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Another Voice: Public education in Buffalo is headed in the right direction

By Larry Scott

After a year under the leadership of Superintendent Kriner Cash and his team, there is now excitement building about the direction of public education in Buffalo, much like the excitement we have for the revitalization of the city at large. As a parent of a child in the Buffalo Public Schools (BPS), I am proud to be part of this.

Distinctively, my son benefited from full-day pre-K, something few, if any, districts in Western New York provide. My son also benefited from a decrease in class size for kindergarten and increased physical education, with the addition of almost 30 PE teachers. Notably, it has been committed and passionate teachers, teacher assistants and aides who have had the most profound impact on his development and success.

The BPS is continuing an incremental reduction in class size in the early grades, with a more aggressive reduction in priority and focus schools, where student needs are greatest.

To meet the needs of our vastly diverse students, the BPS held a meaningful urban forum on the cultural needs of our students, then wisely began a committee to continue the dialogue and incorporate culturally responsive education this school year.

The BPS is launching 13 community schools in high-need quadrants of the city, to include extended day and Saturday programming, recreational/cultural enrichment, support services, parent centers and adult learning. Many high school students will begin innovative programs at one of five high schools.

Despite 90 percent of its students with extraordinary needs – the highest of the state’s Big 5 city school districts – the BPS continues to outperform Rochester and Syracuse on state assessments and in graduation rate, a rate that is the highest in over a decade at 61 percent for 2015. With the support of Say Yes, there has also been a notable increase in college enrollment, with 75 percent of students using the Say Yes scholarships being of color, almost 50 percent of whom are black.

Say Yes has also had a daily impact on many students and families through mentoring, mental health and legal clinics, family supports, after-school programming and summer school camps.

Much more work needs to be done; a graduation rate of 61 percent is not nearly good enough. In continued partnership among administrators, education staff, parents, students and relevant community stakeholders, we must aim to advance systemic solutions to meet the needs of all students, which public education is rightfully required to do, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity/orientation, religion, disability, primary language and behavioral challenges.

There is much to be excited about and build upon. Buffalo Public Schools are on the rise!

Larry Scott is co-chairman of the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization.

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