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James Williams in Jacksonville?

Down in Florida, the Duval County School Board has narrowed its pool of superintendent candidates down to three finalists.

And James Williams is not among them.

Buffalo's former superintendent had been one of 30 applicants for the job in Jacksonville, as you might recall.

The Florida Times-Union reports:

Kriner CashDale Robbins and Nikolai Vitti impressed the Duval County School Board and came one step closer Tuesday to becoming the county’s next superintendent.

After an all-day interview with the board, the three emerged as finalists. Each candidate has his flaws, board members said, but these men have the best potential for becoming the transformational leader Jacksonville needs.

Cash is the outgoing superintendent for Memphis City Schools. Vitti is the chief academic officer for Miami-Dade Public Schools. And Robbins is a retired education administrator, most recently as one of the associate superintendents at Gwinnett County Public Schools.

The other semifinalists were William Miller, executive director of the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, and Kathryn LeRoy, Duval County’s chief academic officer.

- Mary Pasciak

Why the teacher transfers violate the contract

As today's story notes, an arbitrator ruled that the district's decision to transfer 54 teachers as part of turnaround plans at three schools violates the union contract.

What's worth noting is that the arbitrator points out that the contract does not universally bar involuntary transfers.

Rather, it's the way the district went about transferring the teachers that violates the contract.

In her ruling, Jacquelin Drucker said that the portion of the Buffalo Teachers Federation contract that addresses transfers "imposes limitation only in that it requires that, 'whenever possible,' transfers are to be done on a voluntary basis and that in making involuntary transfers, 'the preference of the individual teachers shall be honored whenever feasible.'"

That portion of the contract, the union has said, provides teachers with the chance to discuss an involuntary transfer before it is finalized. The union also has pointed out that in the past, involuntary transfers have only been done on an individual basis.

The arbitrator writes that, while that portion of the contract and district guidelines for teacher transfers "appear to anticipate transfer of individual teachers for individualized reasons, these contractual provisions do not work to preclude the district from determining that involuntary transfers en masse are required. And while there were indeed was uncontradicted testimony that all involuntary transfers, other than closings and reductions in force, have occurred only as to individual teachers, this historical situation does not give rise to a binding past practice that limits the district's authority in this regard.

"Thus, from these facts, the arbitrator cannot conclude that non-individualized involuntary transfers are barred. As the district has countered, there is nothing in the contract that restricts the district from determining to implement involuntary transfers."

In other words, the district would have been within its rights to involuntarily transfer teachers -- if it had played by the rules of the contract.

There are three ways the district broke those rules, the arbitrator determined:

1. The district did not take into account the preferences of teachers being transferred.

2. Some of the people on the screening panels in the three schools were not certified teachers or administrators. Those on the panels included a UB student, a parent and a grandparent, among others.

3. The screening process should have been approved by the district's Professional Council, and it wasn't.

Here's the full decision from the arbitrator:

Arbitration Decision 8-29-12

- Mary Pasciak

Say Yes will cover some tuition; what will you still have to pay?

Say Yes to Education is announcing three things today: a partnership with 20 private colleges; a room and board stipend for students who live on campus at a state school; and a roll-out plan for wraparound services in the Buffalo Public Schools.

All this stuff can get a little confusing.

Here's an attempt to simplify things.

I'm going to combine the information from today's announcement with information that Say Yes has already released, in the hopes of spelling out what your child will or will not be eligible for.

1. All Buffalo residents who graduate from a district school or charter school in the City of Buffalo, starting with the Class of 2013, are eligible for a full-tuition scholarship at any SUNY or CUNY school. They must be admitted to the school based on their own merit.

Here's the caveat: To qualify for full tuition, your child must have attended a public school (public, meaning district or charter school) in the city starting at least in second grade, and must have attended public schools in the city consistently all the way through twelfth grade.

If your child has attended public schools in the city only from ninth grade on, he or she would qualify for 65 percent of tuition costs; from sixth grade on, 80 percent; and from third grade on, 95 percent.

Say Yes covers tuition only -- not books, fees or any other costs. That means your family still needs to cover a variety of expenses.

Here's one example: For the fall 2012 semester, tuition at the University at Buffalo is $2,785 for a New York State resident. Fees for that semester at UB total $1,210. Books would probably be another few hundred dollars. Say Yes will cover just the $2,785. Your family would still be responsible for the $1,210 plus books.

Fees vary from school to school. For example, tuition at Buffalo State College is the same as at UB, $2,785 per semester. But fees at Buffalo State total $562 per semester.

