East High School, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
East High School, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

East High School Reveals Turnaround Plan

by / Dec. 9, 2014 11pm EST

East High School is one of the Buffalo’s four “out of time” schools, designated by New York State as failing. 

In order to keep the building open, East’s administration put together a turnaround plan and presented it to the community on Monday. 

The plan centers on extending the school day, adding to the school’s existing CTE [Career and Technical Education] programs, increasing the number of credits a student can earn per year, and transforming the building into a “pillar of support for our community,” according to Principal Casey Young. 

In the proposal, the school day, which currently goes from 7:45am to 2:30pm, would be moved from 8:30am to 3:45pm, an increase of 30 minutes. Young said that the proposal would allow East students would to earn 8.5 credits per year, as opposed to the five to six credits available at other schools. The increase comes with a 20 percent hike in pay for all phase-in staff, upping the school’s budget by $234,000. 

The CTE program, tailored to address Buffalo’s growing health services job market, includes the three “career pathways” East already offers (Health Occupation, Medical Coding, Fitness Training), along with the addition of a new one (Nutrition/Dietitian Assistant).

East would also make credit accrual classes available up to 7:30pm, allowing students who missed classes during the day to make up the time at night. Absences are a problem among East’s population, many of whom have to care for siblings or children of their own. 

Assistant Principal Maria Conrad noted that the flexibility of the proposal is designed specifically for East’s population:

“We [designed] programs for our students who have more challenges: whether it be child care for their siblings or child care for their own children. They could have a later start time, and then access the building later in the evening…so that there are no more barriers to education, there’s equal opportunity and success for all.”

While credit accrual classes end at 7:30pm, East, through its Lighted Schoolhouse initiative, would remain open until 9pm.

Conrad called the Lighted Schoolhouse program an open invitation to the community to treat East as a “one-stop shop”:

“We’re hoping to bring in many social services that the community can embrace: legal, mental health, medical, and child care. East High School will become a one stop shop for all of our community to embrace the education system.”

Services offered during the Lighted Schoolhouse time (6-9pm) would include adult vocational training, TASC high school equivalency prep, a family support center, swim, intramural sports, recreation and fitness, and child care. East has estimated that it would need 15 teachers to cover a projected nightly attendance of 200 students and family, with the total cost pegged at $226,000 per year.

One parent, Tonza Kelly, said that she thought the school’s administration presented a “good plan”: 

“We’re just trying to reach out to everyone: students, parents, the community—we’re giving everybody a way out to say, ‘Look, you can come here to East. There is a better a way.’”

East’s proposal, along with that of the three other “out of time” schools, is due to the district on Friday, before going to the state for inspection. The district’s proposals will be weighed against those brought by charter groups.

School Board minority member Sharon Belton-Cottman, who attended the East presentation, expressed doubt that there was real motivation from lawmakers to listen to the community’s plans: 

“One of the first conversations I had, when I came on the board, was a call that I got from someone telling me about the plan to take over nine of our re-modeled schools and turn them into charters. Shortly thereafter, we saw Chameleon Group try to take over East, West and the Waterfront. So far, the only schools anyone is interested in is our re-modeled schools. So is that a coincidence or what?” 

(East High School was the subject of $24 million in renovations in 2005.)

Belton-Cottman’s suspicions are not without a foundation in reality. At last September’s session of the Community Enrichment Committee, board majority member Carl Paladino openly advocated for the “disassembly of the Buffalo Public School System.” 

Legislators in Albany will have the final say on the fate of school’s like East.

“We’re very concerned. We’re in a fight for our life,” Belton-Cottman said.

Brian Trzeciak, from local activist group Citizen Action, was on hand, and will be headed to Albany next month to help make the community’s voice heard.  

Citizen Action, along with the Alliance for Quality Education, is organizing a bus trip to Albany on January 13th, the start of New York State’s budget season, to “really push our legislators—Governor Cuomo and Commissioner King—to say that they’ve got to stop cutting education, and that we can’t wait for quality schools.”  

The urgency is even greater, he stressed, given the strength of the community model presented on Monday evening:

“As soon as you start opening those doors and start providing services for families, and really make the school the hub of the community, you’re going to see a complete change.”