Three Buffalo schools awarded $13 million in turnaround grants - The Buffalo News

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Three Buffalo schools awarded $13 million in turnaround grants

Three of Buffalo’s underperforming public schools have been awarded a total of $13 million in school turnaround money, the state’s education commissioner announced Friday.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that none of these schools was approved on its first application, and a fourth school’s grant application was rejected for the second time.

The pattern is raising concerns in light of the fallout at Lafayette and East high schools, which were subjected to unprecedented mandates from State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. this month after repeatedly failing to submit acceptable applications for this same pot of money.

Waterfront Elementary, North Park Middle Academy and Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy, which serve elementary and middle school students, were each granted more than $4 million in federal School Improvement Grants.

Those awards will be spent on everything from extending school days to lowering class size, district administrators said. These three-year federal grants begin with the 2013-14 school year and are not guaranteed but are contingent on the schools meeting annual performance requirements.

Hamlin Park School, which also serves elementary and middle school students, was denied funding for the second time in this latest round of grant awards. The district had submitted a prior application for Hamlin Park that was denied in March.

North Park and Herman Badillo schools also were denied money in March before finally being approved, and Waterfront School was awarded its grant after being denied grant funding in March as well as last year, according to the state.

This adds to the concerns of some School Board members who want to know why grant applications for millions of dollars in federal money aren’t getting approved on the first try.

School Board member James Sampson said he’s concerned about the district’s ability to save schools in bad standing with the state when the application process alone seems so difficult for the administration.

He’s seeking board approval Wednesday to have Superintendent Pamela C. Brown provide a detailed history, review and assessment of why the administration has been unsuccessful with its turnaround grant applications, and how that could be changed.

“If we don’t understand what’s not working, we’re not going to get better,” he said.

Debra Sykes, who oversees the grant applications as chief of strategic alignment and innovation, said the state has been requesting more specific and detailed applications than it has in the past.

The district successfully beefed up its applications for Waterfront, North Park and Herman Badillo Bilingual by gathering more input from school stakeholders and teaching teams, and by providing more specific examples of how broad concepts will be executed in each building, she said.

At the three schools that have been awarded grants, money will be spent on extending the school day, both during the school year and over the summer; reducing class sizes; adding administrators to oversee teacher evaluations and provide more instructional support; and hiring more instructional coaches in math and English, Sykes said.

The “transformation model” under which these three schools applied for federal funding requires that school principals be replaced unless the principal is new within the last three years and placed there as part of a larger reform effort.

Currently, Buffalo has 28 underperforming schools classified as “Priority” by the state. Since 2010, 15 of the district’s schools have been awarded turnaround grant money. That includes five that were approved for funding in March: International Prep, Harriet Ross Tubman Academy, Highgate Heights, Dr. Lydia T. Wright and BUILD Academy.

In this most recent round of grant awards, the state received 41 eligible applications and approved 34 of them. Among the Big Five school districts, New York City was awarded grants for 22 schools, and Rochester was awarded grants for five.

A total of $126 million was distributed among seven districts statewide.

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