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What's your school's attendance rate?

This week, we bring you a database with attendance rates from 2007, 2008 and 2009 for every traditional public and charter school in Western New York. This is the most recent data available from the state.

For a complete explanation of the data, scroll down below the database. 

As always, to make multiple selections, hold down the control key (PC) or the shift key (Mac).To do a new search, click here. You can sort by various columns by clicking on each column heading.

Online Database by Caspio
Click here to load this Caspio Online Database.

Here's State Ed's definition of these numbers: "Annual attendance rate is determined by dividing the school’s total actual attendance by the total possible attendance for a school year. A school’s actual attendance is the sum of the number of students in attendance on each day the school was open during the school year. Possible attendance is the sum of the number of enrolled students who should have been in attendance on each day the school was open during the school year."

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

Buffalo parents speak out on district controlling information and race issues

Ever since I started covering this beat nearly a year ago, I've been fortunate to get lots of great input from readers.

The past few weeks, though, the volume of e-mails has skyrocketed! It's great to hear from so many people. I do read every e-mail, and I truly appreciate each one. Keep them coming!

Different e-mails strike me as important for different reasons. Some offer tidbits of information I hadn't known before. Some offer tips for me to check on as possible story leads. Some challenge one aspect or another of my reporting, which always helps me reflect better on my work. And some offer insights or perspectives that help me think about things in a different way.

The two that I want to share with you today both come from parents in the Buffalo Public Schools.

(These parents gave me permission to post their e-mails on the condition that I not use their names. So I also removed any information that I thought might identify them.)

The first e-mail comes in response to my blog post this week about the district's response to my FOIL request for the resumes of exempt employees:

I am a mother of [number of] children who are in the BPS system and have been a PTO board member for the past [number of] years. 

I can tell you that the district's actions regarding giving information to you or anyone else is typical.  They are nothing but bullies when it comes to parents, and it appears they are trying to do the same with you. 

What information the PTO posts on our own PTO Parent Information Board at [one of my children's] elementary school is filtered. 

We are told that certain items (we have tried posting your recent articles) are NOT to be posted and if parents want information they can read the News.  So it is no surprise they are trying to withhold information and giving you the runaround. 

I have always said that if parents knew a third of what REALLY GOES ON they would have a coronary. I just want to say THANK YOU on behalf of the parents who struggle to maneuver and function in a district so full of arrogance, deceit, and corruption.

This e-mail comes in response to a blog post about the racial composition of Buffalo schools:

I am a parent of a student at Lorraine Elementary, and I wanted to commend you on calling Ralph Hernandez out. The school is not integrated. It is anything but.

We started our first year at Lorraine in September, and since early on I noticed how many more "white" students there were than any other race combined.  I guess I should have done my homework on it before choosing this school, but I figured that considering it is a "choice" school that it would be well mixed.... NOT!!!

In fact, it seems that even the staff is primarily white. I also want to point out that before [my son] went to Lorraine he was in a school that was in my opinion relatively mixed, and he did very well academically, socially, and well, just in general.

Now fast-forward to this year and his grades have plummeted, he is a social outcast, and is miserable. The staff is very hard to talk to,  and have done absolutely nothing to make him feel welcome even though I have voiced my concerns. I believe that it is due to his race; he is a dark Hispanic and Italian mix, and I think he feels like he doesn't fit in. 

I am not e-mailing you to bash the school, and if you have no response - I understand,  but when I read the article a few weeks ago about the Discovery School being primarily white, and now this article, I felt the need to say something. 

It is not fair that they are all white. I don't think it is a coincidence either. Considering that they are "lottery based" and "top performing," shouldn't they be highly desirable to any parent looking for a school? 

So thank you for calling Ralph Hernandez out. I saw him not too long ago at Lorraine for an assembly; he had to have noticed all the peach faces, and to disagree that the system isn't flawed is outrageous. When 67% of a school is one race it takes its toll on its students. I know it has on my son, and we are looking for a new school - maybe we will get lucky and find one that is a high performing school and  a mixed school. I don't think it is too much to ask.

