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Editorial: Kriner Cash has earned his 'B' grade, and more

There was certainly no grade inflation in the marks given to Buffalo Public School Superintendent Kriner Cash by the Board of Education. The B average he received last week seems too low for a superintendent who is the best the city has had in a generation.

Cash is not a miracle-worker, of course. Graduation rates and test scores for the city’s students are not where they need to be. And an expensive contract negotiated with the Buffalo Teachers Federation in 2016 set up the district for a budget deficit of $8.5 million for the coming school year, climbing even higher in years to come.

The School Board’s yearly evaluation uses a scale from 1 to 4, resembling a grade point average. With it, Cash earned a cumulative 3.14, equivalent to a B grade. It’s a slight improvement from last year.

The superintendent showed no lack of confidence in himself. Cash gave himself mostly 4s — meaning excellent — in his self-evaluation.

The highest scores Cash received from the Board were for his focus on classroom results, as well as his outreach skills. That’s where his efforts belong.

Cash has outlined his vision for turning around the poor urban district in a plan he calls the New Education Bargain. Part of that involves more advanced coursework, innovative high schools and alternate pathways to graduation. The superintendent began with an emphasis on giving a boost to students who were close to meeting graduation requirements, but needed a push to get there. This “low-hanging fruit” approach has helped graduation rates inch up.

Other innovations include Community School Saturday Academies and forging a strong partnership with Say Yes Buffalo.

The Buffalo School District’s graduation rate in 2017 was the same as the year before: 64 percent. Cash has set a goal of reaching 70 percent within the next two years, a worthy goal. And lest we forget, in 2012 that figure was a cringeworthy 48 percent.

Fewer schools these days are on the critical list. Fourteen are in receivership, in which an overseer takes control of a school that ranks in the bottom 5 percent for three straight years. Buffalo had 25 schools in that category when the receivership program began in 2015.

A statistic that’s still very troubling is that only about 17 percent of Buffalo students in grades 3 to 8 were deemed proficient in math and reading last year. Cash is well aware of that, and has the district focused on early education, including preschool years, when young brains are still forming and can be molded in a positive way.

As Cash said last week, “You have to be a little patient. It does take time.”

The effectiveness of a leader can’t always be measured by numbers on a spreadsheet. The superintendent got high marks from several Board members for his positive leadership style.

“You see it in morale and attitude, people really feeling upbeat about the progress this district has made in the past three years,” Barbara Seals Nevergold, president of the Board of Education, told The News. “We’re not feeling so discouraged.”

Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, said Cash gets an A grade from him. “I’ve been dealing with superintendents going all the way back to 1990 and hands-down he’s done the best,” Radford said.

The district is making headway on problems that were thought to be unsolvable. Slow and steady progress has been Cash’s mantra, and in a cash-strapped district facing many challenges, his approach offers real hope.

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