Kriner Cash tells a story of a mother who recently reached out to say her child was accepted into one of the best charter schools in the city, but the family decided to decline. They’re happy right where they are in the Buffalo Public Schools.
“For me,” said Cash, the district’s superintendent, “that’s a breakthrough.”
It’s just a small example in a large, complex district of 30,000 kids, but it’s another small sign Cash uses to show that the long-troubled school system is headed in the right direction.
In fact, the number of city schools considered to be in good standing by the state has more than doubled to 37 over the past three years, while the number of those in jeopardy of being shut down has dropped from 25 to three. Outside Buffalo, people have noticed, too. Cash was one of the finalists last fall for Urban Superintendent of the Year, the top award among leaders in urban education that’s given out by the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of 70 of the nation’s large school districts.
Cincinnati-bred and Princeton-educated, Cash came to Buffalo in 2015 after stops in Martha’s Vineyard, Miami and Memphis, providing direction and stability in a district where the superintendent’s office has been a revolving door.
He set high expectations and laid out for parents a clear, multipronged approach for reform. That included smaller class sizes in the early grades, more options in the high schools to give kids a better chance to graduate and opening schools after hours and on weekends to provide additional services for the neediest students and their families.
It’s no magic formula, Cash says, just a lot of hard work in the trenches by a lot of people across the system.
“We have to stay persistent – never let up,” Cash said. “In a large organization like this with so many challenges, we have to be at our peak performance all the time.”
Cash, who turned 64 this month, is under contract until 2020, but he has expressed interest in sticking around Buffalo for a couple more years to help the district find a successor and ensure it stays on the right path.
After all, he said, the district’s progress is fragile and there’s still much work to be done.
But for now, Cash continues to take it school by school, classroom by classroom.