BUFFALO, NY - Two additional public meetings have been scheduled by the Buffalo Public School District, to discuss a recent mandate from New York State Education Commissioner John B. King regarding two troubled high schools.
The meetings are aimed at informing the public about progress toward complying with King's directives on how to improve graduation rates at East and Lafayette High Schools respectively.
The first will be held on Monday, July 22 at 5:30 p.m. at East High School, 820 Northampton Street. The second is scheduled for Wednesday, July 24 at 5:30 at Lafayette High School, 370 Lafayette Avenue.
While leaders of the Buffalo Public Schools say they understand King's mandate, they are still figuring out how to meet it, and how to pay for it. In addition, while they claim they have taken the first steps toward that end, they are the first steps in what is essentially a 100-yard dash, as they don't have much time to meet a deadline, a bit more than 3 weeks away.
The state says either BOCES must take over the troubled schools, or students there must be offered the option to leave and take vocational courses through BOCES instead.
At $7,600 per student, plus transportation, that could cost the district up to $4 million dollars annually (depending on how many students exercise their options) - money which is not currently budgeted.
At the same time though, district leaders and some parents hope the two schools can also continue an educational partnership with Johns Hopkins University, which had been working on a turnaround plan for the schools, and was supposed to take over their operations this fall.
Two On Your Side contacted an official with Johns Hopkins School of Education, to inquire if they still even wished to participate in their involvement with Buffalo schools, in light of King's mandate that BOCES play the lead role in their futures.
"I think there's some opportunities to explore...that will enhance the overall instructional opportunities for students so I won't throw that baby out with the bath water," said Charles Hiteshew, who leads Johns Hopkins' educational talent development program.
But he also advised Johns Hopkins would be hesitant to continue should new plans for the troubled schools "undermine the foundational pillars" to their approach to the process of fixing the schools.
"To the extent that we can create a partnership that's not going end up transporting kids during the regular instructional day 12 miles outside of the city for courses that literally aren't going to prepare them for the Regents exam. That's something we wouldn't want to pursue," he said.
Money, or lack thereof, may also get in the way of Johns Hopkins continued participation in Buffalo Schools.
Johns Hopkins laid the groundwork for their plan to run the two schools starting in the fall with a $350,000 grant provided by the state.
However, to implement that plan, it is going to cost over one million dollars a year according to Hiteshew.
King has held up federal funds that were supposed to pay for that, after he found the district's presentation of the plan to be insufficient.
Primarily, he cited the lack of a signed contract between the district and Johns Hopkins to move forward.
Hiteshew confirmed for WGRZ-TV that without the restoration of those funds, the planned involvement by Johns Hopkins, which already has established a six-member school leadership team here (including three members who moved to Buffalo from other parts of the country) would have to end.
He also expressed a hope that it does not come to that.
"I see how much partnership we've built with these two schools, how aligned their staffs are around our model, and how excited they are to implement it," he said. "Those are the conditions for success that we need and we have those to our satisfaction. When you've spent basically a year preparing to open in the fall, and then you're thrown a little bit of a curve ball at the end, you can't disrupt all the work that's gone on. So you have to look for ways to incorporate it," he said.
Hiteshew also revealed that the $350,000 startup grant has been used up , and that Johns Hopkins has continued its work in Buffalo, essentially for free.
"We have been operating unfunded since July first, so by the grace of our own university we are staying there. By our understanding that we have a good chance of working something out, we'll stay there until that time. But we can't go unfunded for much longer than we are right now," he said.
While praising the administrators and teachers within the troubled schools, Hiteshew also acknowledged that efforts in Buffalo have been challenging, amid the backbiting and apparent lack of communication between education officials in Albany and Buffalo who often don't appear to be on the same page.
"There's bureaucracy which has resulted in a waiting game, and it's all kept us from doing the all important work of partnering with the schools to move them forward to the next level of operation for student achievement so that's been frustrating from our vantage point," he said.
"It's (sometimes) overly complicated at the expense of students and if everyone could just get together...the conditions for our success are in place, we just need the powers that be to align around them and support us and watch us work."
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bill Boyer. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2