There is no family income limit for the state school tuition scholarship. That means your family income could be $175,000, and your child would still qualify for Say Yes to pay full tuition to a SUNY or CUNY school.

The Say Yes tuition is considered "last dollar," meaning that Say Yes will pay the difference between the total cost of tuition and any Pell and/or TAP grants your family qualifies for. So, for example, UB tuition is $5,570 per year. If your family qualifies for a $1,500 Pell grant, Say Yes will kick in $4,070 to make up the difference for full tuition. Remember, your family is still responsible for fees, books and other expenses beyond tuition.

2. If your child attends a state school and lives on campus, he or she can get up to $2,000 a year from Say Yes toward those costs.

Your family would need to cover the rest of the housing and meal costs.

The average cost of room and board on-campus at Binghamton, for example, is $12,336. That means your family would be responsible for $10,336 of that.

This option is available only to families whose income qualify them for enough Pell and/or TAP grants to cover the full cost of tuition.

3.Twenty private colleges have agreed to offer full tuition scholarships for City of Buffalo residents graduating from a district or charter high school in the city. There is a maximum family income for the private school scholarships. In most cases, it's $75,000.

Say Yes will post full details within a month on its website,

The participating private colleges are: Canisius College, Medaille College, Niagara University, D'Youville College, Daemen College, Hilbert College, Houghton College, St. Bonaventure University, Trocaire College, Villa Maria College and Bryant & Stratton College.

Also: Colgate University, Syracuse University, University of Rochester, the University of Pennsylvania, Crouse Hospital College of Nursing, Cooper Union, Lesley University, Rochester Institute of Technology and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Some colleges are going to limit the number of Say Yes scholarships they offer each year. If more students apply for a Say Yes scholarship than the number of scholarships that college has agreed to give out, then it will be up to the college to decide which students get the scholarships.

Say Yes expects more private colleges to sign on to the scholarship program.

Your child must have attended a district or charter school in Buffalo from ninth through twelfth grade to qualify for a private school scholarshp through Say Yes.

4. If your family income is above the $75,000 limit for a private school scholarship through Say Yes, your child is still eligible for a $5,000 annual Say Yes scholarship to that institution.

5. Say Yes is going to be introducing support services for students in the Buffalo Public Schools. Those services will be rolled out in four phases, with about 14 schools in each phase. For now, those services will consist of a site faciliator in each school, who will help identify student needs and work with school staff to make referrals to outside supports.

These schools will be in the first group, which will receive services in 2012-13: Blackman Early Childhood Center; Early Childhood Center 17; Olmsted School 156; School 8; Native American Magnet; Bennett Park Montessori; D'Youville Porter Campus School; Bilingual Center 33; International Prep; Harvey Austin; Martin Luther King Jr.; Emerson School of Hospitality; East High School; and Bennett High School.

These schools will receive services in 2013-14: Olmsted School 64; Early Childhood Center 82; Discovery School; Hillery Park; Southside; Lydia Wright; Community School 53; Highgate Heights; Waterfront; West Hertel; Buffalo Elementary School of Technology; Hutch Tech; McKinley; and The Academy School.

Schools to receive services in 2014-15: Drew Science Magnet 59; Makowski; City Honors; Performing Arts; Lovejoy Discovery; Math Science Tech Prep; North Park; Pantoja; Drew Science Magnet 90; International School 45; Hamlin Park Elementary; Middle Early College; South Park; and Lafayette.

And those to receive services beginning in 2015-16: Roosevelt; Early Childhood Center 61; Lorraine; Houghton; Grabiarz; Tubman; Sedita; BUILD; Badillo; Futures; da Vinci; Burgard; and Riverside.

David Rust, who runs the local Say Yes group, said the intention was to have a mix of grade levels and achievement levels in each group of schools.

- Mary Pasciak

Live blog at 5 p.m.: distinguished educator Q&A, board meeting

Join me for a two-part live blog extravaganza this evening: a half-hour media Q&A with Judy Elliott, the distinguished educator, followed by the August School Board meeting.

- Mary Pasciak

How many teachers did the state rate "ineffective"?

The state Education Department announced today that it has finished its ratings of thousands of teachers and principals in New York, based on student scores on state assessments. Those ratings have been released to district officials, but not to the public.

These state "growth scores" account for 20 percent of some teachers' evaluations for 2011-12 -- essentially, for people who teach fourth- to eighth-grade math and English. (Those are the subjects for which the state tests students every year and can, therefore, determine how much a student improved from one year to the next.)

About one in six teachers statewide will have the state growth score count toward their evaluation for 2011-12, according to a statement released by State Ed.

