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Where We’ve Been & Where We’re Headed In Buffalo

A message from TFA Buffalo's Executive Director.

A woman with dark, curled hair wearing a matching black top and blazer with a shimmery statement necklace.

By Kali Dickinson

July 21, 2021

Two years ago, I had the pleasure of returning to my hometown and stepping into the role as Executive Director of Teach For America Buffalo. For me, joining the region was a return to my roots, the city that raised me, and the place where I first learned to navigate the world after spending several years away.

From serving as a corps member in Jacksonville, to joining the National Admissions Team, and leading the Houston Institute, each experience served as preparation for my return home and contributions to leading educational equity in a system that can be unfair to some. 

It fills me with immense pride knowing the work Teach For America Buffalo has been able to do since 2014 in furthering opportunities for the students of Buffalo. Nearly 130 new teachers have been placed in the city's most high needs areas, made names for themselves and TFA, and have extended their reach to students attending over 50 Buffalo public and charter schools. Staff members, our corps members, and our alumni have done the hard work, serving as mentors, coaches, and advocates for the thousands of students within our community. 

Since stepping into the role as ED in 2019, I’ve led the region to carry on the work accomplished by those before me in supporting corps members as they foster their skill sets in pursuit of educational equity. But now, 7 years after our founding, I’m seeing an incredible opportunity to shift our focus to support those very same corps members to expand their leadership to impact change for our students right here in Buffalo. 

I see a role that TFA Buffalo can play to increase the impact of these corps members who are now alumni of the program, who have taught and are currently teaching and serving our students, to expand and support opportunities to lead in the work to ensure our students have the opportunity to attain an excellent education along so many community members who have been working for change for our students in Buffalo.

“As I think about how we can accelerate our impact with students and schools and further empower leaders committed to expanding educational opportunities, it is required that we do more with our alumni and work differently than we have before.”

Kali Dickinson

Executive Director, TFA Buffalo

Jacksonville & Central Florida Corps Member 2009

The students and families of Buffalo have had to navigate unprecedented challenges over the past 18 months and thus, our alumni educators have had to as well. Buffalo alumni such as Lyndian Royes ‘18 became Director of Operations at a local school and guided families through transitioning to virtual learning and the eventual reopening of classrooms this past February. Miriam Kagan ‘18 found creative ways to communicate with parents to ensure they knew how to support their children at home and 2019 Alums Edar Liu, Joyce Yan, and Ian Frey offered a creative outlet for students to get connected at McKinley High School by way of a Chess Club. 

In this moment, we are following the lead of our educators in taking the opportunity - the obligation - to evolve as an organization so we can best meet the emerging needs of our students, their families, and the educators of Buffalo. Evolving will allow us to leverage the talent we currently have in new ways and as a result of this, we will be taking a pause on bringing in a 2021 cohort of corps members. 

The Work Ahead:

Over the next decade, our work will be guided by a bold goal Teach For America has set for our organization: “By the year 2030, twice as many children in communities where we work will reach key educational milestones indicating they are on a path to economic mobility and co-creating a future filled with possibility.” 

Two milestones we will focus on in particular are 3rd grade reading and 8th grade math proficiency rates which currently stand at 23% and 17%. By 2030, we expect to see these rates double to 46% reading proficiency and 34% math proficiency. 

In partnership with local organizations, the Buffalo Public School district, our charter partners, and educators working here, we believe we will meet these milestones by increasing our investment in our veteran educators and expanding avenues for them to amplify their impact. 

For the past few months, we have taken a step back to meet with alumni, hear from our community, and lean on those who understand the direction the education sector is headed in. As we deepen our alumni work, our initiatives include:

  • Developing School Leadership Pipelines - Fall 2022 we will welcome our first cohort of aspiring school leaders who, under the guidance of our partners, will gain the experience, know-how, and certification to take on roles as principals, content leads, peer-mentors within local public and charter schools.
  • Professional Learning Communities - During their corps years, our corps members are part of a committed community they can turn to and collaborate with as they build themselves as strong practitioners. This year we will expand this practice by offering a three track series for the Buffalo Educator community, which includes our alumni and  traditionally trained teachers, to come together throughout the year and expand their knowledge in Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, Social Emotional Learning, and Best Teaching Practices.
  • A Pathway to Buffalo - We have about 60,000 alums in our Teach For America network. Many of those Alums have connections to Buffalo and as such we want to ensure those looking to make the Queen City their home, have a reciprocity pathway to do so.

The next chapter of Teach For America Buffalo remains very much committed to the students of Buffalo - students whose shoes I once walked in and know all too well. But, in order to truly see educational equity attained, we must work more closely with our district, partners, and local educators so that this next decade is transformational, and the current barriers are finally knocked down and we never go back to a system where students are left out and left behind.