(Note to readers: I have since spoken with Hernandez about the racial distribution of students in city schools, and he told me he spent some time looking through the database I posted with those breakdowns. He was not only surprised by the actual numbers, but is now quite concerned about the uneven distribution in many schools.)

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

District withholds info from its own board members

I'm not the only person trying to get information about the 28 exempt administrators in the Buffalo Public Schools.

So are Board of Education members.

And they're having only marginally better luck than I am.

A few weeks ago, Mary Ruth Kapsiak asked district officials to provide her with information indicating what certification each of those exempt employee holds.

Kapsiak "This has been almost a month now, and I still haven't gotten what I requested. I just don't know why people aren't giving me what I wanted," she told me on Tuesday. "I'm not a happy camper right now."

After initially ignoring her request, the administration eventually gave the board the job posting for each exempt position, and expected Kapsiak to be satisfied with that.

She was flabbergasted.

A job posting indicates what experience and certifications someone is supposed to have; she wants to know what certifications these people actually have. There's a difference.

Within the past week or so, the district finally started providing her with some information on certifications -- but that information has been incomplete.

"I don't have any information on one individual, and I have incomplete information on several," she told me Tuesday afternoon. "I guess each individual gave what they wanted me to have."

The same day, Ralph Hernandez told me he's trying to have the district make each exempt employee's file available to board members, so that they can get answers to whatever questions they might have. As of Tuesday afternoon, he still hadn't been able to get the district to agree to that.

Both board members mentioned that they'd seen my story about the district dragging its feet on releasing those administrators' resumes to me. (Case law in New York has established that those resumes are a matter of public record.)

"I don't know why the big secret, because the information should be readily available to a board member and to you," Kapsiak said.

Hernandez told me he's planning to introduce a resolution that would compel the district to comply with the Freedom of Information Law in granting information requests.

It seems kind of amazing that administrators would have to be specifically directed to follow the law. But apparently in Buffalo, that's what it takes.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

District to News: You can have that info -- but only on our terms

Superintendent James A. Williams doesn't seem to care much about following the rules.

Maybe that's cool when you're 15 years old, but when you're a grown man in charge of a $945 million budget and 35,000 students -- well, not so much.

Remember when Williams refused to move three principals -- and in the process, jeopardized $42 million for the district?

James Williams More recently, we had a story about the fact that he's been letting administrators collect private stipends for doing work on the Leadership Academy on district time.

And today's story has Williams and his administration thumbing their noses at a state law that guarantees the public -- you, in other words -- access to information.

First, a little background. You might remember the story I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the fact that Williams has more than doubled the number of non-union City Hall administrators. Last week, I submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, asking for a copy of those administrators' resumes. The public has a right to know whether those people are qualified for the jobs they were appointed to.

You'd think that if they are, in fact, qualified for those jobs, Williams would be in a hurry to prove that.

So I thought it might be a good sign when, the day after I filed that FOIL request, I got a phone call from Elena Cala, the district's public relations person. She wanted me to come down to City Hall at 2:15 p.m. that day. She said she was arranging for me to meet with all 28 of those exempt administrators, in small groups. They would each have their resume in hand, and I could ask anything I wanted, she said.

Sound like a good deal?

Like I said, I was initially encouraged. Generally, when I file a FOIL request with the district, they tell me I'm going to have to wait a month to get the information I asked for. So this seemed like tremendous progress.

Williams and Cala Williams actually wanted me to have the information promptly, I thought.

Well, I told Cala that I appreciated the offer to rush down to City Hall, but I was tied up working on two other stories that were demanding all my time the rest of the week.

Besides that, it did not make any sense to hand me 28 resumes on the spot and expect me to come up with questions instantly. The whole point is that I need a decent amount of time to go through each resume line by line, do a bunch of research, and figure out where each person's resume does not seem to match their job requirements.

That's impossible to do on the spot.

I told Cala I would be happy to meet with the administrators, but on Monday, and after the district sent me the resumes on Thursday or Friday. That would give me time to do the research necessary.

She told me she would try to arrange that and call me back.

You know the rest of the story. The district is willing to give the resumes only if I agree to be given those resumes on the spot, in group interviews with the administrators.

