I spent 10 years as a Buffalo public school parent before joining the founding group of Tapestry Charter School and serving as a trustee of its board for 10 years.
In spite of opposition, the number of charter schools has increased dramatically in the last 11 years. In that short time, 17 schools have opened and are successfully operating in Western New York. Twenty-two percent of Buffalo's children attend charter schools. Reform is quickly spreading across our city, our state and our nation. Something great is happening out there, and parents want it.
The disturbing reality in Buffalo and across the country is that the cost of public education continues to rise while graduation rates remain dismally flat in our traditional public schools. Thirteen city public schools are listed by the state as persistently low achieving. Six of those schools were added to the list just this past year.
The good news for Buffalo is that the school district could qualify for millions in federal grants to reverse the problem. The unfortunate news is that of the four federally sanctioned models that can be used in an application to receive the funds, the transformation model (changing the school's curriculum) is no longer an option for most.
So what are the options? Shutting the school down and sending students to better performing schools; firing the principal and half the staff; or closing the school and restarting it as a charter.
I encourage the Buffalo Board of Education to utilize the last option. Take the lowest-performing schools and convert them to charters. Reach out to the charter school community, discover the successes and replicate them. Collaborate with your partners in education for real reform and positive change.
Why are charter schools working? They are working because successful schools are deliberately designed as caring, accountable communities. Children's needs take precedence over adult needs. Teachers have a strong voice. Excellence is demanded. Ongoing real professional development is the norm. Highly trained principals truly lead. And parents, who have been disenfranchised because of their own educational experience, are openly welcomed and encouraged to be part of the community.
We have reached the tipping point in our city. The thousands of kids on wait lists for charter schools in Buffalo should be a wake-up call to the board, Superintendent James A. Williams and union leaders. Charters are not the only answer, but they offer a viable solution to a dire problem. It is time to embrace, not resist, their existence.
The future of our city, and our economy, requires those in charge to put aside adult issues and act quickly to put students' needs first. I have heard the superintendent say publicly that the school district has plenty of money, but it just doesn't know how to fix the problems. Superintendent, the community is here to help you.
Amy Friedman of Buffalo was a trustee of Tapestry Charter School for 10 years.