There’s a lot to be optimistic about in Buffalo. The city is on the cusp of a cultural renaissance, businesses and the state are investing here, and more and more people are choosing to live here – many returning after years away.
But that doesn’t mean all our problems have disappeared. We still have an educational system that fails thousands of students every year, most of them students of color. If we want to fix this problem, it’s absolutely critical we work together.
That means setting aside biases, politics, and agendas.
I am heartened to see that starting to happen.
Recently, the Buffalo District Parent Coordinating Council (DPCC) voted for the first time in their 17-year history to include charter school parents in their organization. The vote was unanimous. Parents from Enterprise Charter School and Westminster Community Charter School – charters authorized by the Buffalo Board of Education – will now have a seat at the table.
As a father of children in the Buffalo school system as well as an advocate for educational justice, I too now have a seat at the table as an Executive Committee member, where I can represent all of Buffalo’s charter schools’ parents.
One-fifth of our public school students attend charters. Giving charter parents a voice like this is huge recognition of the critical role charter schools play in improving the city’s schools.
And let’s be honest: parents don’t care about political divides or the rhetoric of the day. They care about finding the best school for their child.
Here’s what parents care about: the sad fact that more than 90% of black and Hispanic kids in a district school DID NOT pass last year’s state exams in Math and ELA. They care that the Buffalo City School District’s graduation rates are among the worst in the state. They care that one third of Hispanic and Latino students are more likely to drop out than finish their schooling. They care that 43 of every 100 black students won’t graduate in four years. These are the devastating facts about Buffalo’s school system.
Charter schools can’t fix everything but they are a big part of the solution. There are 15 charters schools in Buffalo and 14 of them are considered to be in good standing. In the city school district, only 15 out of 56 schools are doing well enough to avoid state intervention or a plan for improvement.
Charters are working for the thousands of students who attend them – parents who are opting for schools that work, by and large, instead of schools that are failing. Including the charter parent voice in a district partnership is a great step forward for education in our city.
We couldn’t have made this progress without the leadership and tenacity of the DPCC President Sam Radford. He knows full well that this work can’t be done in a silo.
He also understands that learning from and sharing ideas with charter school parents will only strengthen the future of Buffalo’s children, no matter what type of school they attend.
The Buffalo school district has been slow to change, but charters are the most immediate agents of change in our school system today.
We look forward to working together to uplift this city together.
Duncan Kirkwood, education activist has returned home to help the children of Buffalo that are often left voiceless. This is his first column for the Bullet.
This piece originally appeared on the Buffalo Bullet.