As far as the district is concerned, that's a good deal.

Brendan Kelleher, the district's attorney, wrote in an e-mail to me: "The district offered the News the opportunity to meet with exempt employees to discuss their qualifications and resumes, but the News declined that opportunity. In light of the News' desire not to meet with the employees and receive their resumes, the district will respond to the News' most recent request for the employees' resumes in accordance with the law."

The district is framing this as though I'm refusing to meet with administrators. I'm not.

I would love to meet with the administrators -- after I have time to review the resumes and do adequate research.

But it seems as though Williams has an aversion to letting people adequately prepare for meetings.

I've been told by board members that the superintendent has a tendency to drop information in their laps on a Wednesday night, then expect them to make a decision on it on the spot.

That makes it pretty hard to make informed decisions, don't you think?

Now, back to this matter of my FOIL request.

The district is legally required to provide me with the requested information within five business days, unless for some reason they need more time to prepare the information. In this case, we know for a fact that the information is ready.

In other words, the district is willfully violating the law.

And about this business of the district trying to dictate the terms of the release of the resumes?

The state law does not allow the district to attach strings to the release of information. Saying I can have the information, but only if I agree to the district's terms, is simply not within the bounds of the law.

There's plenty more to be said about the many ways Williams and his administration have withheld information and tried to control how I do my job, but that will have to wait for another day.

In the meantime, for those of you who are still hungry for more, here's my entire e-mail exchange with Cala, verbatim. (I took the liberty of bolding the most salient points.)

11:46 a.m. Thursday:

Hi Elena,

Thanks for touching base yesterday.

Will you be faxing or e-mailing those resumes over later today, then?

- Mary

12:29 p.m. Thursday:

Mary,

On Monday you can start with your preliminary questions, and you can always check back when you study up on the resumes which we will give you that day.

E

12:32 p.m. Thursday:

Can you please clarify: When are you wanting me to come on Monday to get the resumes?

- Mary

12:39 p.m. Thursday:

You were invited to come and interview exempt employees on Monday (time still to be negotiated) and to collect their resumes.  Dr. Oladele's office will set up the time. 

I believe the idea is to have you come to a few round-table meetings with the exempts.  Of course, you will still get your FOIL request in the end, but we thought we could help you out before that by having these meetings and handing you our resumes.

Let me know if you're interested.

1 p.m. Thursday:

Elena,

When you and I spoke yesterday, what we agreed on was that the resumes I FOILed for would be provided to me today or tomorrow, so that I would have the weekend to review them. And then I would come in on Monday with appropriate questions prepared.

It is going to take me a significant amount of time to read through all 28 resumes and do the appropriate research to determine what I need to ask of whom. I’m sure you understand that.

If you would like me to come in person to pick up the resumes, I would be happy to do that. Based on our conversation yesterday, I understand that those resumes are ready, as you asked me to come in yesterday to get them.

Please let me know when I can pick them up and from which office.

Thank you.

- Mary

1:17 p.m. Thursday:

Mary,

You must have misunderstood. I did not say you could come and get the resumes; I said Dr. Oladele would pull together a group of people and their resumes if you wanted to come in and meet.

I understood your request for the resumes ahead of time as a matter of convenience for you, however, there was no agreement to that.  The offer is for you to come in for a meeting with exempt employees on Monday and collect their resumes then.  Again, there will be a series of these meetings to get through all 28 employees.

As I stated before, aside from your FOIL request; we thought that you might appreciate meeting with the employees face to face and receiving their resumes.

Let me know if you're interested.

Elena

1:25 p.m. Thursday:

Elena,

No, thank you.

What I want right now are the resumes.

Please let me know when I can pick them up.

- Mary

2:18 p.m. Thursday:

Okay, Mary.

We sincerely thought you might like to meet up front, and were prepared to give you immediate answers to any questions you might have as well as follow up.

The offer still stands, should you change your mind.

2:21 p.m. Thursday:

Thank you.

When and where may I pick up the resumes?

- Mary

2:33 p.m.:

Your FOIL is being processed.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

A kinder, gentler James Williams?

