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Live blog of Board of Ed meeting on proposals for failing schools

Join us at 5 p.m. today for a live blog of the Buffalo Board of Education committee meeting. The board will hear recommendations from an advisory panel regarding the proposals from outside groups who want to run seven of Buffalo's lowest-achieving schools.


- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

School by school attendance figures for Buffalo lay bare disparities

When you see the student attendance data for the Buffalo Public Schools, it's clear: the city has a problem.

And that problem is far more severe in some schools than in others.

At the high school level, it's clear that the worst attendance is at the lowest-performing schools.

Consider: At each of Buffalo's six persistently lowest-achieving high schools (Lafayette, Burgard, South Park, Bennett, Riverside and East), more than 40 percent of students missed more than seven full weeks of school.

Less than half the students at each of those schools graduated in four years. (Check out our WNY database of graduation rates.)

Compare that to City Honors, where 1 percent of students missed that much school. And 89 percent of students graduated in four years.

Or da Vinci, where 7 percent missed that much school -- and 90 percent of students graduated in four years.

Middle Early College, a program that enables high school students to earn college credits at ECC, reported 10 percent of students in that category of "severe" absenteeism. (Sorry, no graduation rate was available for this program.)

And Hutch Tech had 14 percent of students in that category -- and an 86 percent four-year graduation rate.

What gives?

Some will argue that parents need to do a better job getting their kids to school.

Parent leader Sam Radford argues that the district needs to do a better job creating excellent schools that kids want to go to.

Which is it?

That debate will no doubt continue -- and it's one that ought to give the district and all of its stakeholders plenty of material for constructive conversations.

In the meantime, the numbers clearly bear witness to the disparity among schools.

School # School name   Chronic: 18-35 days   Severe: 36 days or more   Chronic + Severe
3 D'Youville Porter Campus   30%   7%   37%
6 Buffalo Elementary School of Technology   26%   9%   35%
17 Early Childhood Center 17   33%   15%   48%
18 Antonia Pantoja   24%   9%   33%
19 Native American Magnet   25%   7%   32%
27 Hillery Park   23%   8%   31%
30 Frank Sedita   28%   10%   38%
31 Harriet Ross Tubman   31%   10%   41%
32 Bennett Park Montessori   25%   4%   29%
33 Bilingual Center 33   31%   13%   44%
37 Futures Academy   31%   15%   46%
39 Martin Luther King Jr.   33%   10%   43%
43 Lovejoy Discovery   25%   9%   34%
45 International School   19%   4%   23%
53 Community School 53   29%   11%   40%
54 George Blackman   25%   6%   31%
56 Olmsted 56   19%   4%   23%
59 Drew Science Magnet   28%   9%   37%
61 Early Childhood Center 61   28%   11%   39%
64 Olmsted 64   9%   1%   10%
65 Roosevelt Early Childhood Center   34%   15%   49%
66 North Park Middle Academy   30%   8%   38%
67 Discovery   11%   1%   12%
69 Houghton Academy   28%   10%   38%
72 Lorraine Elementary   21%   7%   28%
74 Hamlin Park   30%   10%   40%
76 Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy   31%   19%   50%
79 Grabiarz   37%   5%   42%
80 Highgate Heights   18%   6%   24%
81 School 81   20%   4%   24%
82 Early Childhood Center 82   28%   14%   42%
84 Erie County Health Center   31%   24%   55%
89 Lydia T. Wright   24%   6%   30%
90 Drew Science Magnet 90   34%   14%   48%
91 BUILD Academy   27%   12%   39%
93 Southside Elementary   29%   9%   38%
94 West Hertel Academy   27%   13%   40%
95 Waterfront Elementary   26%   7%   33%
96 Campus West   24%   10%   34%
97 Harvey Austin   31%   13%   44%
99 Stanley Makowski   27%   9%   36%
187 Performing Arts   27%   10%   37%
195 City Honors   8%   1%   9%
197 Math Science Technology Prep   28%   18%   46%
198 International Prep at Grover   24%   30%   54%
200 Bennett High School   26%   51%   77%
202 Grover Cleveland   19%   76%   95%
204 Lafayette   23%   45%   68%
205 Riverside Institute of Technology   28%   51%   79%
206 South Park High School   32%   41%   73%
212 Leonardo da Vinci   23%   7%   30%
301 Burgard   27%   42%   69%
302 Emerson   33%   22%   55%
304 Hutch Tech   25%   14%   39%
305 McKinley   33%   39%   72%
307 East   36%   43%   79%
350 Academy Program at Floss   16%   64%   80%
351 Academy Program at 44   22%   63%   85%
407 WNY Day Treatment   15%   62%   77%
415 Middle Early College   20%   10%   30%


- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

Behind the scenes in the superintendent's office

You already know what happened on Monday during the meeting when the Board of Ed decided not to pursue termination of the superintendent's contract.

