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Williams says alternative school will open in fall

An East Delavan Avenue school will become an alternative school for disruptive or troubled students this fall, under a plan Superintendent James A. Williams detailed Thursday to cope with persistent student violence.

School 171 will accommodate about 500 students from grades 7 to 12, offering a program that Williams said will include strong academics and a social services component.

"Some people think all these kids are trouble," Williams said. "But they're not all trouble. They just haven't adjusted to our style or school structures."

An emphasis will be placed on motivating students to get involved in extracurricular and other activities. He envisions a school that offers everything from performing arts and fine arts to sports and computer-related activities.

Principals and guidance counselors throughout the district have identified 527 students as being disruptive. "So it's a very small percentage of the students that are causing the problems," Williams said.

Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, said it was a mistake for the district to have closed its alternative school a few years ago.

He added that it's important the alternative school provide a "full range of services."

"It's not meant to be just a place to house students. The objective is to help students get back into their regular schools," Rumore said.

The changes at School 171 are part of a broader retooling of education in the school district, educators said. Other changes include plans to overhaul programs and staff at two other schools.

Seneca Vocational High School will become a math and science school.

School 38 on Lowell Street, which has ranked as a failing school by state academic standards for several years, will be revamped in hopes of strengthening the academic programs. Under the plan, school operations would be formally "suspended" in the summer months to pave the way for an overhaul of programs and personnel.

"We're talking about starting out with a clean sheet of paper. The schools will have a new principal, new staff and a whole new approach," said Williams.

School 38 currently serves students from grades five through eight. Starting in the fall, it will have students from prekindergarten through eighth grade.

The district announced earlier this week that it wants to close six more schools over the next two years and renovate eight others as part of an ongoing plan to become a smaller but newer school system.

The plan calls for closing four schools -- School 71 on Newburgh Street, School 77 on Normal Avenue, School 36 on Days Park and School 142 on Fulton Street -- at the end of this school year.

District officials also propose closing School 40 on Clare Street and School 63 on Minnesota Avenue at the end of the 2006-07 school year.

The School Board has the final say on which buildings will be closed and which modernized. District officials will seek public input on the plan.

Rumore stressed that the union has several concerns, including class sizes. He said the union contract limits class sizes in alternative schools to 10, but the district wants to increase them to 15. "These are students who need additional help, and this would further dilute the help that students could get," he said.

Williams estimates the alternative school will cost $5 million.

Williams outlined his proposal on the same day two teachers at Bennett High School sought medical attention after breaking up a fight among a group of boys in the school's annex. School officials said the teachers were not seriously hurt, although one of them was still out of work today.

This morning, there was report of a fight involving about five girls at Riverside Institute of Technology. No teachers were hurt.


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