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SCHOOLS IN BUFFALO, KEN-TON DISTRICTS ACHIEVE THE STATE GRADE FOR EXCELLENCE

Buffalo and Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda schools have done it again.

Two Buffalo high schools -- Riverside and Lafayette -- this week were added to the state Education Department's list of schools of excellence. So were Kenmore Middle and Kenmore West Senior High schools.

They now become candidates for national schools of excellence and presidential honors. Of the 15 Buffalo schools that previously won recognition from the state, 10 went on to win nationally.

Twenty-seven schools across the state won the honor.

Including the newest winners, 17 of 78 Buffalo schools and six of 13 Ken-Ton schools have captured the state honor since its inception in the mid-1980s.

Buffalo School Superintendent Albert Thompson said he believes the city has more schools of excellence than any district in the nation.

"We really do not see why Lafayette and Riverside should not be accepted as the others have been," he said.

The honors from Albany turned the principals, John J. Vella of Riverside and Frederick D. Ganter of Lafayette, into two of the happiest people in Western New York. Nine city schools submitted applications.

In recent years, both high schools cut their dropout rates by several percentage points with Lafayette down to 3 percent and Riverside, 2.5 percent.

"And our attendance is up from 85 percent to 92 percent," said Ganter, principal for 17 years.

Lafayette has 900 students, with 90 in a mini-business and finance magnet. More than half of Lafayette's graduates go on to college.

Vella said that Riverside had to overcome a poor record.

"We worked hard and we turned the school around," said Vella, a former math and science teacher who became principal four years ago. "What the thing is about is increasing the students' expectations."

Riverside has close to 600 students. Vella is particularly proud of the program -- Pupils Achieving Scholastic Success known as PASS Class -- that helped at-risk and special education youths change from potential dropouts to high school graduates.

Thompson said that state selection is based on paperwork while the federal government will send educators to appraise the schools on site.

Ganter credits his faculty with Lafayette's success.

"Lafayette has the most outstanding teachers in Western New York," he said. "They have to be to put up with the principal."

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