By Jason A. Zwara

Last Wednesday, the Buffalo Board of Education approved a framework for the superintendent to develop a plan in response to Commissioner John B. King Jr.’s July 10 letter. Under the framework, East and Lafayette high schools will partner with Erie 1 BOCES, which will provide afternoon and evening career and technical education courses to any student who chooses to enroll.

In addition to a partnership with Erie 1 BOCES, the board also authorized the superintendent to contract Johns Hopkins University’s Talent Development Program as an educational partnership organization for both of the high schools.

While the partnership with BOCES will provide students with an immediate alternative path to graduation, the EPO agreement with Johns Hopkins will ultimately decide the fate of East and Lafayette; if this plan fails, it is very likely that the State Education Department will be forced to close these two schools.

While Johns Hopkins University’s Talent Development Program is promising and has succeeded in dramatically improving low-performing schools across the country, the question remains whether the district here will provide Johns Hopkins with the authority and support it needs to succeed. King rejected the latest School Improvement Grant applications to implement the EPO model in these two schools with Johns Hopkins because the district was unable to show that it could set the university up for success.

The last School Improvement Grant application failed to set performance benchmarks for Johns Hopkins; provide the university with operational authority (e.g. to evaluate and assign staff, scheduling, curriculum decisions, student discipline and budgeting); and ensure that Johns Hopkins would report directly to the Board of Education and not be overseen by the superintendent.

Additionally, distinguished educator Judy Elliott’s report indicated that the district lacks the internal capacity to provide Johns Hopkins University with the organizational supports necessary to succeed.

Wednesday’s meeting failed to address any of these shortcomings. Unless the superintendent can clearly explain how the district will empower Johns Hopkins to operate East and Lafayette, the board and the public should have no confidence in the plan.

Students in these two schools are depending on the district to stop the nonsense and create an environment in which every student has access to an excellent education.

Jason A. Zwara is executive director of Buffalo ReformED.