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Time to talk about charter conversions, Williams says

Last night, after the Board of Ed approved turnaround plans for nine schools, I chatted briefly with Superintendent James Williams, who had nothing but good things to say about the decision to hire educational partnership organizations to run seven of the schools.

The district will be asking local colleges and other non-profits to bid on turning around each of those schools. Such a group would essentially take the place of the superintendent for a particular school.

Williams says the move will be a step toward decentralizing the district, something he sees as a good thing.

I asked him why, if decentralization was a positive step, he had not worked toward such a goal earlier in his six years in Buffalo.

The timing hadn't been right, he said. Now, it is.

The superintendent also said he thinks it's time to start talking to the Board of Ed about the possibility of converting some district schools into charter schools.

"I'm going to start the discussion with the school board about conversion charter schools for 2012-13," he said.

The state next year will identify a few more Buffalo schools as persistently lowest-achieving. Earlier, district officials had indicated they thought at least six more schools would be designated. Last night, Williams estimated it would be three or four schools.

As you probably know, the federal government offers school districts four models to choose from to turn around each low-performing school. One of the models -- the one the district is using for the seven schools I mentioned earlier -- also allows districts to convert each of those schools into a charter school.

That was an option the district could have used this year, but did not.

Why not?

"You've got to bring people along slowly," Williams said. "You can't just push things out."

(At this point, the only school the district has converted to a charter is Westminster -- a move that was made about half a dozen years ago.)

Williams says if the board starts talking now about this option, the district would have time to work everything out in time to convert some persistently lowest-achieving schools into charters in 2012-13.

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

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Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |