NY Commissioner Expresses Doubt About Buffalo’s Ability To Improve

New York Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. lacks confidence that the Buffalo School District will improve its struggling schools despite extraordinary intervention and technical resources provided by the state.

King, in a meeting with The Buffalo News Editorial Board, said the state is providing enough support to district schools, but it is the district’s responsibility to raise performance. Further, King said the state would consider more intervention in the district schools if student performance does not improve, writes Sandra Tan of The Buffalo News.

Over the summer, King mandated the district’s two low-performing high schools, Lafayette and East, to partner with Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). Months later, King said he isn’t confident

“We remain very concerned about Lafayette and East,” King said in the meeting with News editors and reporters before Thursday evening’s education forum at WNED studios. “We have a plan from the district and from Johns Hopkins about what they intend to do. But we are concerned about the progress so far.”

Johns Hopkins University is acting as the lead educational partnership organization (EPO) to improve the academic performance at both schools. According to King, Lafayette is not making an effort to assist its largely immigrant, English-language-learning population, or to provide appropriate teacher training.

After the meeting, King and Regent Robert Bennett visited Lafayette High School. Both expressed more optimism afterward about the classroom environment there. “I was encouraged by the conversation with the principal,” King said, “and with some of the things I saw in the classroom.”

King, however, said he is still concerned about Lafayette and wasn’t taking back any of his original remarks about the school.

In October of this year, New York Education Department officials visited a number of Buffalo schools that have received federal school turnaround grant money. King said his concerns were heightened in the results of those observations.

Department officials visited Bennett and Lafayette high schools and Martin Luther King School 39 as part of their routine review of low-performing “priority schools” in the state. But their concerns were so serious that the team quickly returned to Buffalo to recommend immediate changes at the three schools prior to issuing a written report.

According to King, the school district can expect to face more direct intervention by the state if the situation remains unchanged. If a school is not making satisfactory improvement despite a partnership, King said he may intervene in other ways.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo intends to strengthen the state’s authority to deal with chronically poor-performing schools. Also, King referred to a State Legislature bill that would allow the Board of Regents to take control of failing school districts. He said the bill, which has languished in the legislature for years, may gain traction in light of Cuomo’s new education reform agenda.

King said the state will closely monitor the schools’ performance.