transfer must file requests by July 19. Applications are available online and at the district’s Central Registration Center, 33 Ash St. Parents who want more assistance may also visit the Community Action Organization office, 1423 Fillmore Ave., during business hours.
For a copy of the district’s corrective action plan, visit the School Zone blog here.