Author: Schyler Norton
Charters are a complex subject and can be polarizing, but let’s take a moment to put that aside and to appreciate a place that is providing a good education for children. West Buffalo Charter School was chartered in March of 2010. The school opened its doors in August of 2012 as Kindergarten to second grade and then added third grade in 2013, and fourth grade in 2014. In November of 2015 the school applied to add a middle school, which was approved in February of 2016.
This past August they opened to 5th graders and next year they are adding sixth grade. As of today there are 350 students at the school and they are adding 50 students per year. There are currently three sections of each grade capped at 20 students per section, and from fifth grade on there are two sections of 25 students each. By not having three sections of older grades, West Buffalo Charter does not have to bring in outside kids to make up for the potential loss of students at the 5th grade level.
The school was originally only built as an elementary school so they needed to expand for their new middle school. The first phase of the expansion is going on right now, entirely self financed – eight new classrooms and additional P.E space.
West Buffalo Charter found their location at the corner of Lafayette and Barton in 2012. They bought the building from EDC (Ellicott Development Corp.) for 1.5 million and EDC holds the mortgage. EDC then developed the building, converting it from an apartment building to a school, and covered the 3 million dollar cost of doing so. They then took that total development cost and converted into a lease, so West Buffalo Charter makes two payments to EDC each month.
West Buffalo Charter anticipates refinancing those two debts by July 2017, when they get outside financing for the new middle school expansion project, which is scheduled to begin in July 2017 and be completed by August 2018. The bank will repackage the original EDC debt with the new construction debt into one new finance package. At that time, they will no longer be connected to EDC. This is almost identical to the path taken by Tapestry Charter School. West Buffalo is just doing it sooner, only 5 years after opening.
The school focuses a lot on literacy – they follow Common Core, but they also spend a lot of time on the fundamentals of reading. With one third of students being ENL (English as a new language), reading and proficiency is important to develop critical language skills. West Buffalo Charter seems to be doing well so far because many of their students have tested out of ENL status.
There are 22 different languages spoken in the homes of the students present at the school, with the two most reported being Burmese and Karen.
The school is very unique, according to the HLQ (Home Language Questionnaire). There are 22 different languages spoken in the homes of the students present at the school, with the two most reported being Burmese and Karen. The HLQ is required as part of NYS Ed. Law Part 154 Regulations. It requires schools to screen students when they first enroll to make sure they are getting the required extra language supports should they need it. Public schools (which include charters) are mandated to provide additional language support to students who are not native English speakers until they meet a certain level of English proficiency. West Buffalo Charter has a very high percentage of students living in poverty, roughly 88%. They are giving their children a good education, and it shows. Last year the third grade scored #1 in math on the NYS assessments out of all Buffalo Public and Charter schools. Grade 3 ranked 2nd in Charters and 4th overall in ELA. Grade 4 ranked 5th in Charters and 10th overall in both math and ELA. Considering their demographics, those are impressive rankings.
West Buffalo Charter gets a lot of neighborhood support, because they are thankful for the improvements that the school has brought to the area. A muralist from the neighborhood did a mural in the school and the playground at the school can be used by all local children.
West Buffalo Charter is trying to continue being a positive influence on the community. They do not run their own after school programs, but instead reach out to community partners to come in and run their own programs. For example, a woman from the West Side Bazaar comes in to teach macramé which the students really enjoy.
West Buffalo Charter hopes that once their gym is built they will be able to foster more relationships like that and provide other services for the students and local community. They are also trying to bring in more teachers of color to more closely resemble the cultural makeup of the student body. West Buffalo Charter is currently hosting interns from Houghton Buffalo, a two year program for immigrants, which provides necessary support beyond academic aid. The interns will be able to experience what happens in a school beyond the education aspect. West Buffalo Charter is also looking to expand to Pre-K, but has not applied yet since the school won’t have the room until the first phase of the expansion is finished.
Community partnerships and support are important, and West Buffalo Charter School knows that. They will be hosting an informal community informational session on Wednesday, February 15th at the school to update the neighbors on the next construction phase.
Lead image: West Buffalo Charter