By many accounts, the often bombastic Superintendent James Williams has been making quite an effort lately to control his temper in public.

Several people have mentioned to me -- in independent and unrelated conversations over the past few weeks -- that he's been much nicer to them than he usually is.

One person, recalling a recent encounter they'd had with the superintendent in a group setting, said: "I thought it was quite a remarkable turnaround. He's never treated me respectfully before, and he did. That was astonishing."

(At this point, I should note that I've also heard contrary reports regarding Williams' treatment of specific individuals in one-on-one encounters. But many people have said that in public meetings and in group settings, he has been uncharacteristically respectful. I invite you to e-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com and share your personal stories about your interactions with Williams.)

At last night's board meeting, a very active parent, Dorian Gaskin -- upset about Williams' plan to close School 61 and relocate or close Campus West -- told the superintendent: "I believe you are a liar, and I don't believe the truth is anywhere in you."

I was not at the meeting, but several people who were there told me that Williams walked out of the meeting at that point and stayed out of the room for more than 20 minutes, apparently to calm down.

We don't know how Williams spent his time when he walked out of the board meeting, but those who were there say he seemed generally in control of his temper when he returned.

Here's the clip from Channel 4, which includes Gaskin's comments that led the superintendent to take a time out:

Superintendent storms out of board meeting: wivb.com

 

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

What's your school's suspension rate?

This week's school database provides suspension rates from 2007, 2008 and 2009 for every traditional public and charter school in Western New York.

(Although the 2009 data is a year and a half old at this point, it is the most recent available from the state.)

The percent given for each school, for each year, reflects the percentage of the student body who got suspended in that year. Whether a student was suspended once or 12 times, he or she is counted as one person. So if a school has 400 students, and 100 of them were suspended (each at least once) that year, then that school's suspension rate would be 25 percent.

As always, to make multiple selections, hold down the control key (PC) or the shift key (Mac).To do a new search, click here.

Online Database by Caspio
Click here to load this Caspio Online Database.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

Has desegregation worked in Buffalo?

Last week, I asked for reader input, looking for a racial breakdown of Buffalo schools from the 1970s, when the desegregation lawsuit was born.

My plea was answered.

A reader sent me a copy of a study on Buffalo's desegregation efforts; the study noted that back in 1972, when legal papers were initially filed, there were 96 schools in the city, serving 61,000 students. (Today, there are 71 traditional public and charter schools, serving about two-thirds as many students.)

In 1972, 70 percent of Buffalo's schools were considered segregated -- defined as being "over 80 percent minority or majority."

(Before we go any further, consider the fact that the district's overall racial composition has shifted significantly. Whereas in 1972, whites accounted for 54 percent of the students, today, whites account for 23 percent of the students. Blacks have become the majority race in city schools, now accounting for 56 percent of the students.)

Let's go back to that definition of segregated: "over 80 percent minority or majority." Now that black students constitute the majority race in city schools, let's take that into account. Today, 44 percent of the schools in the city meet that criteria. That compares to 70 percent in 1972.

(I realize that's not necessarily an apples to apples comparison. Although blacks are now the majority in the district, they are not the majority group in society at large, so the dynamics are different.)

Now you have some historical comparison.

And you also have the full database of the racial composition of every school in Buffalo, as well as Western New York.

You have these numbers; here's your chance to use them to create a somewhat informed opinion.

So you tell me:

 

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

Where do Buffalo teachers live?

The Buffalo Board of Ed is expected to vote soon on whether to rescind the residency rule requiring most district employees to live in the City of Buffalo. (Those hired before the rule was imposed are exempt, as are those working in "high-need" areas such as special education.)

There's been plenty of debate on this issue the past few months.

Those who advocate keeping the residency rule argue that neighborhoods are stronger when teachers live in them.

Those who advocate repealing the residency rule argue that the district would have more job applicants to choose from if they weren't required to live in the city.

Each side has offered plenty of passion, but not much in the way of facts.

It seems that if we really want to know how any change might affect the district, it would make sense to see what the current situation is.

In other words, where do Buffalo teachers live now?

