Questions Mount at East High School

by / Dec. 8, 2015 5pm EST

Last week the principal of Buffalo’s East High School was escorted out of the building and placed on administrative leave. Hardly the reward that Dr. Casey M. Young would have imagined after steering the school’s graduation rates northward to a tune of 110 percent improvement, but that appears to be exactly the cause for his temporary removal.  

With his years of administrative experience, Buffalo superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash apparently is smelling some home-cooking. “When I see anything that looks like double-digit increases, I raise questions about that,” Cash told the Buffalo News. “It’s very difficult to raise the graduation rate one or two points in a year. I want to make sure anything on my watch is accurate.”

UPDATE: WGRZ is reporting that two guidance counselors have also been placed on paid administrative leave. 

Would Cash make the dramatic call to remove Young from the school if he didn’t have something stronger than a hunch? A Buffalo Public Schools official confirmed the investigation to The Public.

East’s graduation rates started climbing shortly after Young took the helm of the school four years ago. In 2013, the rate jumped to 48.9 percent from 27.8 percent in the previous year, a hike that spurred an audit from the state into the 2008 and 2009 cohorts, or graduating classes of 2012 and 2013. In 2014, East graduated 52 percent of its cohort. 

In a report released this April, the state concluded that it “found that the student files provided at East supported the graduation status of all 100 students selected in the sample for both cohort years.” While the state’s team of five auditors found that the attendance rate was “overstated by nearly 6 percent for the sample of students at East,” the spike in graduation was perfectly kosher.

At issue could very well be the kind of “credit-recovery” programs that East was offering in the summer. Credit-recovery courses (or summer school, in the common parlance) are provided to enhance a student’s expertise in a subject that was already offered to them, or to re-take a course they had failed, but it’s against state law to give a student a crash course in a new subject over the summer—a practice, if utilized at East, could have been responsible for graduation rate gains. 

But wouldn’t the state auditors have caught that? Or does Cash need Young out of the building in order to take a second look?

Some have suggested there may be gray area within the credit-recovery statute that Young took advantage of while under mounting pressure from the state to shutter the school, but state law indicates that a 6.5 “units of credit” toward a diploma can be awarded “without completing units of study for such units of credit.” Teachers and administrators can institute special projects, oral examinations, or supplementary assessments to build towards those credits. 

As one of Buffalo’s “out of time” schools, Young has unsuccessfully pursued approval of several unconventional plans, including last year’s “lighted schoolhouse” turnaround plan that the board ultimately rejected. 

People who have worked alongside Young credit him for a deep interest in his students’ success, logging long hours at the school, and finding a way to run and fund a ski club in a school where 76 percent of students come from homes the state classifies as “economically disadvantaged.” “He’s picking kids up in the morning, dropping them off at night, bringing them home for dinner, going to their houses when they don’t come to school,” as one source who worked in the school for several years described his routine.  

A district official was unable to provide a timeline for the investigation, and could not speculate whether Young’s entire history at the school would come under review. 

Dr. Young declined to comment on the investigation, citing district policy.