District in desperate need of improvement turns away a productive partnership - The Buffalo News

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District in desperate need of improvement turns away a productive partnership

How does she do it? How could Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown manage to alienate one of the district’s biggest public-private partnerships? This is just the latest example of her go-it-alone, non-communicative style that results in negative outcomes for students.

This time it’s the news that Buffalo Promise Neighborhood is done with helping Bennett High School. It must have been a wrenching but ultimately unavoidable decision.

The community organization is supported by M&T Bank and other foundations, which have played a major role in providing nearly $2 million in social services and attendance and job-training support for the high school. One would think that level of commitment would at least warrant a phone call, email or text about plans the district drew up and submitted to the State Education Department to close and relaunch the school.

Apparently, it did not. In typical Brown style, the superintendent offered a brief statement saying she was happy M&T would continue to work with two other city schools. That’s it. Not even a “We’re sorry the bank has made this decision … we wish there was more to be done but unfortunately… ”

M&T Bank has been an incredible community partner in education. The bank began working with the district’s troubled Westminster Community School in 1993, and when it became necessary helped convert the school into a successful charter school. M&T Bank continued to stand by Westminster and later partnered with the district’s Highgate Heights Elementary School and Bennett as part of the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood.

A few years ago, Buffalo Promise Neighborhood developed a sweeping redevelopment plan for the area now known mostly for vacant buildings, poor schools and crime. Bennett drew the attention of the State Education Department for all the wrong reasons, especially persistently low academic results. This meant that the district had to submit new plans to either close or radically alter the school’s educational programs for the next school year.

In March, Brown announced rushed plans to close and relaunch Bennett as a new high school focusing on science and technology. But she never bothered to get input from her Buffalo Promise Neighborhood partners. If she had, maybe the state wouldn’t have rejected the district’s plan. Now, with the rejection of the turnaround plan, no upcoming ninth-grader may enroll at the school in the fall.

The polite statement from David Chamberlain, chief executive officer of Buffalo Promise Neighborhood and a senior vice president at M&T Bank, about the district wanting to work with a different partner and the bank’s decision “to direct our energies on initiatives that are having a positive impact within our community and that fulfill BPN’s mission,” should disturb community members who see the desperate need for improving the city’s schools.

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