Many changes will greet students as well as their parents as the 2011-2012 school year begins in the Buffalo Public Schools. Class sizes are larger, fewer students will be taking foreign languages, art and gifted education classes. All districts in the state are facing new English and math curriculum standards.
Even though the Buffalo Board of Education has recalled more than 100 teachers and teacher’s aides that had received lay-off notices, one issue remains unaddressed – out-of-school suspensions.
According to The Buffalo News, the movement to end this policy, however, is gaining momentum. In 2008, a student was suspended for seven weeks for using her cell phone in class. In 2010, a student was suspended for wandering the halls during school hours. He left the building and was fatally shot a short time later. Parents are outraged and are calling for a change in the suspension policy.
A recently released report found that in 2008 25% of students in Buffalo Public Schools were suspended and in 2009 19% were suspended. This last figure is nearly four times the state average. The group leading the charge, Citizen Action of New York, states that Buffalo Schools are working with an inner-city community that has a challenging group of students.
Many private schools in the area have an in-school suspension policy whereby a student or students are monitored in a separate classroom, are given specific assignments to complete, but are not allowed back into their regular classrooms until a specified time. This appears to be a working policy and keeps the children of working parents from being unsupervised during their suspension period.
Buffalo Schools now have two initiatives in place which should help to reduce out-of-school suspensions. A program called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports seeks to place students with behavioral challenges in a room with a social worker. Another program allows students to avoid suspension if they meet in conference with their parents and the principal.
Drastic steps have been taken to improve the climate in Buffalo Public Schools. Superintendent James Williams, a controversial and confrontational figure for the past six years, has agreed to retire rather than to have a firing on his resume. Employees and teachers are overjoyed to greet Ms. Amber Dixon, a Buffalo School administrator for the past 20 years, as the interim superintendent at this time. She is viewed as a talented, likeable and cooperative leader who will bring collaboration to the embattled district of the past.
The Buffalo News, August 30, 31 and Sept. 8, 2011