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Returning to Neighborhood Schools
Families, People, Schools
Returning to Neighborhood Schools

Common Council of the City of Buffalo

Returning to Neighborhood Schools

By: James N. Jackson

Despite some of the highest spending per pupil in the region, the City of Buffalo’s schools suffer from low achievement and are consistently among the lowest producing schools in New York State. The overall graduation rate in the City is around 60 percent, and amongst boys, only 25-33 percent of black males and only 55 percent of white males finish school.  Students who drop out of school are more likely than their peers who graduate to be unemployed, live in poverty, receive public assistance, be incarcerated in prison, have health problems, divorce, and be single parents with children who drop out of high school themselves. To discover solutions to combat these detrimental issues, the Common Council Committee on Education held a meeting to discuss returning Buffalo Public Schools (“BPS”) to a neighborhood schools model.

In 1976, due to a major court case, the Buffalo Public School System implemented a plan to desegregate neighborhood schools by force-busing students to schools located in different parts of the City. Even though the program worked very well at first, forced-busing eventually caused a large number of people to leave the City of Buffalo, as their children had now been assigned to schools too far away from their homes.

Initially, the removal of the neighborhood schools model was used as a plan to desegregate the school system and allow underprivileged students access to better educational opportunities; however in some ways the plan backfired. With students attending schools in other parts of the city, parents began to question the impact it would have on their children’s educational experience.

Proponents of the neighborhood schools model believe that the community is one of the most important aspects to the successful education of a child. In a city where only seven percent of Black and Latino males go to college, returning to the neighborhood school model could possibly increase graduation rates, parental involvement in students’ education, and the number of students from the inner city that attend and are successful in college.

Returning to the neighborhood schools model would enable schools to be more family and community oriented. With schools located within the same community in which the child lives, parents and students have better access to the resources and programs that only schools can provide. Neighborhood groups would be able to utilize schools within their own communities for meetings, events, and programs that promote safety and harmony in the community. Children in neighborhoods would be afforded the opportunity to use school gyms, computer labs, art rooms and supplies, and other resources right within their own communities. Without the resources schools can offer to divert their attention, many students end up vandalizing private property in the community and playing sports in the middle of the street instead of participating in healthy and constructive alternatives. Schools can be sites where adult continuing education services are held, community health promoted, and where parenting and non-parenting adult networking activities take place. Returning to the neighborhood schools model would enable schools to once again become the community centers they used to be, promoting unity within the neighborhoods.

A major issue caused by the current system is the inability of parents to participate regularly in their child’s education, school activities and events. Students in the same family are often bussed to different schools, therefore increasing the difficulty incurred by parents, especially if the students come from single-parent households with no vehicle.

Students are no longer able to walk or ride their bicycles to school missing exercise opportunities in a school district with a high obesity rate. Due to schools being so far away from home, many students spend one hour on the bus in the morning and one hour on the bus in the afternoon decreasing time that could be spent in the classroom.

The Committee on Education members also addressed the short operating hours that City schools currently have. Out of the 31 school districts within Erie County, BPS is the only one in which the schools are closed to students at 3:00 p.m. and to everyone else by 4:00 p.m. After closing, the 35,000 students whom attend BPS have to be served in the 12 community centers in the City of Buffalo, along with senior citizens, out-of-school youth, block clubs, sports leagues, and an array of other community center users. At best these community centers can only accommodate only 3,000 people per night, forcing many students to have no other alternative for their free time after school.

The Education Committee maintains that a return to the neighborhood schools model would be the most beneficial model for BPS. With all the issues facing the current system, it is time to think about what will have the greatest impact on the educational success of the children who live in the City. Many residents have moved out of the City of Buffalo due to issues with BPS and in order to prevent a greater exodus of residents it is essential that things change for the better.

The Committee on Education plans to hold an educational summit in spring 2011 with the New York State (“NYS”) Board of Regents, the Commissioner of Education, the Chancellor of the NYS Department of Education, the Superintendent of BPS, the Buffalo Board of Education, mental health organizations, crime prevention agencies, community leaders, parents, concerned citizens  and teachers and school personnel to discuss issues affecting City schools and identify specific options for improving the quality of education in the BPS system.

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