Buffalo School Superintendent Kriner Cash is keeping his options open, and doing it in a way to offer maximum benefit to students and taxpayers.
Specifically, Cash, beginning his second year leading the district, says he is open to the idea of turning some of Buffalo’s most troubled schools into charter schools, but with a caveat: Their operators would not be allowed to cherry-pick their students, as some charters have been accused of doing, but would have to take on the student body as it exists.
Charters can be a valuable option, especially in a city like Buffalo, where so many schools are underperforming. They allow greater flexibility in management but remain accountable for results.
It is unfair, though, and ultimately unhelpful for them to stock their classrooms with only the best students. That gives a false impression of a charter’s productivity and leaves the other students to struggle in traditional public schools, and potentially makes the performance of those schools appear to decline.
The idea sits well with the board’s minority bloc, which has long championed charter schools as a tool for improving education in Buffalo. The board’s new majority, led by Barbara Seals Nevergold, was less enthusiastic, but was interested to learn details of Cash’s thinking.
Indeed, Nevergold wanted to be sure that Cash did not act unilaterally, as state law allows him to do, but would first, as a matter of courtesy and procedure, explain his idea to the School Board. Under the state’s receivership law, a school’s designated receiver – Cash, in Buffalo’s case – has the authority to act on schools that fall into its purview.
She needn’t worry about this. Cash has said he would discuss the matter with board members, even though he has the power to act on his own. Cash knows leadership better than most members of the School Board and he understands the value of a team, whether it is his cabinet, the School Board or the community.
Buffalo should welcome Cash’s willingness to be expansive in his search for solutions to the district’s problems. The new School Board majority is generally resistant to charter schools and, in that, at least some members seem to be taking their cue from the Buffalo Teachers Federation.
But the fact is, what’s been happening for the past few decades, under a variety of superintendents and school boards, hasn’t been working for too many students. That’s not all the fault of teachers or principals. Parents and home life exert a great influence on student performance.
That’s a fact, but it’s not an excuse. It’s the job of schools to educate all students, not just those who are easy to teach. They need to find ways to overcome these obstacles, just as any professional does in performing assigned tasks. When schools can’t – or won’t – confront difficult challenges, a change of leadership is required.
Cash’s plan, laid out just before the start of this school year, includes an effort to draw more parents into the education of their children. He is making the effort, in that regard, and is open to new charters, as well. It’s leadership for which the School Board and community should be grateful.