To the surprise of no one, the State Education Department has rejected the Buffalo School District’s plan to transfer more than 2,200 students out of under-performing schools. It’s the third such failure for the school district, which seems intent on following its pattern of not complying with other state directives.
When will this district start to take its responsibilities seriously?
Reading the dueling comments from the state and school district is an exercise in head-spinning. Says Ken Slentz, deputy education commissioner: “We’ve never had to do this for a district before. … It’s been kind of a frustrating experience for us, the fact that we have to tell them to do things that should be natural thoughts.”
The district, through its chief of student support services, Will Keresztes, cheerily responds: “We have a plan that appears to work, that appears to be positioning the district very well to create capacity. We just have to address some issues that were previously unknown when we first submitted this plan.”
He added: “There was a lack of clarity, previously, on what the level of involvement of stakeholders should be.”
Slentz retorted that it is “disheartening” and “preposterous” that the state needs to point out the obvious. The problem, he trenchantly observed, is that the district looks at requirements such as these as “just a compliance exercise,” rather than a leadership opportunity. Indeed, he said, the district chronically interprets state feedback literally and narrowly instead of using its advice as “thinking prompts.”
He’s right, though a more pointed way of putting it is that the district routinely tries to do the least that it can to skate by. That’s poor leadership and a poor example for students who, under the new Common Core standards, are being asked to learn how to think rather than just memorize facts.
In addition to demanding more stakeholder involvement in the plan, the state is demanding that it make more seats available for students by the start of the 2014-15 school year. The district is unable to satisfy parents’ legal demand to move students out of under-performing schools due to lack of space in schools in good standing. The state is also requiring greater detail on how the plan will be implemented and supported.
The good news for the district is that the state has finally approved its turnaround plans for East and Lafayette high schools, though that occurred only after experts from State Ed sat down with local school officials and showed them how to color inside the lines.
Still, the transfer plan was submitted before the state staged its intervention on the turnaround plan, so it might be fair to let this one pass. But between last month’s hand-holding and Slentz’s observations about the district’s unwillingness to lead, school officials have no wiggle room left.
They know what the state expects and they’ve been shown how to craft an acceptable submission. Nap time is over.