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District Profile

Partnering with Higher Ed

There are 20 colleges and universities in Buffalo, N.Y., and the school district has a partnership with almost all of them. Buffalo Public Schools has been capitalizing on its proximity to these institutions with a series of partnerships that school and education officials believe can serve as a model for K16 education across the nation.

Raising Graduation Rates

Since he took the helm at the district two years ago, Superintendent James A. Williams has made it his mission to build a vital academic program that brings highly qualified educators from local teaching colleges to the district's schools and produces more high school graduates who go on to college. The best way to make that happen, he says, is to work with colleges.

"District-university partnerships are very important, because we need the university partners to help prepare our students to compete in a global market," says Williams.

Indeed, Buffalo Public Schools has benefited from connections with higher education. Some of the partnerships date back 20 years. They range from informal mentoring sessions to more formal commitments. For example, the district jointly opened a math and science high school with Buffalo State College that allows high school students to take college-level courses. For more than a decade DaVinci High School has operated from the campus of D'Youville College. In another partnership, University at Buffalo (SUNY) chemistry professor Joseph Gardella Jr. runs a science program at the Native American Magnet School that includes mentoring, after-school programs, teacher training, and in-class hands-on science experiments.

A New Joint Venture

The district and the University at Buffalo recently agreed to a new partnership in which the university has formally committed more of its vast resources to the school district. The collaboration is the biggest for the district and different because the superintendent and university president, John B. Simpson, have agreed to start their joint venture from the ground up.

Some projects planned include a comprehensive assessment of the district's reform programs, a project to improve mentoring opportunities for students and teachers, and an entrepreneurship high school focused on preparing students to become business owners who can help stimulate the Buffalo economy. Niagara University, Erie Community College, and Buffalo State College will also be involved with the new high school.

Making the K16 Link

The university will also expand some existing programs, such as the science program at Native American Magnet School, to include 20 more teachers. Gardella's science program will also be expanded to a math, science, and technology school for grades 6-12 as well as to earlier elementary grades in the magnet school. The program is funded by a $485,000 two-year grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation.

An office to coordinate the university's K16 education efforts has been created. The district hired a liaison, Mara Huber, who splits her time between the school district and the university's School of Education. Huber's main role is to help the school district reach out more to the higher-education partners and to drive the relationships based on the district's needs.

A National Model

Simpson and Williams both hope the partnership becomes a national model for university collaboration.

"The reality is that a high school diploma is no longer enough to succeed in today's economy, and we need to ensure that every public school graduate is prepared for advanced study," says Simpson. "We need a strong educational pipeline that ensures students' progress from preschool through postgraduate education."

He adds, "As a public research university, we have a responsibility to see to it that every student has access to the high-quality education that will prepare them for advanced study and create a solid foundation for future success."

Lucille Renwick is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.