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New math and science school would be open to all students

A high-standards math, science and technology high school could open next September as part of Buffalo School Superintendent James A. Williams' plan to provide more challenging instruction for average students.

Students would take advanced courses in those subjects, have a longer school year and instructional day, study Japanese, Chinese or Latin and be expected to go on to college.

But unlike the district's current top-performing high schools, the math and science school would not have entrance tests and would be open to all applicants, limited only by available space.

Williams describes the new school, which would be in what is now Seneca Vocational High School, as part of a sweeping high school reform plan to be implemented over several years.

"Our job is to take what parents send us and turn them into high-performance students," Williams said. "This community is begging for this. I'm responding to my customers."

The school would open in September with 80 students in grade six and another 80 students in grade nine and would grow over several years into a school with 600 students in grades six through 12. Seneca students would be transferred to Burgard Vocational High School.

Williams pegged the initial cost at $1.9 million a year and said he is enlisting financial or technical support from the College Board, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, area colleges and universities and local businesses. Federal and state assistance is also being sought.

But the Buffalo Teachers Federation has raised several concerns and, according to Williams, has failed to attend two planning sessions.

That takes on added significance because the school's extended hours and Williams' plan to hire teachers through an interview process -- rather than seniority -- apparently require agreements with the BTF.

"When it comes to negotiations, everything is on the table," said BTF President Philip Rumore. He said he was not informed about the planning sessions and would have sent a BTF representative if he had known about them.

He suggested that Seneca should be upgraded into a top-quality vocational school, rather than a math and science school.

In addition, Rumore questioned the wisdom of creating another specialty school.

"The issue is not whether we should have such schools, but how many is too many, thereby causing detriment to the schools [students] are leaving," Rumore said in a recent letter to Williams.

Williams said that he is eager to work out details with the BTF but that he will find a way to open the new school in September.

"I'm going to do this," he said. "I have plans, but I'm not going to share them with you. We're confident Mr. Rumore will be with us."

The new school is part of a broader reform plan that will be discussed at a public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday in City Honors School, 186 E. North St. A second meeting, in Spanish, will be from 6 to 8 p.m. March 14 in Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy, 300 S. Elmwood Ave.

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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