Commissioner King comes down on Buffalo schools

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Nearly a year ago, Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas ended his comments in a public meeting with an ominous statement. “We’re running out of time,” he said, referring to the need to improve student performance.

In an interview earlier today, Vargas said that all the community has to do is look west at the Buffalo school system to better understand his warning.

State Education Commissioner John King recently sent a letter to the superintendent of Buffalo’s schools requiring students from two high schools—East and Lafayette—to take classes outside of the district. In a highly unprecedented move, King put Erie 1 BOCES in charge of the reform of the administration of the schools and denied the district millions of dollars in support.

“Buffalo may simply be incapable of running a quality program in these buildings,” King said, according to a report in the Buffalo News. Other districts in the state have similar problems, but King said Buffalo has a long history of making excuses for its lack of progress.

When members of Buffalo’s board of education said King was “picking on” Buffalo, King fired back.
“That’s literally insane,” he said, according to the Buffalo News, calling the situation in that district a “crisis” and a “disaster.”

Schools that end up on the State Education Department’s list of priority schools, those that are identified as chronically failing to meet the minimum academic needs of students, must develop a detailed plan to turnaround academic performance.

The plans submitted to King for those schools required allowing Johns Hopkins University to manage a turnaround. But the schools failed to create the conditions that would allow that to occur, according to King.

Twelve of Rochester’s schools officially closed last June after being phased out over a period of four to five years. And four of the elementary schools that are identified as priority have already submitted their turnaround plans to the SED, and each has been awarded $4.5 million for implementation. Many more of Rochester’s schools are still in the process of developing their plans, says Vargas.

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