Buffalo Schools to Reorganize
A study of Buffalo schools by the Council of the Great City Schools recommends changing the district's management and organizational structure to ultimately lead to greater student achievement.
Task-force teams in the Buffalo School District in New York are developing a plan for revamping the organization and management of the school district, based on recommendations from the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS). CGCS is an organization of the nation's largest urban school districts.
The report, prepared by five teams of educators from other urban school districts, states, "Although the school system is not broken, it does need retooling and upgrading." The report also advises that in order for change to take place, "the district must shift from an organization obsessed with control, compliance, and contracts to one that is equally fixated on performance and student achievement."
The five CGCS teams reviewed the following areas:
School officials received the report in November, which took about six months to prepare. Superintendent of Schools Marion Canedo quickly established task force teams of staff, businesspeople, and professors to review the areas cited in the report and the report's recommendations and to make their own suggestions for a correction plan.
"This gives the district a road map to begin reorganizing around," said Canedo, who requested the CGCS study along with the board of education. "From this, we will create our own reform plan," Canedo told Education World.
Canedo became superintendent of the 47,000-student district in March after working as a teacher and an administrator in the system for more than 30 years. She wanted a study done to help her prioritize her efforts, and the board agreed with her, said Andrew Madigan, a district spokesman. "We wanted to ensure we were aligned the best way we can be," Madigan said.
Such studies of school systems by the CGCS are not routine, but neither are they extraordinary, said Michael Casserly, CGCS executive director and a member of the Buffalo review team. "Our role was to look at the organizational structure and effectiveness of the Buffalo school system," Casserly told Education World. "We recommended a new structure and a reorganization of the central office."
The next step is up to the Buffalo officials, he said. "They have to make the decisions as to how to proceed. We are more interested in their developing their own plan around our recommendations." At the same time, CGCS remains ready to offer advice. "Our objective was not to be critical and walk away -- it was to be critical and stick around to help," Casserly said.
Buffalo, like other school systems in New York, is feeling pressure to prepare students for the more rigorous high school graduation requirements that are being phased in over the next few years. Standardized test scores for Buffalo students have shown little progress over the past several years. "I believe that everything everyone does here should be related to student achievement," Canedo said.
Among the other problems facing Buffalo's school district are a web of outdated policies that deal with specific situations rather than broad issues and a growing lack of confidence in the system among the staff and within the community, according to the CGCS report.
Central office staff and the district's unions compete with each other for control, leaving schools, parents, and the community out of the loop. More decision-making authority needs to be passed down to the school principals, the report said.
At the same time, CGCS members were troubled by the number of staff members who offered excuses for why some things did not work. "The sense of staff victimization is debilitating," said the report.
As is the case in many districts, organizational problems in the Buffalo schools built up gradually, said Casserly. "It's amazing to me how long reform takes and how little time collapse takes."
Administrators in Buffalo developed some bad habits, Casserly told Education World. "They have a good staff that has been poorly managed and organized."
Another issue is that a cumbersome process for hiring teachers often discourages people from applying, Casserly added. Problems include no effective recruitment system, an unevenly applied residency requirement, and long delays that lead to candidates' giving up and taking jobs elsewhere, according to the report.
The system for assigning students to schools also needs to be changed because parents have few choices and are frustrated, according to Casserly. From the mid-1970s to 1997 Buffalo was under a court-ordered desegregation plan, which spawned magnet schools and resulted in busing of many students.
Although the desegregation plan has ended, in some cases, parents cannot send their children to a school they can see from their homes, said Madigan. Instead, the children continue to be bused to schools farther away. "We are working on designing a new model in the district," Madigan said. "We are looking at giving parents more options."
Some reforms already are being put into place. For example, the administration is ensuring that a parent who calls the central office with a question can get an answer promptly, rather than be transferred to several people, said Canedo.
The task force teams also have been meeting regularly with the goal of developing a plan prior to March, so any reform-related expenses can be included in the 2001-2002 budget proposal, she said.
The report from CGCS has been invaluable in the district's reform effort, Canedo added. "Without the framework and the expertise from outside, it would have been difficult," she said. "We have to focus on the major thing, which is the students."
Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Copyright © 2006 Education World