The Buffalo school district will spend up to $90,000 to hire an “independent monitor” to help turn around one of the city’s most struggling schools.
Yvonne Minor-Ragan, an educational consultant and former principal at Westminster Community Charter School, will take on that new role at BUILD Academy, where the state has stepped in after years of poor academic performance.
The prekindergarten through eighth grade school on the city’s East Side will “close” at the end of the school year and reopen in the fall under a new model, with new school leadership and the assistance of new partners, including the University at Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education.
Minor-Ragan, meanwhile, will be responsible for monitoring that transition for the state, taking part in the process and reporting back to State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.
The district, however, will be responsible for the cost of her services.
The Buffalo Board of Education authorized Superintendent Kriner Cash to negotiate a one-year contract with Minor-Ragan, running from May 1 of this year to May 1 of next year, at a cost not to exceed $90,000.
Board members, though – staring at a budget shortfall for next year – aren’t keen on having to spend that money.
“The independent monitor is part of the regulation to do the closure and reopening of the school,” explained Darren Brown, the district’s chief of staff, “and this is what we decided – closure and reopen – as opposed to having an independent receiver take over the school completely.”
BUILD is one of 14 Buffalo schools in receivership – a status based on state legislation passed in 2015 giving superintendents more power to make changes at their most struggling schools.
However, BUILD was the only one that didn’t show progress and the state last fall ordered the district to appoint someone from the outside to assume full responsibility of turning around the Fougeron Street school starting in 2018-19.
The problem is that despite a couple of feelers, no one wanted the job.
The other option was to close and reopen the school, which is what the superintendent and Board of Education ultimately suggested to the state commissioner.
But the state still wants someone from the outside monitoring the district’s progress.
“These rules are being developed as we go,” said Cash. “We haven’t had any experience with it before.”
Cash recommended Minor-Ragan, and the commissioner signed off.
Minor-Ragan was the principal and co-founder of Westminster Community Charter School, where she served from 1994 until 2011. Between 2011 and 2015, she was president of Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, the public-private partnership created to improve educational opportunities for kids in the 14125 zip code. Most recently, she runs YM Ragan Consulting.
Minor-Ragan’s role will be to provide “general oversight” to the district on its plan to restructure BUILD, Cash said. Based on what he knows about her background, the superintendent believes she will be helpful as the district goes through this process.
“We are still in charge of this process, involving board members every step of the way,” Cash recently told the School Board, “from hiring the principal to hiring the teachers to rehiring the staff to the curriculum decisions that are going to be made.”
“What’s her purpose then?” asked Sharon Belton-Cottman, who represents the Ferry District on the School Board. “If all the work is being done by the staff, why are we spending another $90,000?”
“That is a question,” Cash said. “In particular, since we’re not going to get resources to pay for it.”