Buffalo Public Schools has a leadership problem. It’s just a matter of how to fix it, and when, for the sake of 34,000 students.
State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. has not hesitated to express his disdain, often in a deft manner, of both the central office and the fractured School Board. He did it again on a visit to Amherst, where the school district is showing how to make the system work.
He never names names but has made clear that the leadership in Buffalo needs to end its excuses and distractions and focus on improving achievement. Instead, too much time has been spent pointing fingers and assigning blame.
We agree. There has been consistent denial by those sitting at the top of Buffalo’s educational heap about how bad things really are. Instead, Superintendent Pamela C. Brown continually points to minimal progress that still must be documented through an audit.
Brown responded to King’s criticism of Buffalo’s underperforming schools and negative reaction from the governor by talking about a modicum of success over the past year. Those developments include a projected 56 percent graduation rate for 2013, which might be the highest since 2009, and reductions in short term suspensions and dropout rates.
Moreover, 44 of 53 eligible schools earned an “effective” or “highly effective” rating for academic growth this past year and a higher percent of 11th-graders passed their English and math Regents exams.
But Brown’s review ignores the urban school district’s dismal performance on tests based on the recently adopted Common Core Learning Standards. In Buffalo, 9.6 percent of students were proficient in math and 11.5 percent were proficient in English.
Her response also ignores the district’s history of repeated failures in coming up with an acceptable teacher evaluation plan and the district’s earlier inability or unwillingness to submit acceptable school improvement plans to the state.
Add to that Brown’s unwillingness to involve parents early on in the development of improvement plans. Samuel A. Radford, head of the District Parent Coordinating Council, said that his organization had five issues that needed to be addressed but that Brown’s distressing reaction was to defend behavior that Radford said is in violation of the law.
Worse, he said Brown has stated that she’s not going to do anything different. That concerns his group. It should concern everyone.
The state education commissioner seems to be nearing a breaking point on Buffalo schools’ performance. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has put his oar in the water with an indication that the state may be taking a more active role in addressing failing schools and school districts in the coming year. The state Board of Regents plans to take a close look at about seven struggling districts around the state.
Meanwhile, something curious occurred during a School Board meeting on Thursday. Maverick board member Carl Paladino, who has repeatedly called for Brown to resign or be dismissed, seemed to back off. He agreed to withhold his motion calling for the superintendent to go – at least, for two weeks. Curious.
Brown’s position as leader of a failing school district would indeed be severely weakened even if the votes to remove her fell slightly short. But something has to be done. Buffalo’s schools cannot continue on their current disastrous path.