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Buffalo’s graduation rate rises; school leader says still long way to go

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

The Buffalo Public Schools' graduation rate has improved, providing a glimmer of good news for the many failing city schools. New numbers were released by the New York State Board of Regents Monday. Buffalo's rate increased from nearly 48-percent in 2009 to 56-percent in 2013. 

In this Focus on Education report, WBFO's Eileen Buckley says it's an eight-point increase for Buffalo, the largest hike among the state's Big Five school districts, but a caution flag has been raised by the interim leadership of city schools.

"While I'm glad the district has made some progress, it is willfully insufficient where it has landed. A 56-percent graduation rate is not what we want," said interim city schools Superintendent Will Keresztes. He is is cautiously optimistic.  While pleased to see a 56-percent graduation rate for 2013, he noted the District has a long way to go to improve the rates to 80-percent or more.

"Everyone wants 100-percent solutions for our students, so we have to be about the business of creating multiply pathways for our students, giving them all the opportunities they need," stated Keresztes during a briefing with reporters Monday at City Hall.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Will Keresztes, an Associated Schools Superintendent, serving as interim Superintendent in Buffalo. Keresztes discusses latest graduation numbers during a City Hall news briefing.

Keresztes attributes the Say Yes to Education college scholarship program for playing a major role in increasing the city rate.  But he also gives credit to the leadership of now former schools Superintendent Pamela Brown who was highly criticized for her leadership.

"I think with this particular class, this 2009 class, when they came in, there were things we did, particularly in the homestretch. In the 2013 school year, we were quite relentless that year under Dr. Brown's leadershipo to not miss a single student and I really applaud her for that effort," said Keresztes.

The new numbers are not promising for Hispanic students.  THey trail other groups. Keresztes said the city school district needs to concentrate on those students much like they did with the African-American male students.

"I'm very happy that African American children in our district made some pretty impressive gains in this particular cohort. I want us to learn whatever we did, and whatever families did to help increase those numbers, we now have to apply to another student group -- our Hispanic students," said Keresztes.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Students inside a Buffalo Public High School

Keresztes confirmed some of the numbers are being audited by the state. But he noted that's not unusual. 

However, Keresztes said  they will keep a close watch on numbers that could effect two individual schools.  A waiver for physical education and making sure students who moved out of the district were not misidentified could be part of the audit according to Keresztes. Still, Keresztes doesn't believe it will effect the overall graduation rate for the city. 

Buffalo School Board president Barbara Seals  Nevergold issued a statement regarding the release of the 2013 graduation data:

"It is gratifying to see this rise in the District’s overall graduation rate.  Further, the dramatic increase in the graduation rate for African American males is noteworthy.  While I’m sure that Dr. Pamela Brown would be quick to recognize that this accomplishment is the result of the collective work of staff, District stakeholders, parents and the students themselves, I believe this nearly 9 percentage point gain (the highest among the State’s Big 5 Districts) can be traced directly to Superintendent Brown's leadership, plan and vision.  Her objective from the moment she entered the District was to ensure that schools and students had the supports they needed in order to help them to stay in school and graduate on time.  This is also indicative of the District Strategic Plan that Dr. Brown formed with the input of hundreds of stakeholders; the staff reorganization plan that focused central office staff on the provision of student centered services and the establishment of innovative educational programs.  This significant climb for 2013 is proof that the plan that Dr. Brown initiated was simply the beginning of a path forward toward District success."

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