For the 33,129 teachers across New York who received a state growth score:

- 7 percent were deemed highly effective
- 77 percent were effective
- 10 percent were developing
- 6 percent were ineffective.

The picture was similar for principals:

- 6 percent highly effective
- 79 percent effective
- 8 percent developing
- 7 percent ineffective.

Under a state law passed this year, individual teacher ratings will not be released to the public, although parents will be able to get the rating for their children's teachers.

In the fall, the state will release aggregate data to the public, on a schoolwide and districtwide basis, but the ratings for individual teachers and principals will not be released.

- Mary Pasciak

Getting to the bottom of those summer school studies

District officials canceled summer school this year, saying they had data that showed summer school didn't really help kids get farther ahead academically. In fact, sometimes kids were worse off after going to summer school, they said.

That seemed hard to believe.

I met with Fran Wilson, the chief academic officer, and asked to see the data.

She handed me three slides from a PowerPoint presentation.

One was a bar graph that showed what percentage of kids in each grade scored at grade level/below grade level/severely below grade level on a literacy assessment prior to summer school, compared to the percentages at each level at the beginning of the school year after summer school.

(EOY = end of the year, meaning how they scored on the DIBELS literacy assessment at the end of, say, kindergarten. BOY = beginning of the year, meaning how they scored at the beginning of, say, first grade, after going to summer school. Green means students are at grade level; yellow means they need intervention; red means they need intensive intervention.)

ELOP data2

As you can see, there are not even any numbers on any of the bars. Wilson actually pulled out a piece of paper so that we could try to compare the bars visually.

The point she was making to me was that there were not huge gains in the percentage of students in the green category. And in some grade levels, it seemed there might have even been a slight decrease in that category.

Here's the second page she shared with me. This reflects the same sort of data (scores on the literacy assessment at the end of one school year, compared to the beginning of the next), but for students who did not attend summer school.

ELOP data1
Wilson pointed out that there's also not much change in the green part of the bars in this group, either. 

So here's the third page she gave me, which summarizes the conclusions that the district drew from those two bar graphs. (The highlighting is from Wilson, not me.)

ELOP summary


Well, it seemed that surely, there was no way the district made a $4 million decision based on three PowerPoint slides. I asked for a copy of the full report.

What the district sent me was a 12-slide PowerPoint presentation. That, apparently, was the full report. Take a look:

Buffalo Summer Program Analysis_041812-2

It seemed odd that the district would have been spending $4 million a year on a summer school program and would have only just recently gone to the trouble of evaluating it.

Through the course of my reporting, I discovered that the district had, in fact, hired the University at Buffalo to evaluate the summer school program.


The district spent more than $100,000 on those studies.

I asked the district for copies of those reports; I was told that central office staffers could not find them -- meaning the district paid tens of thousands of dollars for evaluations that apparently somehow vanished at the critical moment when a $4 million decision was being made.

While the district could not locate copies of the reports, UB could. The good people over at the university sent copies to the district, which then sent them to me.

Let's just say the UB reports were just a bit more comprehensive than the district's 12-slide PowerPoint.

And full of standard deviations, T-scores, and all those other pesky little things that I seem to recall from an education stats course I took as being considered kind of important when you're doing a statistical analysis.

Here's UB's evaluation of the 2007 summer school program:

UB ELOP Report 2008

And UB's evaluation of the 2009 summer school program:

UB ELOP Report 2010

Wilson apparently read those reports after UB sent copies of them to the district, following my request. After she read them, she said, "In looking at the reports, none of them makes an overt argument for or against summer school."


Take a look at Page 3 of the UB evaluation of the 2009 program. Here are some excerpts:

Does giving students more instructional time through a summer extended learning opportunity improve student reading scores?  

- YES! Overall, the majority of students who participated in ELOP improved their reading scores over the course of the summer as students saw an average gain of 3.6 percentile points from June to the ELOP posttest.

Does participation in a summer extended learning opportunity improve student reading scores from June to the following September?

- YES! Students who participate in ELOP show gains in their reading scores from the end of the school year to the beginning of the next school year.

Does participation in a summer extended learning opportunity improve student NYS ELA and math scores?

- YES! Larger percentages of students participating in ELOP improve both their ELA and math scores than do students who do not participate in ELOP.

But don't rely on a few excerpts. You can read all three reports for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

- Mary Pasciak

Live blog of School Board meeting at 5 p.m.: Elliott's contract

Join me this evening for a special meeting of the School Board, which is scheduled -- again -- to discuss the contract for Judy Elliott, the distinguished educator.

We'll find out whether the third time's a charm.

- Mary Pasciak


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.

@denisejewellgee |

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 |