About 33,500 students headed back to class Friday at Buffalo Public Schools, the state’s largest school district outside of New York City.
Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash was joined by Mayor Byron Brown, members of the Buffalo school board and other state and local officials Friday morning at PS #156 Frederick Law Olmsted high school, where they greeted students and held a press conference.
“We are here as part of the Education Bargain letting you know that Buffalo Public Schools is on the rise [and] will continue to rise until we meet our goal of 100% success for all of our children,” Cash said.
Cash launched the district’s Education Bargain with Students & Parents in 2016. The bargain states that the district “will guarantee pathways to opportunity that will lead to achievement and success in exchange for hard work, commitment, and collaboration of our students and parents.”
Speaking next to a group of Olmsted students, Cash praised the high school for its 96% graduation rate, which is one of the highest in the district.
The overall graduation rate across Buffalo’s public schools is 64%. Cash had hoped to reach 70% for the class of 2019. There are also persistent gaps in student achievement between minority children and their white peers—a trend seen across the state, and which Buffalo Board of Education President Sharon Belton-Cottman addressed in her remarks.
“Michelle Obama said that education is the single most important issue in regards to civil rights today, and each one of us are believers and fighters and advocates for civil rights,” Belton-Cottman said.
“This is what this is all about,” said Buffalo Common Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt, referencing the wide range of public figures in attendance, including New York State Regent Dr. Catherine Collins and New York State Senator Timothy Kennedy. “We work together at every level of government. We all are here understanding the importance of our support for our young people and our families. Because the true answer to how we address poverty [is by] educating our children.”
When asked how he plans to boost graduation rates and state test scores for the Buffalo district, Cash said it will require a combination of raising the bar for students, making curriculum more relevant to their lives and providing more alternative options for instruction, which the district has already started during his tenure.
“Historically, we had set the bar too low. So, we believe in high standards, but we didn’t really believe [in] them for our kids here in Buffalo,” Cash said. “We were pitching the lessons plans lower than grade level, and if you pitch lower than grade level, you’re going to get lower than grade level.”
New York State test results for the 2018-2019 school year found 25% of Buffalo public school students proficient in English Language Arts (ELA) and 21% proficient in math.
Cash said Friday that test scores are “just one part of the story.” He also highlighted the district’s progress increasing its number of schools in good standing, according to New York State Education Department (NYSED) standards, from 14 schools four years ago to 46 out of 60 today.
New York State Assemblymember and Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes also made an announcement welcomed with cheers at the press conference: Buffalo public schools will receive an additional $500,000 in state bullet aid—discretionary funding negotiated by individual legislators—for the 2019-2020 academic year.
Cash said the funding will help increase access to arts programs across the district and pay for services like special education, counseling and English language instruction.
One of the final speakers was David Rust, Executive Director of Say Yes Buffalo, the organization that has brought a diverse group of stakeholders in education and the private sector together since 2012 to guarantee college scholarships for every graduate of Buffalo district and charter schools.
“We’ve come a long way in the last few years in this community,” Rust said. “We’ve got some work left to do, but we will get there.”