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Editorial: Modest gain in Buffalo schools is a welcome start

The bar was low, but that doesn’t mean clearing it isn’t cause for satisfaction. With 13 more Buffalo schools primed to come out of receivership, the work has only begun, but at least the work is producing results.

The state receivership program gives significant direct control of a poorly performing school to an overseer, often the superintendent. When the program began, 25 Buffalo schools were put into receivership. As of last week, it looks as though only one – B.U.I.L.D. Academy on Fougeron Street – will remain at the start of the new year. B.U.I.L.D. Academy was one of only two receivership schools across the state to show no improvement this year. The other is in Rochester.

The improvements here aren’t exactly cause for celebration. Schools that leave receivership may have climbed out of the sub-basement, but they haven’t suddenly become adequate. They have improved, and while that is undoubtedly good news, it’s just the start of what has to occur for their students to receive the education to which they are entitled.

Under the 2015 law, schools that are among the bottom 5 percent in the state for three consecutive years are placed into receivership. Once there, the law gives the receiver significant authority over management of the schools, including the ability to bypass the union contract and involuntarily transfer teachers. The law has survived court challenges.

To exit receivership, the state requires a 1 percentage point increase in benchmarks in the first year and 3 percentage points in the second. In Buffalo, that has been happening.

It’s modest improvement, at best, but here’s the thing: Modest improvement is improvement, nonetheless. It’s appropriate that once schools show themselves to be on the right track that they are returned to the district’s normal governance structure.

But it’s crucial that the pace of improvement doesn’t flag. Indeed, it needs to pick up. As Superintendent Kriner Cash observed, “These schools aren’t out of the woods yet. I consider a lot of them in ICU, if you will, but they’re getting better – and they’re going to get well.”

Cash has worked effectively with the district’s receivership schools and believes B.U.I.L.D Academy has the leadership in place to improve, though it remains possible the school will close or reopen under a new model. It would be a shame if the school closed, given its history in the city’s minority community. Nevertheless, it would be worse, still, for students’ lifetime prospects to be undermined by a poor education.

It will take until later this year for the State Education Department to determine which schools will be formally removed from receivership, but the prospects seem good for the Buffalo schools that have demonstrated improvement. That would be heartening, but it’s only a start.

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