The growing number of charter schools in the Buffalo market has been a sore spot for some members of the Buffalo Board of Education, so it may seem unusual that they would ask the state to keep two of them open.
But that’s what the School Board is expected to do Wednesday evening, when it recommends three-year renewals for Enterprise and Westminster Community charter schools.
It’s a rare opportunity for the city school district to have a say in the renewal of a charter school, a decision that ultimately rests with one of the state’s two authorizing agencies: the Board of Regents or the State University of New York.
In this case, though, the school district was the one that sponsored Enterprise and Westminster during the early years of the charter movement, so it gets to weigh in on two charter schools, both of which perform lower than the districtwide average on state standardized tests. Its recommendation goes to the Board of Regents, which will make the final determination.
The board’s favorable response may come as a bit of a surprise.
Frustrations have been growing among critics over the district's loss of students and funding to charter schools. Four new charters opened in Buffalo the past two years, raising the number in the region to 20. In 2017, the School Board asked the state for a moratorium on charters, but was denied.
Board President Barbara A. Seals Nevergold said that oversaturation of charters in Buffalo still is a concern, but the board is sensitive to two well-established charters being given another chance to improve their academic performance.
“There is no magic wand. It just takes time,” said Theresa Harris-Tigg, who represents the East District on the board.
The board also wants to respect the choice that parents made to send their children to Enterprise and Westminster, said Sharon Belton-Cottman, who represents the Ferry District on the School Board.
“I think we owe it to their staff – to their commitment and energy,” Patricia Pierce, an at-large board member, said of the renewals.
Enterprise, at 275 Oak St., opened in August 2003, and was touted as the only charter in the state authorized by its local school district. The school has more than 400 students in kindergarten through eighth grades.
Once labeled among the lower performing schools in the state, Enterprise has shown some progress the past couple of years under new administration, increasing the student proficiency rate in English language arts to 22 percent for students in grades three to eight. In math, 12 percent of its students were proficient. It’s now recognized as a school in “good standing,” under the state’s new accountability standards, which considers more than just standardized test scores.
Westminster, at 24 Westminster Ave., was once part of the city school system, before being converted to a charter school in the fall of 2004. The school, which has long had a strong partnership with M&T Bank, has 553 students in kindergarten through eighth grades.
Nineteen percent of Westminster students in grades three through eight were considered proficient in ELA last year, while 16 percent were proficient in math, according to state data. Westminster also is considered by the state to be in good standing.
Districtwide, an average of 23 percent of students in grades three through eight were proficient in both math and English language arts.
The School Board over the past couple of weeks has been diving into the data and debating whether to recommend renewal for Enterprise and Westminster. There’s still some difference of opinion about whether to recommend a two- or three-year renewal, but a majority of board members believes two years is not enough time and favors three.
Tigg, the East District representative, said she visited both schools unannounced and walked away impressed, but what she found lacking was support from the school district.
“These are district charter schools. These are all our kids,” Tigg said. “At some point, we need to talk about what that support will look like.”
One in five children who attend a public school in Buffalo go to a charter, which are public schools run independently by their founders as an alternative to "traditional" public schools.
The discussion around Enterprise and Westminster comes at a time when there has been some volatility in the local charter school market.
The state closed Oracle Charter School, a high school on Delaware Avenue, last June based on its poor performance.
Then, the school year began with the opening of Buffalo Collegiate Charter on Jewett Avenue and Persistence Preparatory Academy on Michigan Avenue.
Last month, Aloma D. Johnson Charter School, located in the city’s Parkside neighborhood, announced it will close at the end of the school year, citing financial struggles and the inability to attract enough students.