It’s amazing what can get done with a little determination and cooperation.
A year ago, Wegmans CEO Danny Wegman pledged up to $1 million for a program to prevent students from dropping out of city high schools. That is, provided the Buffalo School District came up with the same amount.
As with other initiatives considered under the former administration, the school district couldn’t seem to get going on collecting the million. While Wegman gave the district three years to raise the money, the first year has been a bust. The district raised a measly $110,000 toward the million-dollar matching grant. If it’s true that a million dollars isn’t what it used to be, then $110,000 is hardly a drop in the bucket.
The continued failure by adults to move forward nearly meant at-risk students would lose out. Again.
But, in what may be a sign of a new attitude at the top following the exit of Superintendent Pamela C. Brown, the district found a way to salvage a program that should never have needed rescuing. The work came during the brief tenure of Will Keresztes as temporary interim superintendent. He said the district will play “catch up” and earmark $840,000 over the next two years for Wegmans’ Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection.
The funding will allow the program to expand into Emerson and Burgard high schools. The current program at South Park will grow and bring the total number of Buffalo students served to about 360.
The program is supported by the Wegmans Family Charitable Foundation and originally began as a way of getting more minority employees into Wegmans’ upscale, suburban grocery stores. Its strength is seen in the results: of 43 struggling South Park students who started four years ago, 40 have graduated and the other three could graduate in August.
The district will also create a 10-year funding strategy, with planning assistance from Say Yes Buffalo, to ensure the scholarship program’s continued growth, according to Keresztes.
A program that could save many students from dropping out of city high schools seems to be on track at last. However, there has been an unfortunate step back in Bennett High School’s scholarship program. That program was begun three years ago and has 90 students, sustained by Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, which has recently withdrawn support from the school. The Hillside organization has stepped in and will pick up the $300,000 annual expense until those 90 students leave high school. But that means no new students will be added, unless another generous donor is found.
The district has fences to mend and students to save. The decision to come up with the money toward the million-dollar matching grant is another sign of progress.