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Problems plague Harvey Austin Elementary School

Harvey Austin Elementary School 97 is a school with a number of problems. The struggling school is losing students and was dogged by stories in the fall that administrators there forged Timekia Jones' parent signature on a series of school documents submitted to the state.

Principal Brigette Gillespie is still technically in charge there, but school folks haven't seen much of her in recent weeks while a substitute principal has been filling in.

In today's story, Jones -- a parent facilitator and teachers aide who a received a top award for her contributions as a parent just last year -- was apparently told she could no longer speak with her own childrens' teachers without a BTF union representative present. This declaration, construed by Jones and others as an act of retaliation, has led DPCC President Sam Radford to organize a protest at the school on Thursday and call for "whistleblower protection" for parents. 

Supt. Pamela Brown recognizes there are problems here. That's why Harvey Austin School is one of three schools she has singled out for closure. The school is to be "relaunched" in the fall, along with Bennett High School and Martin Luther King School.

Unfortunately, even this closure and reopening process is not going smoothly for School 97. The district issued requests for proposals to either convert the school to a charter school, have it supervised run by an outside educational partnership organization or have the school simply revamped under new management.

But, in providing key school information to interested parties as part of the request for proposals, the district didn't gather the most current data. Instead, it simply pulled information from the NY State Report Card that is nearly two years old.

Back in 2011-12, Harvey Austin only served children from pre-K through sixth grade. But it's added a grade every year since then. It now serves children through grade eight.

You wouldn't know that by reading the proposals for Harvey Austin issued by the district. It lists outdated enrollment information only for pre-K through 6. Administrators cut and pasted the old state data on the proposal forms and sent the packets out. This week, based on observations made by both Radford and The News, the district said it was further clarifying Harvey Austin data in its requests for proposals.

All this seems to be coming rather late for those who had any interest in submitting a proposal to transform and "relaunch" Harvey Austin into high-achieving school. Proposals are still due by Jan. 27, less than two weeks from now. It would seem the deck is stacked against anyone attempting to submit a comprehensive and complete educational proposal for Harvey Austin Elementary -- especially if they're basing their proposals primarily on the information the district chose to provide.

We'll be interested to see who, if anyone, can manage such a feat. 

-- Sandra Tan

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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 |