Champion /ˈCHampēən/: a person who advocates for a cause on behalf of someone else
In 2014, the late Robert G. Wilmers, former Chairman & CEO of M&T Bank, had a vision for change in education in Buffalo. His vision included investing in the development of leaders who would directly impact students in the classroom and lead educational systemic change. Now, 5 years later, Teach For America Buffalo’s network of over 150 leaders is reaching over 10,000 students. TFA Buffalo has grown from 15 corps members to 60 plus corps members in their first and second year of service with over 100 alumni.
This year’s Breakfast of Champions, sponsored by The Delaware North Companies, was held this past Thursday to celebrate Mr. Wilmers along with 200 local champions. A few years ago, this annual gathering of supporters was small enough to be held in the back room at Hardware. TFA Buffalo raises 100% of their budget which goes to recruiting, developing and supporting leaders to teach and lead in Buffalo’s schools, with TFA Buffalo champions making this possible year after year. Over the years, supporters have increased, allowing TFA to increase their outreach in Buffalo including recruiting more leaders and impacting more students. TFA Buffalo champions have seen a need in Buffalo Public Schools, a need to advance excellent, accessible education for all students in our community by recruiting leaders who believe in the unlimited potential of our students and will do whatever it takes to ensure our students achieve their potential. According to Dr. Kriner Cash, Superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools, “TFA has recruited top-notch candidates for us and helped us find strong candidates in identified shortage areas.”
René Jones, Chairman and CEO of M&T Bank, reflected on Mr. Wilmers’ endeavor to unlock the potential of all students in his keynote address. “Bob was a big believer in the philosophy that potential is equally distributed across lines of race and class, but opportunity is not. The circumstances of where a child is born too often predict the opportunities she has in life.” Mr. Wilmers found a natural partner in TFA due to the shared “belief in people, in the importance of leadership and in the unlimited potential of our students.” Mr. Wilmers, like TFA Buffalo’s 200 local champions, “realized that solving the problem of educational inequity will take intervention from many directions — no single solution is sufficient to bring about an equitable and excellent education for all children.” This realization directly led to M&T Bank partnering with Teach for America to launch a chapter in Buffalo.
A guest at the Breakfast of Champions shared “My mother was a special ed teacher for all of her career and my brother has Autism. I have seen firsthand how much of a difference it can make in the lives of these children which school they go to and what resources they have at their disposal. This foundation can change the trajectory of their lives. My brother who was enabled by a great school district now lives and works independently.”
The TFA Buffalo Breakfast of Champions provided a time to celebrate the accomplishments of TFA Buffalo these past 5 years and look forward to where TFA Buffalo is going. Dr. Cash has strongly supported TFA Buffalo and is hoping to create a strategic partnership where corps members are placed in 5 of the lowest performing schools to be a supportive partner as BPS transforms our lowest performing schools into the best in the country. Dr. Cash believes that “Our partnership with TFA has assisted us enormously over these past four years. They have helped us recruit and seek talented and diverse candidates interested in working within our schools. Because of their alternative path to certification for candidates we currently have 47 strong candidates serving in identified shortage areas within our district.” This number will continue to grow in the years to come.
The TFA Buffalo region is the leanest region financially while also touting some of the strongest results. On average, students in TFA led classrooms achieve 1.5 years of academic growth in one school year. Additionally, 85% of corps members stay in Buffalo and their classrooms. This is one of the highest retention rates across TFA regions. TFA Champions are not only advocating for TFA to be here in Buffalo, they are also advocating for all students, regardless of their background, to have access to an excellent and equitable education.
TFA continues to relentlessly pursue One Day when all children have the opportunity to attain excellent education.
Lead image courtesy Teach for America