Buffalo School Superintendent Kriner Cash is on a mission, and it shows in his focus and his planning. Beginning his second year as Buffalo’s top educator, Cash is switching gears, preparing to implement the New Education Bargain that his team drew up last year.
In that, the public can find a glimmer of new hope at the start of the 2016-17 school year, which began Tuesday in Buffalo and many other districts. Some schools start their new year today.
Among Cash’s most critical goals is to better engage parents in the education of their children. That’s a tall order in one of the nation’s poorest cities. But it’s an essential ingredient in helping those children to learn, which is the only reliable path to breaking cycles of poverty.
Students and parents will find many other changes as the year gets underway, including smaller class sizes in lower grades in some of the district’s most underperforming schools; later hours for after-school programs aimed at giving students extra help with school work; and 13 community schools, offering services and outside resources for students, their families and residents of the surrounding neighborhoods.
These and other new programs offer evidence of both thought and action. Cash and his cabinet are taking concrete steps that stand to make a difference. That’s what all of Buffalo needs: taxpayers, businesses, parents and, most of all, students.
Without a reliable school system that prepares its students for college or careers, Buffalo’s revival will inevitably fall short. The city needs to be attractive to families with young children and it needs to prepare those children for productive lives in an increasingly high-tech economy.
Part of the challenge in meeting that test is in educating a student population that includes a large percentage of students for whom English is a second language. As part of that effort, the district is providing six new translators for the top foreign languages spoken in the district.
Also important is the creation of the Newcomer Academy, which took over the third floor of Lafayette High School last year to provide more English and academic support for some of Buffalo’s brand-new immigrants in grades 7 through 12.
Also high on Cash’s list of priorities for the new school year is to produce a new contract for teachers, whose last pact expired 12 years ago. Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore said recently that he wanted to have a new contract in place by October. If he is serious – meaning that he is ready to negotiate a contract that serves the students and the community as well as the district’s teachers – then he has a bargaining partner who is similarly serious. A new teachers contract is valuable to students, too.
Other important changes are coming to Buffalo and schools around New York. In an unfortunately necessary decision, the state has mandated that schools add training on school violence. It’s a response to the shooting sprees at schools in places like Newtown, Conn., and Columbine, Colo.
Starting this year, schools will be required to conduct four lock-down drills and eight fire drills, In past years, schools were required to run 12 fire drills.
The change is important for a couple of reasons.
It creates familiarity for staff and students on how to respond in a crisis. Knowledge is power. In addition, such training may help to dissuade or disrupt an attacker if he knows that plans are in place to make his assault more difficult. That, too, has become an important part of education in the 21st century.