Recently, Buffalo School Superintendent James A. Williams and Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore stepped into a studio at WNED-TV and recorded a video announcing an $8 million plan to increase student achievement in the city's 16 lowest-performing schools. Williams and Rumore are not known for friendly relations, but in this effort they did exactly what they need to do more often -- work together for the sake of the city's schoolchildren.
In this unfortunately rare alliance, Williams can first be seen discussing a performance-enhancing plan for more school time and more professional training in targeted schools. The video, designed to be shown to district employees, then shifts to Rumore, who admits that he and Williams have had their disagreements but have found ways to bridge the gap and meet halfway. And although he cautions that this plan is not completely set in stone and that it has to be renewed next year, this is a major step forward.
Bravo. Performances like this should come more often.
The plan Rumore and Williams are advancing is an ambitious one. It includes an additional hour added to the school day and four summer weeks tacked on to the school year; staggered teacher hours to cover the longer day; limited class sizes; instructional coaches to work with teachers and leadership coaches to assist principals; five days of professional development for both teachers and administrators; and more feedback to parents, who can transfer their children to other city schools if they don't like the longer school day and school year.
The funding for this collaborative effort will come from a state Contract for Excellence grant to improve student performance at 13 elementary schools and three high schools on the state watch list. It's a solid response to an identified need, and it reflects deep commitment by the district and the union.
There are other challenges ahead -- the ongoing battle over single-carrier health insurance, for example, and court fights over the number of step-pay increases teachers are entitled to receive as a result of a recent thaw in the wage freeze. There will be conflict. But at least for the day, the watchwords were cooperation and leadership.