Buffalo Promise Neighborhood is washing its hands of Bennett High School.
The community organization, supported by M&T Bank and other foundations, has played a major role in providing nearly $2 million in social services, attendance and job-training support for the struggling Buffalo high school. But a letter to Superintendent Pamela C. Brown last week stated that Buffalo Promise Neighborhood will end its partnership with Bennett because the district has submitted plans to close and relaunch the school without any input from the nonprofit group.
M&T Bank has been one of the Buffalo school district’s most high-profile corporate supporters over the past 20 years. Its decision to withdraw support from Bennett represents another black mark against Brown, who offered little reaction to the decision beyond a brief statement saying she was happy M&T would continue to work with two other city schools.
M&T Bank began working with the district’s troubled Westminster Community School in 1993, eventually helping it convert to a successful charter school. The bank later partnered with the district’s Highgate Heights Elementary School and Bennett as part of the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood initiative.
That program brings together many nonprofit organizations and finds the funding necessary to provide social services and other supports to students in a one-square-mile area around University Heights, located in the northeast corner of the city. It promotes a neighborhood school concept that shepherds students from their earliest education years through high school.
But Bennett High’s persistently low academic results drew attention from the state Education Department, which required the district to submit new plans to either close or radically alter the school’s educational programs for next school year.
In March, Brown surprised Buffalo Promise Neighborhood partners by announcing rushed plans to close and relaunch Bennett as a new high school focusing on science and technology. That decision was made without any input from Buffalo Promise Neighborhood. Compounding the matter was the state’s rejection of the district’s plan. As a result, no upcoming ninth-grader may enroll at the school this fall.
In recent weeks, Buffalo School Board members have said M&T and other Buffalo Promise Neighborhood partners felt frustrated and insulted that the district would move forward with a Bennett transformation plan without bothering to reach out to the school’s key community partner.
Buffalo Promise Neighborhood has invested nearly $2 million in Bennett over the past two years, hiring a wraparound services coordinator, three attendance teachers and placing six AmeriCorps volunteers at the school, according to David Chamberlain, chief executive officer of Buffalo Promise Neighborhood and a senior vice president at M&T Bank.
The partnership organization also supported many students in work force development and anti-violence programs. Finally, Buffalo Promise Neighborhood helped open the University at Buffalo College Success Center, which provided college consultations to 450 students, he said.
Chamberlain closed by stating, “Considering the district’s desire to work with a different partner and the likelihood that Bennett will move further away from the neighborhood school model rather than closer to it, we have concluded that further involvement at Bennett would not be the best use of resources.”
Buffalo Promise Neighborhood will end all services to Bennett after the current school year ends.
“We will instead continue to direct our energies on initiatives that are having a positive impact within our community and that fulfill BPN’s mission,” he said.
Brown made no reference to the implied criticism of the district by Chamberlain in her brief response statement. She did say the district would try to find a way to keep Bennett’s College Success Center going.
The district must submit a new turnaround proposal to the state for Bennett by Sept. 1 for the 2015-16 school year.