Superintendent Pamela C. Brown informed Buffalo School Board members Wednesday that she wants to close Bennett High School, and Martin Luther King and Harvey Austin elementary schools. Those schools would then be reopened as new schools in good standing managed by new principals, outside organizations or new charters.
The move would affect the 1,600 students who currently attend those schools, as well as the staff that works with them. The closings and relaunchings would be part of the continuing effort to accommodate students who want to be transferred from low-performing schools to schools in good standing with the state.
In a separate, surprise move, the School Board voted unanimously to move the district’s Middle Early College high school program – which would affect 285 students – to the Math Science and Technology School building. That change would essentially put two separate schools under a single roof.
Such a move will upset the Middle Early College community who have been advocating for a new stand-alone school building. Middle Early College currently partners with Erie Community College to give high school students the opportunity to gain an associates degree within five years. Students and staff are currently located in leased space owned by board member Carl P. Paladino’s development company.
With regard to Bennett, MLK and Harvey Austin, Brown said she chose those schools because they have vacancies, and because Bennett and MLK have run out of federal school improvement grant money but, according to visiting state education officials, still show serious academic problems.
“Unfortunately, some of the findings were not very positive,” Brown said, “so again, it pointed at the need to take drastic measures to turn those schools around. And the whole focus of the relaunch of schools, or the closing and reopening, is to transform the schools.”
If the schools are accepted by the state as “new” schools with innovative and research-based programs, she said, these schools would be opened in the fall as schools in good standing – a status they would be able to keep for three years.
The current students would be allowed to remain at the schools, but the schools would have room for many more. Brown said she would hope these schools would also give the district the opportunity to offer more unique educational options and opportunities for children across the district.
Three requests for proposals may be issued as soon as today to relaunch Bennett, MLK and Harvey Austin. Options would include:
• Lead educational partners, such as principals, who would recommend an entirely new school programming model for the school but still fall under the superintendent’s leadership,
• Educational partnership organizations – outside organizations that would have much more autonomy to manage and oversee the schools.
• Charter school conversions, which would require a vote by the parents of students attending the school.
In all cases, teachers would remain part of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, but under the first two options, at least 50 percent of teachers would have to be transferred.
Brown said she expects the requests for proposals to be received by late January and for the proposals to be presented to the board for consideration two-to-three weeks later.
In other matters:
• Although some board members have been sympathetic to the idea of granting Middle Early College its own building, the board determined that the cost was prohibitive. Moreover, all board members expressed serious concerns after administrators gave a presentation Wednesday indicating that 28 percent of college courses taken by these students were resulting in failures or withdrawals, and that the students were earning a C average in their college courses. “We need to find a better way of doing business, and a better way of getting a better outcome,” said board member Jason M. McCarthy.
• The board voted, 7-1, to end the consulting contract with Cross & Joftus. Brown had originally intended to use a state grant to finance a new, three-month transitional contract that would have also brought back controversial consultant Mary E. Guinn. But that grant was denied by the state. The board voted instead to simply pay Cross & Joftus $121,000 to cover completed work for which it has not yet been paid.