Buffalo Schools First in State to Hire Distinguished Educator

August 22, 2012 Updated Aug 22, 2012 at 11:20 PM EDT

By John Borsa

August 22, 2012 Updated Aug 22, 2012 at 11:20 PM EDT

BUFFALO, NY (WBKW) - Albany is forcing Buffalo Public Schools to clean up its act.

After years of failing test scores, deplorable graduation rates and skyrocketing attendance problems, the New York State Education Department is sending someone to the Queen City to keep an eye on things and make improvements.

Judy Elliott is the first Distinguished Educator to be hired by a New York State school district.

State law allows the education department to force a school district to hire a Distinguished Educator if it fails to improve after four years.

Elliott has one daunting goal.

"Help create a plan with the district in partnership with the superintendent to improve and accelerate the improvement of students in Buffalo Public Schools," she said in her first meeting with reporters Wednesday evening.

Elliott will be paid $190 per hour for her services plus $250 per day for expenses. She is required to be in Buffalo 25 days between now and the end of the year.

There is no limit on how many hours she puts in during her one year contract.

A grant will cover some or most of the tab, but school board officials still are not sure how they will cover the entire bill.

"No I have no idea exactly how the breakdown will occur," said school board member Ralph Hernandez, "but I can tell you one thing - we have the money."

Money that would usually go to pay for teachers and administrators.

"Which is not to say she not deserving of the money. We're going to work -- this is the first time this has happened in the State of New York," Hernandez said.

The Distinguished Educator's main role is to report to the commissioner and provide oversight by analyzing data and finding ways to improve schools.

"Multiple measures," Elliott said, "Attendance, suspension, expulsion, how students are placed, how students are referred for special education. It's all of the systems working that go on in a district is what I'm looking at right now."

How much power will Elliott have? She cannot make day-to-day decisions, but if the school board fails to follow her recommendations and cannot provide a compelling reason to the education commissioner, Albany could force the school board to adopt Elliott's policies.

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