I looked at the most recent district payroll I have that lists the ZIP code for every employee. (If either the Buffalo Teachers Federation or the district would like to provide me with the most current information they have, I would be happy to post that.)

From the payroll I have, I pulled out just the teachers, school psychologists, social workers, etc. -- those people who have daily contact with students.

Here are the top 25 ZIP codes where these individuals live:

ZIP Area Teachers
14216 Parkside 419
14214 Central Park/Parkside 273
14220 South Buffalo 234
14215 Bailey/Kensington 231
14221 Williamsville 231
14222 Delaware District 183
14226 Snyder 155
14213 West Side 138
14223 Town of Tonawanda 133
14224 West Seneca 133
14217 Kenmore 119
14150 Tonawanda 115
14075 Hamburg 101
14127 Orchard Park 90
14086 Lancaster 78
14201 Lower West Side 76
14209 Main Street (North to Delavan) 75
14207 Riverside 74
14228 Amherst 66
14206 Lovejoy/Kaisertown 65
14051 East Amherst 63
14120 North Tonawanda 63
14208 Cold Spring 63
14211 Genesee Street 60
14072 Grand Island 59

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

Cast your vote for live chat guests

In October, the School Zone blog pioneered a path for live chats at The Buffalo News by inviting newsmakers in to participate.

Phil Rumore and Chris Jacobs came down to One News Plaza so that you, the readers, could address your questions about the cosmetic surgery rider to them directly. The chat was incredibly popular. We went full-tilt for an hour and a half. We could have gone a few more hours -- we were able to get to only about one-third of the questions you sent in.

Since then, my colleague Aaron Besecker has hosted a number of live chats with newsmakers from various arenas, including Niagara Falls School Board Member Johnny Destino.

I think it's time for School Zone to get back in the swing of things. I'd like to start hosting live chats with newsmakers on a regular basis.

But I want to hear from you, the readers, who you'd invite as guests. Could be anybody: a teacher, a board member, a principal, a professor, a superintendent, a union rep, an elected official -- as long as they relate to education, they're fair game. I can't guarantee that any particular person will agree to participate, but I will extend the invitation to those who get nominated by the most readers.

Post a comment here (the link for that is above, just under the headline for this blog post) with your suggestions, or e-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com to offer your thoughts.

Vote early, as I'm planning to invite the first guest in for a live chat next week.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

What's the racial composition of your school?

During a recent discussion about desegregation and neighborhood schools, the question arose: Just how effective was the court order to integrate Buffalo's schools?

Board of Ed member Pamela Cahill said she wasn't too impressed; most of the schools she's been in seem either practically all white or all black or Hispanic.

Ralph Hernandez disagreed. The schools have been successfully integrated, he said.

Well, which is it?

I don't know what the measure of "integrated" is, so I don't know how to answer that. Instead, I'll give you the data and let you decide for yourself. (If you're interested, a couple observations from me are posted below the database, so scroll down a bit once you're done poking around the data yourself.)

But why limit this to Buffalo? The data's out there, so we might as well broaden the discussion. Here's the racial breakdown for every traditional public and charter school in Western New York. (Click here to do a new search.) Click on a column header to sort by that column.

Online Database by Caspio
Click here to load this Caspio Online Database.

A couple of the things that struck me as interesting:

- Of the six whitest schools in Buffalo, five are in South Buffalo (Discovery, Lorraine Elementary, Southside Elementary, South Buffalo Charter and Hillery Park Academy). The other one is City Honors. At each school, at least 64 percent of the students are white.

- The four schools with the highest percentage of black students -- 96 percent or higher -- are all charter schools (Buffalo United Charter, King Center Charter, Westminster Community Charter and Community Charter).

What strikes you as interesting? Drop me a line and let me know.

And if anyone out there happens to have racial breakdowns for each of the city schools prior to the desegregation order in the mid-1970s, let me know. I think it would be fascinating to compare today's numbers with those.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at mpasciak@buffnews.com or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at www.buffalonews.com/schools.

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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 | djgee@buffnews.com


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 | tlankes@buffnews.com


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 | stan@buffnews.com


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 | dswilliams@buffnews.com

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