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Disturbing tailspin of BUILD Academy and other city schools demands action

The questions that arise from Ryan Everett’s destructive experience at Buffalo’s BUILD Academy begin at troubling and quickly escalate to infuriating. It’s not just that Ryan has been held back three times and seems at risk of falling through the cracks, it’s that the cracks are gaping holes that no one has attended to as a once-successful school has fallen into something approaching ruin.

How many other students at BUILD are failing? How many other schools are crumbling without anyone taking steps to stop the slide?

Ryan’s story was told in Tuesday’s editions of The News. He was a decent, if sometimes difficult, student, earning Bs in his classes, when after fourth grade his mother transferred him from Early Childhood Center 61 to Grabiarz School of Excellence. He developed behavior problems that led to nine short-term suspensions, but at least maintained his B average.

Then his mother transferred him again, along with two younger daughters, to BUILD Academy. It was close to where she worked and BUILD was – at one time, anyway – a strong school. But Ryan’s grades began to slide, first to a C and then lower.

The problem, at least in part, is that all discipline seemed to be lacking at BUILD. Children left classrooms at will, cursed at administrators and were generally disruptive. Insert a student who already had developed behavior problems into that environment and the consequence is predictable. Bad becomes worse and a student who previously held promise is held back three years in a row. The former B student has become a 15-year-old seventh-grader who struggles to control his temper and has trouble learning.

This is a failure that reaches all the way to Albany. All along the line from teachers to principals to superintendents, commissioners and governors, the evidence of BUILD Academy’s disintegration was public. The school that was once a model for African-American children now musters only 3 percent of students, or fewer, passing state English and math assessments. Little wonder, when they wander the halls with impunity.

This is, no doubt, a complex situation that will require many answers. That includes not only the ability to restore discipline to the school, but also requires older students, such as Ryan, to understand that they play an important role in this, too.

Indeed, we hope he and other similarly troubled students quickly learn that one of the greatest predictors of their success is their own determination to achieve. At 15, Ryan is old enough to understand what he needs to do and what he shouldn’t do. The schools may be failing him, but that doesn’t mean he has to fail himself, too.

The fact is, his behavior is the only aspect of this educational calamity that he, or any student, can actually control. That makes it a very good place to start, just as other troubled students have done. District officials have now transferred him to the alternative school and plan to provide him tutoring to catch up. This is his chance. Pray he takes it.

But more than that needs to happen. It’s clear that this school and others in Buffalo are the very definitions of disorder. The good news is that there are successful education models out there for the district to adopt. Neither BUILD Academy nor any other troubled school needs to reinvent the wheel. The News has reported on many districts and schools – including Grabiarz – that prove it is not an impossible task to educate students in troubled urban settings.

If Ryan Everett is getting another chance to succeed, Buffalo schools are in a similar place. Both have something to learn and both can find role models to show the way.