Historic Partnership Will Focus on Preparing Buffalo Public Schools Students for the 21st Century

By Arthur Page

Release Date: December 19, 2006

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Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown (left), UB President John B. Simpson and Buffalo Schools Superintendent James Williams have announced a new partnership to prepare students to be successful in the 21st century.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo and the Buffalo Public Schools today announced a new partnership that will bring the university's multidisciplinary expertise to bear on improving outcomes for the more than 36,000 students in the city's public schools.

In announcing the partnership, UB President John B. Simpson and Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent James A. Williams both noted its potential to become a national model for university collaboration on public school improvement aimed at preparing students to be successful in the 21st century. They were joined by Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown at a news conference in UB's New York State Center for Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.

Williams and Simpson stressed that the partnership represents a high-level commitment on the part of both the Buffalo Public Schools and UB to work together to provide students at all grade levels with a high-quality education that prepares them for subsequent grade levels and creates a solid foundation for advanced study. The ultimate goal is to increase dramatically the number of Buffalo public-schools students who graduate from high school interested in -- and ready for -- attending college and prepared to be successful in jobs in the 21st century.

Simpson said that in conjunction with the partnership, UB will expand its existing programs with the city's public schools, drawing on faculty members university-wide to support students, teachers and administrators in three broad categories: research, practice and policy. While the majority of the university's programs with Buffalo's schools will continue to be focused through its Graduate School of Education, the new partnership signals that the work is a priority of the entire university. Simpson said his office is beginning the search for a special assistant to the president for pre-K through 16 education.

"This is a moment that I have been looking forward to since arriving in Buffalo," Simpson said. "One of my highest personal priorities was to find ways that UB could become more engaged in supporting our local schools. Superintendent Williams has put forth a strategic plan for the Buffalo Public Schools and UB looks forward to supporting him and the Academic Achievement Plan." During his

inaugural speech in 2004, Simpson pledged that UB would help improve access to higher education for all students and to "close achievement gaps" for students across New York State.

Simpson told the news conference attendees that major public research universities like UB "are uniquely positioned to address critical social issues like public education, and this opportunity carries with it the responsibility to lead the way in the development of a seamless education system -- an education 'pipeline' -- that directly channels students' progress from pre-school through post-graduate instruction.

"A high school diploma is no longer sufficient to succeed in today's economy," he added. "More and more careers require postsecondary education and a range of skills that include financial, technological and cross-cultural literacy."

Williams said, "I commend UB for recognizing the challenges we face in urban education and working to develop solutions that will prepare our students to succeed.

"Nationally, only 70 percent of all students in public high schools graduate, and only 32 percent of all students leave high school qualified to attend four-year colleges, according to the U.S. Department of Education. If our children are going to prosper, we need to reverse this trend."

"I applaud the University at Buffalo for taking an active role in improving educational opportunities for our children," said Mayor Brown. "This partnership will help position the City of Buffalo to compete in the global economy, particularly in the areas of life sciences, engineering, technology and other emerging industries. I am proud to be a part of this extraordinary initiative."

As an example of the kind of efforts between UB and the Buffalo Public Schools that the partnership will encourage, Simpson cited a program begun last year by Joseph A. Gardella, Jr., UB chemistry professor, and a team of UB collaborators. They work with teachers at the middle-school level at Buffalo's Native American Magnet School to improve the teaching of science and math through development of classroom materials and after-school programs that align with learning standards and draw from contemporary, multidisciplinary approaches.

Simpson announced at the news conference that a two-year, $485,000 grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation will expand the program to include 20 more teachers, among them fourth- through sixth-grade teachers at the Native American Magnet School, as well as teachers at the Math Science Technology Preparatory School at Seneca. Year-round institutes will immerse participants in interdisciplinary research in several areas identified as strengths by the UB 2020 strategic plan.

Praising the Oishei Foundation's support of the program, he stressed that community backing and collaboration will be crucial to the success of the new partnership.

Some of the specific projects that will be a part of the collaboration include a comprehensive research study that will evaluate Buffalo Public Schools programs; mentoring opportunities for students

and teachers; and development of an Entrepreneurship High School that will prepare students to become business owners who can help stimulate the Buffalo economy.

On the part of UB, Simpson said, the partnership will cross traditional administrative and disciplinary boundaries.

"For instance," he added, "you might see early childhood experts sharing the latest insights on cognitive development, addiction researchers working to break generational cycles of dependence and laboratory scientists demonstrating novel techniques and exciting discoveries."

Simpson noted the appropriateness of announcing the partnership in the Center of Excellence, which was envisioned and built as a collaborative, multidisciplinary space to bring together researchers and educators from across many fields, all of them pursuing new biomedical knowledge. "We see this partnership with its focus on improving educational outcomes working in the very same way," he added.

Over the past 18 months, the Buffalo Public Schools have introduced a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum based on a three-year academic achievement plan. Since putting the plan in place, the district has implemented a highly successful, mandatory summer school program for Pre-K-2 students in 28 schools that has enabled students to proceed to the next grade at benchmark. They have introduced extended learning time for 7th and 8th grade students, established AP courses in every high school, and given all 9th graders the PSAT to gauge college-readiness. For the first time since the 1990s, the district has seen enrollment stabilize with signs of significant gains to come.

"As we continue to make systemic changes, we find more and more issues to be addressed," Williams said. "In addition to improving the quality and rigor of K-12 education, we must examine public policy and ensure that our laws are appropriate and supportive. We also need to examine graduation requirements, for both K-12 and higher-education programs that prepare teachers and principals for certification. By aligning our standards and expectations for student success, we can work together to achieve the most important goal -- to do what's best for our children."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York.