Effort makes a difference, and it especially makes a difference under strong, focused leadership. That’s the lesson that should be taken from the news that two Buffalo schools in danger of outside takeover have improved enough to remain under local control.
West Hertel Academy and Marva J. Daniels Futures Preparatory School escaped assignment to an independent receiver last week when the state Education Department announced that they had shown “demonstrable” improvement over the previous school year. They did that under the direct supervision of Superintendent Kriner Cash, who had been assigned as the schools’ internal receiver.
West Hertel and Futures were among the first schools in New York to be subject to the state’s new receivership law, which gives superintendents broad and unprecedented power in the fight to turn around underperforming schools. It is plain that Cash has used that authority well.
But it’s not just Cash. Also plain is that these schools have the talent and desire to improve. All the leadership in the world can’t make up for a lack of ability. The administrators and teachers in these schools must have what it takes to grow or Cash’s influence would have dissipated.
It was an encouraging development after years of little improvement under different superintendents and different school boards. It’s evidence not only of Cash’s abilities, but of the School Board’s wisdom in hiring him at the strong recommendation of Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, then new to her position.
Even still, the improvement was the product of a concerted effort in which the state made its own commitments of money and manpower. The schools received additional funding to hire more staff, and to pay for more student technology and professional development. Elia and her staff visited the schools several times to monitor the work.
It was all-hands-on-deck and for a reason: The law gives receivership schools one year to show measurable progress in key areas – student achievement, graduation rates, attendance and suspension rates among them. Without such improvement, the law requires assignment of an independent receiver.
The two Buffalo schools were among nine across the state that showed the necessary progress. One, in the Bronx, did not and faces an outside takeover. It will be at least interesting, and possibly instructive, to see whether that change makes a difference in the school’s standard of performance.
This effort is critical to Buffalo and to all cities where schools are failing. This city is pulsing with the excitement of renewal. Its economy is expanding, people are moving in and having fun: at the waterfront, at Larkinville, along Elmwood Avenue and in other places.
But for that turnaround to be durable, Buffalo has to have good schools. Without them, the only families who will move in are those without children or with enough money to pay for private schools. Education is a driver of economic and social stability.
The work is only beginning at these schools. They remain under Cash’s direction and under the gun. Elia will evaluate them again in another year to see if they have met their performance targets and then make another determination on their management.
It may be a long road, but that is due, at least in part, to the nature of the challenge. Despite its revival, Buffalo remains one of the nation’s poorest cities where many children are undernourished and unmindful of the need for education. The city is home to many refugees and others for whom English is a second language. Those are real hurdles.
But education is the necessary goal and it is the non-negotiable job of all schools to provide it, regardless of the obstacles. With the receivership law and Cash’s influence, they may be finding a way.