Only two applicants raised their hands to take over Buffalo’s troubled BUILD Academy, but it only takes one to get it right. Stepping up were the University at Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education and REACH Educational Solutions, a New York City-based educational consulting company. Both are willing to accept the tough challenge of improving outcomes at the pre-K to eighth-grade school on Fougeron Street.
UB President Satish Tripathi and Suzanne Rosenblith, dean of the Graduate School of Education, gave their support to the college’s application. Superintendent Kriner Cash made positive, although non-committal, comments regarding the UB proposal. It would give the graduate school full authority at BUILD starting in 2018-19, and act as a partner with the school district.
Cash will make a recommendation for the takeover, and the state has the final say on the matter.
Help cannot come fast enough. Academic results have been dismal for the student body of approximately 450. The state test data among students in grades three to eight last year showed only 2 percent of them proficient in math and 1 percent proficient in English language arts.
Cash has applied pressure. He changed 13 teachers at the school and brought in a new leadership team last year, along with a “motivated first-time principal in Kevin Garcia,” as reported last month in The News. Garcia and his staff set about changing the entire mindset. Students were referred to as “scholars,” there was renewed focus on individual student data and small groups were formed to work on reading and writing skills and help students deal with trauma outside of school.
There were some notable gains in combating low attendance and high suspension rates, but the school missed eight of its 12 performance targets last year, and that triggered the state Education Department’s demand for an outside takeover.
BUILD is one of only two schools in the state under orders to be taken over by an outside entity next year. The other is in Rochester. Other schools in Buffalo are vulnerable, but if they keep improving, the district won’t have to use receivership again.
It has been a sad decline for BUILD, conceived during the civil rights era. It opened in the fall of 1969 on Clinton Street with nearly 400 students, and moved to Fougeron in the mid-1970s. The curriculum included black culture and heritage and there was a strong push in the African-American community for parental involvement and high educational outcomes.
While some things changed over the decades, today’s student body is still majority African-American and poverty remains an enormous issue. Many of the district’s students find themselves contending with huge challenges outside of school that affect their ability to learn.
Whichever applicant is chosen will have to work with the school’s educators and the community to navigate those obstacles. The future of hundreds of children is at stake.