More than twice as many Buffalo Public Schools are in good standing with New York State compared to just three years ago, while the number under threat of an outside takeover has dropped from 25 to just three.
That news out of the State Education Department on Thursday was a big shot in the arm for a long-troubled school system that has been implementing reform after reform the past few years trying to turn the corner.
Now, said Superintendent Kriner Cash, it has.
“We have a new narrative,” Cash proclaimed Thursday at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. “The Buffalo Public Schools is turned around.”
What caused Cash and the roomful of principals, School Board members and state and city officials to celebrate was the release of the state’s annual review of school accountability.
It showed that 37 of 50 schools in the district are now considered in “good standing” with the state. That’s up from 15 schools during the 2015-16 school year.
The review by the state also determines which struggling schools are on a state watch list.
Schools among the bottom 5 percent in the state for three consecutive years are placed in receivership with the threat of closure or being taken over if their academic performance doesn’t improve in a hurry.
In Buffalo, the number of receivership schools stood at 25 in the 2015-16 school year.
Next year, there will be just three.
Only Harvey Austin School and Marva J. Daniels Futures Preparatory School will remain on the list, while School 131 Academy School, an alternative high school, is being added.
Being removed in 2018-19, after the list had been pared to 10 schools, are: Dr. Charles R. Drew Science Magnet School, D’Youville Porter Campus School, Frank A. Sedita Academy, Hamlin Park Claude & Ouida Clapp Academy, Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy, International Preparatory School, Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence and West Hertel Academy.
“We were perceived as a failing school district because we had 25 receivership schools. Half our school district was in receivership,” Cash said. “But we said, ‘No. You can’t come in here and take over our schools.’ ”
The review by the state is part of its complicated accountability system that has morphed over the years in response to federal requirements and mandates that have changed with political leadership.
The state’s accountability system changed again this year to meet new federal standards.
Last year, for example, the old school accountability system was based on student performance in English language arts, math, science and high school graduation rates.
This year, the new accountability system takes into consideration not only academic achievement, but student progress, absenteeism, English language proficiency and college and career readiness.
It was unclear just how much the change in accountability systems contributed to the rising status of the school district.
Instead, much of the praise Thursday went to the superintendent.
“We are very proud of what we accomplished,” said School Board President Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, “but essentially, we’re not really surprised because in the last three years ... we have been making progress.”
Cash took over the district in 2015, provided stability and established a multi-pronged approach to reforming the school system as part of his “Education Bargain.”
They included new, innovative high school programs; more services for the neediest students and families; after-school programs at every building; and lowering class sizes in the early grades.
“Some people don’t have the ability to take a good idea and let it grow to where they want it to be,” said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “Dr. Cash has that ability.”
“Leadership matters,” agreed David Rust, executive director of Say Yes to Education Buffalo, the non-profit that provides numerous services to the district, “and it’s so fortunate to have such a strong superintendent who has brought incredible vision to our community and to see it play out in the data is really wonderful.”
Cash said it’s not magic — just a lot of hard work across the school system. And, he said, there is more to be done.
“We’re working school by school by school,” Cash said. “My goal was to get us out of the perception as a failing school district and you can’t view us as a failing school district any longer.”
Cash’s contract runs through August 2020.
When asked how long he’d like to be superintendent in Buffalo, he said he’d be willing to serve another three years but a lot will depend on what happens during the upcoming School Board elections when all nine board seats are up.
“I think their first order of business ought to be either offer an extension,” Cash said, “or upgrade and go get someone better because this work has to continue.”