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Talking with the King

State Education Commissioner John King spoke with The Buffalo News Editorial Board for half an hour Monday via conference call, and I sat in with my own set of questions. It was a nice arrangement because he got to make the points he wanted to make regarding the need to raise education standards in New York State, and we got to ask questions on a broader array of topics -- namely the state's directive regarding East and Lafayette high schools.

He made a number of comments, some of which we're publishing right away, and some we'll use in future stories. But there were a couple of comments were noting here.

For instance, when King praised to the organization of Rochester's central office, particularly in terms of its school turnaround planning staff, I asked whether he'd drawn any conclusions regarding Superintendent Pamela Brown's own recent reorganization of her central office. 

He responded that he wasn't familiar with the nitty gritty details of the reorganization here, but he did notice that there weren't any new, outside appointments to key leadership roles in the administration.

He said the repeated failure of the district to win millions of dollars in federal grant money for its school improvement plans "speaks for itself in terms of the lack of effectiveness of the central office."

He also said he's heard the superintendent supposed to bring in a new staff member to provide additional leadership.

"I hope that’s successful," he said.

Hmm. Something to follow up on.

King also stressed that the district's inability to win grant money for its schools extends beyond East and Lafayette high schools. To be fair to the district, it HAS been awarded a bunch of grants for other schools, but King pointed to Highgate Heights Elementary School 80. That application, submitted in July was kicked back to the district as incomplete. We wrote a prior blog post about this on July 30.

"I want to bring up School 80 again, which illustrates that this is not just an East and Lafayette problem," he said. "This is a district problem."

Instead of submitting a signed agreement with Westminster Foundation, which would serve as the lead supervising agency for the school, "they submitted a memorandum of understanding for part of the grant, and tried to submit it as an EPO [educational partnership organization] agreement knowing it wasn’t. When we made an additional request for an EPO agreement, they esentially told us, 'Well, we promise we’ll follow the EPO law.' They still haven’t provided an EPO agreement."

He added, "It’s clear that this is a partnership with great potential. But Buffalo has to fulfill its responsibilities as the district."

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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.

@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 |