In Buffalo, a culture shift around Advanced Placement courses
When Sabatino Cimato was a principal in the Buffalo Public Schools a few years ago, if he wanted to offer an Advanced Placement course it was on him to find resources, hire a teacher, and arrange training.
Now, school leaders receive extensive support from the district as part of a system-wide focus on improving access for all students to take AP courses. It’s all to work toward Superintendent Kriner Cash’s goal that every high school will offer at least five AP, IB, or dual credit courses.
“There’s been a definite shift in mindset in this district,” said Cimato, now the district’s associate superintendent of school leadership.
In 2018-19, the district has nearly doubled the total number of AP enrollments from 2016-17. The total number of Black student enrollment in AP courses has increased by 80% and for Latinx students it’s increased by 148%.
The district has also expanded the variety of advanced courses it offers. At one time, school offerings were heavy in English courses. The district is now adding more AP math and science, as well as courses aligned to its career pathways programs such as computer science.
“They’re emerging fields and we wanted our students to have experience in them,” said Anne Botticelli, the district’s chief academic officer.
The district also expanded its AP arts offerings, thinking specifically about making advanced coursework accessible to Buffalo’s sizeable population of English Language Learners who may want the opportunity to experience more rigorous courses even as they’re becoming more comfortable with the language.
In the past few years, the district has trained more than 250 teachers to teach AP courses, creating a pool that principals can tap into for hiring when needs and opportunities arise. The last time the district offered system-wide training available to all teachers was more than eight years ago.
“We knew that we wanted to create a pool of teachers,” Botticelli said. “It gives us an opportunity to expand as we’re ready.”
Teachers also have access to dedicated staff members who support schools and principals as they implement the new AP offerings.
The district is also working with Equal Opportunity Schools, an organization committed to increasing enrollment in AP courses, particularly among historically under-served populations. Through the partnership with EOS, participating schools all have an equity team in the building that help identify students who might otherwise be overlooked.
As the district continues to focus on advanced coursework, its next step will be to look at what more they can offer at the middle school level to put students on a pathway to advanced courses in high school.
“We’re happy to see our increase, but there’s always more that can be done,” Botticelli said.