The fact that former Memphis superintendent Kriner Cash has earned grudging “likes,” maybe a little more, from the fractured Buffalo School Board bodes well.
This is no small feat for an out-of-towner vying to be Buffalo’s next superintendent. It certainly doesn’t hurt that State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia recommended him.
Still, certain members of the board majority haven’t been too keen on outsiders. Board member Carl P. Paladino has been pushing hard for his in-house choice. He and board member Patti Pierce have made it known that whoever gets the job should strongly consider that person as a key cabinet member.
First things first.
Kriner Cash, if he gets the offer and accepts the job, has his work cut out. This poor urban school district is a tattered mess.
The last permanent superintendent departed – officially “resigned” – more than two years ago with a generous $238,666 severance package. She had just celebrated her two-year anniversary with the district.
The following month, former Erie 1 BOCES Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie was named interim superintendent, tasked with overseeing school reform. The job was supposed to last two years, but a fractured School Board, combined with Ogilvie’s underestimation of the district’s ingrained problems and baked-in dysfunction, shortened his tenure.
The almost continual bickering between the board’s majority and minority bloc board members and a general inability to move forward stymied a search for a nationally recognized administrator to run the district. Top candidates could find a better situation elsewhere.
Paladino wanted to see Harvey Austin Principal Kevin Eberle get the job or, as he put it recently, at least play a large supporting role. Pierce agreed that Eberle should have a “prominent position in the district.”
But taking a principal and having him run a huge, troubled district requires a leap of faith. Finding a candidate with experience running a large urban district is a logical move.
The clock keeps ticking and the list of potential candidates has grown smaller as both inside and outside candidates have dropped out of consideration.
Hope arrived in the form of the new state education commissioner, who has roots in this community. She knew someone who has political savvy combined with the necessary experience to make a solid choice.
Cash has the background the minority bloc likes – he led the 107,000-student Memphis district, with a large population of low-income, minority students, for more than four years. That district is more than three times the size of Buffalo. And he’s got the spirit Paladino likes:– “Obviously he’s a proven fighter for reforms, and I like that part of it.” Check and check.
Moreover, he has a track record for at least some improvement that included a gain in graduation rates to a historic high of 72.6 percent in 2011. Although that rate dipped to 67.6 percent in 2013, his last year in the district, even that would be significantly higher than Buffalo’s graduation rate.
State standardized test results showed little change during his tenure, and were well below the state average.
He was reform-minded, adopting a standardized curriculum, growing prekindergarten and Advanced Placement classes, shepherding a new teacher evaluation process and expanding in-school health clinics.
He lost his job when the city and county schools merged. Since then he has applied unsuccessfully for numerous superintendent positions. This time might be different.
Recognizing that the perfect candidate does not exist, the board has to decide whether Cash is the best fit. Based on his resume, public appearances and Elia’s recommendation, he appears to tick most of the boxes.