A town hall meeting was held Tuesday night at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts to discuss the current state of the Buffalo Public Schools led by Superintendent Dr. Kriner Kash and Board President Dr. Barbara Nevergold. The conversational atmosphere sparked some passionate responses from parents, faculty and students.
Advocates for a wide variety of issues showed up to voice their concern. Bullying was one of several themes.
“I’m the parent of a child who attends East Community High School,” one woman said. “He suffers from anxiety, ADHD, autism, and it's an ongoing concern with other parents I’ve spoken to. That their kids can’t go to school. I don’t think it’s right. I think he should go to school, feel safe, and get the education that he wants.”
Other parents were offering up their own solutions.
“I think what is a bit challenging is that the district advocate is employed by the Buffalo Public Schools as our suspension hearing officers. So there’s somewhat of a conflict that it’s not an independent person. That’s something we might want to talk about more.”
Superintendent Kash had staff on hand to help inform those in attendance of new resources being made available to help tackle issues like bullying.
One concern he has is the negative narrative the district has developed. Changing the perception of the Buffalo Public Schools has become a high priority.
“We’re really genuine about listening and trying to be responsive to the multiple concerns, but I think that alone helps to shift the narrative that the school system is at least open and receptive to continue to improve while it is also providing a lot of new initiatives that were never here before,” Kash said.
Sometimes by addressing one problem, another surfaces, as is the case with additional after school programs. Students like 11th grader DeMario Johnson from Burgard Vocational High School said longer days can make for dangerous commutes.
“They’re making school days longer,” said Johnson. “We also have programs such as football, hillside programs, and afterschool programs to meet with teachers. By the time we get out of afterschool is when streetlights are on or when it’s dark. That’s when the bullet might hit the wrong person. The person it’s not supposed to hit.”
Back at school, Johnson wants to see better communication between students and faculty.
“In our meetings, they act like they hear us but I never see anything change in school,” said Johnson. “It’s like a play or a movie. It’s like they’re scripted to say something, but it’s not really the truth. They have no information to back it up.”
Johnson was joined by a few of his classmates who are part of the Niagara University Public School Collaborative— what they described as a student leadership program. They recommended officials look in to utilizing the program and felt like their voices were heard.
“Especially from the crowd,” said Johnson. “People came up to me after this meeting was over giving me business cards and asked me for my number. I felt important.”
The students present Tuesday night believe more student leaders will help improve the culture.
The feedback was exactly what Kash was looking for. He’s happy with the progress the district has made, but wants to accomplish more at a faster rate in the future.
“We just keep continuing to improve. All comers and all comments are welcome,” said Kash. “The negative helps you to improve. If you don’t hear it you will be in an echo chamber and we don’t want to be in an echo chamber.”
Certain areas have seen improvement within the district since 2015. Graduation and attendance rates have risen while suspensions have been on the decline. Proficiency rates in ELA and Math have improved for grades 3-8.
“I wanted us to go in to the summer with a good sense of where we are and then be working on some things. When I’m instructing staff now to work on plans for next year they can add this in to the mix—some of these ideas that came forward today.”
Kash and Nevergold both plan to hold more town halls in the future.