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Another Voice: District must move quickly to improve Buffalo schools

By James Sampson and Samuel Radford III

The quality of education that Buffalo’s children receive today will shape the rest of their lives.

We know that all parents want opportunity and success for their children, and Buffalo Public School students deserve no less. That is why we believe so strongly that there is a deep urgency to address the plight of Buffalo’s failing schools.

Consider these facts:

• At Bennett High School, the on-time graduation rate is just 37 percent. At Lafayette High, it’s just 24 percent. At East High, it’s 46 percent.

• At Martin Luther King Multicultural School 39, only 2 percent of third- through eighth-graders can read and do math on grade level.

We would not want to send our own children to schools with these stunning rates of failure – and Buffalo parents should not be forced to, either.

But make no mistake: this problem is fixable, and – working together – we intend to turn these schools into beacons of success and pride.

We must establish a college-going culture for all Buffalo students. Students must receive a rigorous education that successfully prepares them for success in college, careers and civic life; develops strong problem-solving and critical-thinking skills; and inspires a love of learning.

To achieve this goal, the School Board must develop a portfolio of high-performing schools that provide quality learning opportunities from prekindergarten through high school.

In the coming days, the school district, with support from the State Education Department, will issue a request for proposals seeking partners with the community support, experience and vision to run Bennett, East, Lafayette and MLK. The partners could be high-performing charter schools, universities or other leading organizations, or they can come from within the school district itself.

We are eager to support the hard work of the incredible teachers and principals who will help build a new future for children in these four schools. And we know that if we hamstring educators with the same work rules that are currently in place in these schools, we’re likely to get the same dismal results.

That is why if the teachers union is going to play a role in these schools, it must agree to changes in work rules to enable the schools to better serve students and parents, such as by extending the school day, recruiting and retaining excellent teachers and providing flexibility to develop a learning community that respects and empowers parents.

While some critics have accused the district of moving too fast, the opposite is true: These schools have been allowed to fail for too long, and we have no time to waste.

James Sampson is president of the Buffalo Board of Education. Samuel Radford III is president of the District Parent Coordinating Council.