What you don't know is what happened after that meeting.

Pretty much every media outlet in town showed up to cover the board meeting. Once the meeting ended, many of the reporters there -- including me -- lingered in the board room for a bit to interview board members.

Then we headed down to the superintendent's office. Because earlier in the day, his assistant, Elena Cala, sent out a one-sentence e-mail to the media: "Dr. James A. Williams is willing to interview in room 712 today immediately after the special board meeting at noon."

When I got down there, I found more than half a dozen TV and radio journalists sitting in the waiting room to the superintendent's office. What was going on?

My broadcast colleagues informed me that the superintendent's staff had allowed several journalists into the conference room to interview Williams, but then the door was shut and everybody else was told that it would be too distracting to the superintendent to allow anyone else in once the interviews were under way.

Would there be a second round of interviews for the rest of us? I asked. Nobody seemed to know for sure.

A few minutes later, Cala popped into the room and proceeded to scold the media for not coming down to the superintendent's office immediately after the meeting.

"There was an interview. You opted to stay upstairs," she told us. 

You can listen yourself to Cala's conversation with the media:

Awhile later, Cala came back into the room and announced that the superintendent would grant additional interviews. So we all stood up to head into the conference room.

I got in there, and Erin Comerford, another assistant to the superintendent, told me to leave. I explained that Cala had told us to go in. Williams told us to leave and said he was ready to meet with board members -- not the press.

So we all headed back to the waiting room.

Awhile later, Cala came back into the waiting room and said the superintendent was ready for the press. Along with everyone else in the room, I stood up and got ready for the interview.

Cala looked at me and said, "You're in the third group, Mary. You're print. This is for video."

I motioned to my Buffalo News colleague, Joe Popiolkowski, and explained that he was the News' videographer.

"Your videographer?" Cala asked.

"Yes," I said.

"You're in a separate group," she told me.

So Popiolkowski and I sat back down and waited.

And waited.

Eventually, all the rest of the press finished up their interviews with Williams and headed out.

Awhile later, Cala walked into the waiting room and said: "Mary, Dr. Williams is done with interviews for today."



I called an editor to touch base. If the superintendent won't comment, he said, ask Cala for a statement.

So Popiolkowski and I headed back into the office to do that. He was filming.

Here's what happened:

By way of explanation: Comerford, the second assistant to the superintendent that you see in the video, was apparently referring to a story I wrote in April about several members of the superintendent's staff who did not hold the qualifications posted for their jobs. (Comerford and Cala were among them.)

The statement Popiolkowski made at the very end of the video was: "It's a public building." And as such, there is no prohibition on filming there.

To let you know how this story ends: Cala did call security. When Popiolkowski went back into the office to find out whether Cala would be issuing a statement to us, the security guard very nicely asked him to wait out in the waiting room.

We waited awhile longer. It was still not clear whether Cala planned to issue a statement.

Popiolkowski went back into the office to leave a business card. He happened to catch the superintendent, who asked who he was. After my colleague explained that he was from the News and was hoping to get a comment, Williams said: "I'm not even talking to The Buffalo News, man."

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

Video: Board members respond to Monday's decision

Review video: Board of Ed votes not to terminate Williams' contract

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Live blog on board meeting to consider terminating Williams' contract

Join us at noon today for a live blog of the Board of Education's meeting to consider the "no fault" termination clause in Superintendent James A. Williams' contract.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

Deja vu on vote to terminate superintendent's contract

The news that the Board of Education is going to meet today to consider initial proceedings toward terminating Superintendent James A. Williams' contract seems, well, rather familiar.

It almost happened last week.

Last Tuesday, the board sent out a notice that it would meet at noon last Wednesday to discuss "personnel matters." Translation: Paragraph 16D in Williams' contract, which lays out the "no fault" procedure for terminating his contract.

But that didn't last long.

In less than three hours, that meeting was canceled because of “conflicting schedules of board members.”

Later in the day Wednesday, the board held a marathon session -- nearly seven hours of committee meeting and regular meeting, with about two hours of executive session thrown in there. During that two-hour stretch behind closed doors, the board apparently talked about Williams' contract, among other things. Williams told me later he had not been in that executive session -- and when a superintendent is not with his or her board in executive session, that generally means one thing.

