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Readers respond: What makes schools great

Many thanks to all the School Zone readers who wrote in to tell us what makes their schools great! Responses flowed in from all around: city and suburbs; private, charter and traditional public schools; elementary, middle and high schools. We heard from teachers, aides, assistants, secretaries, social workers, students, principals and parents.

The common theme? People.

The interpersonal relationships in a school trump just about everything you can think of, even if you have the most cutting-edge technology, the strongest curriculum, and the fanciest building, readers say.

We can't include all the responses we got, but here's a sampling:

Como Park Elementary - "Parents are partners in all aspects of our school. We are welcomed and encouraged to participate with the teachers and administration in a variety of ways. Como Park Elementary has an extremely active parent teacher organization. Our school also has an open door policy. If you are concerned, so are they. Together as partners, we are able to have our children excel." - Jocelin Hy, mother of three students at Como Park Elementary in Lancaster

- "Our principal is our fearless leader, a vocal advocate for our children, our families, our staff and our community! ... Her belief in what I do as a social worker and her diligent hard work to get me here full time only augments my sense of purpose, pride in our school, and gratitude to be a part of such a meaningful mission. She has created a true sense of community, and I am energized and excited to be a part of such an amazing team." - Mary Jo Gervase, social worker at Buffalo's Dr. George E. Blackman School 54

- "Staff give of their time after school hours providing club or athletic activities to keep students off the streets, additional academic assistance, and will often make home visits if needed. On weekends staff involve our students in community activities such as plays at local theaters, UB ball games and giving back to the community. Our students and staff have worked with Habitat For Humanity, the Central Terminal and Bob Lanier Center as well as assisting in the Fruit Belt Community freshening up neighborhood gardens." - Lori Hammond, principal, Stanley G. Falk School, Cambridge location (Falk School educates students with special learning, social and emotional needs)

Elmwood Franklin - "You are not able to walk the halls of Elmwood Franklin without knowing everyone that passes by. And the greatest thing about the 'family' community is that it is not just the faculty that knows the students. It is because of this comfort level and this familiarity that the children gain tremendous confidence in everything they do. This is how children should learn. The curriculum at Elmwood Franklin is great to be sure, but, really, it is not all about the curriculum. If you give your children the comfort level of home, while in school, this allows them to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and try again without hesitation." - Donna Muscarella, parent of two children at Elmwood Franklin, Buffalo

- "Our school is the greatest because of the wonderful leadership of our principal, Mrs. Fran Paskowitz. She is a very loving, caring, giving and dedicated person who puts the best interest of all of her students and staff first." - Mary P. Mills, lead secretary, Hoover Elementary School, Ken-Ton

- "I have two children at Nichols (daughter in the upper school and son in the middle school). I think the think that makes the school great is the personal attention each teacher provides to their students. They follow them very closely and make sure they don't fall through the cracks!" - Diane DiTondo, parent, Nichols School in Buffalo

South Buffalo Charter SchoolFar and away, the school we heard about from the most readers was South Buffalo Charter School. Parents, teachers, students, administrators and a teacher assistant wrote in to share their thoughts on the school.

"We understand that success starts at home, continues at home, and ends at home. Because SBCS knows that we are just one component on each student’s path to success, we strive to increase parent and family involvement through events and activities throughout the year," wrote Liz Goss, a teacher at South Buffalo Charter School.

Mundorff note "Some of the highlights and favorites include a Fall Festival in the fall, a Holiday Gala in the winter, and a Family Literacy Night in the spring. Each event centers around both fun, family activities and bringing knowledge and academic support to our families. Throughout the year book fairs, classroom activities, and parent/teacher conferences (3 times a year) are held to bring parents and families into the building. Constant communication exists between parents and staff to ensure that all students are 'on the radar' and working to their highest potential."

A.J. Mundorff, a third-grader, wrote: "I like being a student at S.B.C.S. because it's fun to be here and the teachers care about us."

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |