Thursday, December 11, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: Clock is Ticking for Out-of-Time Schools

This Fall, New York State Education Commissioner John King declared that four Buffalo Schools were “out-of-time”.  These schools, East, Lafayette, Bennett High Schools and the MLK Jr. Multicultural Institute #39, were given several options to remain open or face closure.  The State and the majority members of the Buffalo Board of Education determined that one option was to have new or existing charter schools come in and take over any/all of the school buildings.  To facilitate this option, the majority Board members resolved to request that the State hold a special application process for new charters that, if approved would only operate in Buffalo.  The majority passed another resolution to ensure that existing independent charters could apply to lease space or the entire building of any of the out-of-time schools.  The caveat with this arrangement is that current students in the out-of-time schools would have to apply for admission to the charter, as they would not be guaranteed a space.

Other options to keep these schools open include:  conversion charter (these are charters resulting from a vote of 50% of the parents of students in the school and these schools remain under the authority of the School District and serve the students already enrolled in the school); an Educational Partner Organization to take over the operation of the school; a partnership with a SUNY College or University; or a new school that would be phased in as the old school is phased out.  In order to get proposals for this last option, the District issued a Request for Proposals.  These proposals are due to the District by Friday, December 12th.

As of this article, there are several very committed groups – one in each school.  These groups are composed of teachers, administrators, alumni, parents and other community stakeholders, who have been working diligently to develop plans for new phase-in schools for each of the out-of-time ones.  These groups are devoted to maintaining the schools as public schools of the District while addressing the problems that led to the out-of-time designation and creating an educational program that will result in better outcomes for our students.

After the December 12th, a group of evaluators appointed by the Interim Superintendent will review and rate each proposal.  Over the objections of the minority Board members, who demanded transparency, the names of these evaluators will be kept secret.  Of the 16 individuals, four are designated to be chosen from the charter school environment.  Following the selection process of the evaluation team and their recommendations, the successful proposals will be published publically and open meetings will be held for public comment.   I have also asked that a mechanism be established so that the public can give feedback online.

The Board will vote on the proposals which must be sent to the State Education Department by January 30, 2015.  State Ed will have the final say on the selection of a new model for the schools and can also recommend closure of any or all of the schools.  Time is running out for these out-of-time schools.  But there is still time for public input and comment on the final proposals.  Details will be shared about dates, times and places for you to share your thoughts.  Your input is needed and valued.

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