Board President Ralph Hernandez took the unusual and unprecedented step during that closed-door meeting of clearing the press out of the waiting room off the board room, and posting security guards there to keep us away.

Note for the record: There were only eight of the nine board members there that night. North District rep Jason McCarthy was apparently out of town that evening.

The way that night ended -- when it did finally end, at nearly 11 p.m. -- was with no public vote on Williams' contract.

It looks like someone on the board is determined to make that vote happen, though.

Today at noon, the board is scheduled once again to consider that termination clause in his contract.

Those who support Williams say it would be ridiculous for the board to force him out early, seeing as he's already announced plans to retire in June 2012.

Others say the district will not benefit from having a lame duck superintendent for a full year.

Which way will this go?

Find out at noon, when you can follow a live blog of the board meeting here at the School Zone.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

Live blog of Board of Ed meeting

Join us for a live blog of Board of Ed action today, starting with the student achievement committee meeting at 4 p.m. and continuing with the regular board meeting at 5:30 p.m.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

Superintendent cancels school; parents push for trigger

Some Friday tidbits:

Superintendent James A. Williams decided to cancel the last day of school, which was scheduled for Friday, June 24.

Here's the call that went out to parents and staff:

The district has completed more than the required amount of days (180) for the 2010/11 school year, therefore the last day of school for students has been adjusted to Thursday, June 23rd. Students will not report to school on Friday, June 24th.

All high school graduations planned for Friday, June 24th will proceed as scheduled. A complete list of graduation ceremonies is available on the district website.

Staff should report to school June 24th, as scheduled. This presents an excellent opportunity to pack boxes, prepare rooms for the summer, and for teachers to correct Regents Exams.

I'm hearing mixed reactions on this.

Some people are pleased as punch, and say that not much happens on the last day of school anyway, so it's not much of a loss.

Others I've heard from are rather irritated, for two main reasons:

First, the superintendent frequently emphasizes the importance of students attending school every day. Canceling a day of school seems to run contrary to that.

Second, working parents with younger children are going to have to arrange for an additional day of child care unexpectedly.

Board President Ralph Hernandez said he was aware that the last day of school had been canceled. The superintendent told him it would be a good opportunity to provide some staff development. I'm waiting to hear back from the superintendent or a designee on what staff development will be scheduled for Friday.

In other news, parents are continuing to push to get the parent trigger law passed before this legislative session ends in Albany.

They agreed Wednesday to a few changes, including making the bill applicable only to Buffalo. When they met with Catherine Nolan, chair of the Assembly's education committee, she seemed supportive, parents say.

"It seemed as though if it was a Buffalo-only bill, Nolan would support it," said parent leader Sam Radford.

So when Nolan told my colleague Tom Precious on Thursday that she did not embrace the measure, parents and their supporters were rather surprised. (Likewise, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes told me Nolan seemed unlikely to support the bill this session. In light of the lack of support from Nolan for the bill this session, Peoples-Stokes said she was hoping to arrange public hearings on the bill this summer.)

Buffalo ReformED, the group working with parents to get the bill passed, is now focusing their efforts on Nolan, asking her to bring the bill to the education committee and invite Buffalo parents to testify on Monday.

The focus in Albany is clearly on other issues, namely the Marriage Equality Act. The News has not yet been able to get a response from Nolan on parent trigger, but once we do, we'll keep you posted.

And back in Buffalo, Board of Ed member Chris Jacobs appears to be the likely GOP candidate for county clerk.

He can retain his seat on the board and simultaneously run for county office.

However, the board will elect its own officers on July 1. Jacobs currently serves as vice president for executive affairs -- a position that's likely to become fairly critical in the coming year, as the board goes about finding someone to replace Williams, who is leaving in June 2012.

We'll find out at the board meeting July 1 whether Jacobs will try to retain that key board position while also running for county office.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

News education reporter talks graduation rates on Capitol Pressroom

Susan Arbetter invited me onto the Capitol Pressroom today to talk about the recent decline in Buffalo's high school graduation rates.

Some of the topics we touched on: how graduation rates in district schools compare to local charter schools; why the district's graduation rate dropped for the Class of 2010; the parent trigger bill; and the dip in graduation rates for Asian students.

You can access the full audio of the show at The Buffalo portion of the audio starts around 13 minutes, 30 seconds.

- Mary Pasciak

E-mail me at or follow me on Follow  SchoolZoneBlog on Twitter Twitter. Check out the Buffalo News' education page at

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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 |