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Creating Olmsted High School wins support of School Board committee

The Buffalo Board of Education reacted enthusiastically Wednesday evening to a proposal to establish a long-sought Olmsted High School next September, with a goal of making it as popular and successful as City Honors School and Hutchinson Central Technical High School.

Board members also seemed reasonably comfortable with plans to close two existing schools in September, along with two other schools now being used to temporarily house students displaced by reconstruction projects.

The highlight of the plan, unveiled at the board's Finance and Operations Committee, is the creation of Olmsted High School at the former Kensington High School, 319 Suffolk Ave.

The school would be designed as an attractive option for college-bound students who have long competed for scarce seats at City Honors and Hutch-Tech and would emphasize academic rigor, creative thinking and community service.

Two popular Olmsted schools now provide instruction in prekindergarten through eighth grade, and a high school extension has been sought by parents for many years.

"Expanding it, growing it, is the right thing to do," said Park District Board Member Jack Coyle.

The district's reform plan also eventually will include the establishment of a Montessori High School, said Superintendent James A. Williams. He predicted that it will expand high-quality opportunities for city students and also bring families back to Buffalo from the suburbs.

"I'm going to get them," he said. "I know it."

The proposal will be presented at three community meetings next month, and will be formally considered by the board shortly after that.

It calls for closing Olmsted School 56, 716 W. Delavan Ave., and relocating its 253 students in grades 5-8 to Kensington. The relocated Olmsted school would continue to serve only grades 5-8 next school year, but high school grades would be phased in one year at a time after that.

Kensington now is the temporary home for Hutch-Tech, and the Olmsted High School plan is contingent on the ongoing Hutch-Tech reconstruction project being completed before next school year.

The plan leaves open the possibility that Olmsted 56 will later be reused by the school system for other purposes.

The plan presented Wednesday also includes these elements:

Closing Bilingual Early Childhood Center School 36, 10 Days Park, after this school year, and transferring its 269 prekindergarten through second-grade students to School 4, 425 South Park Ave.

Closing School 71, 156 Newburgh St., and School 63, 120 Minnesota Ave., both of which are temporarily housing students from schools closed during reconstruction. The former School 26, 84 Harrison St., also would be closed at an unspecified time. It now serves as offices for special education staff.

The closings are designed to balance building space with large declines in student enrollment over the last several years, to weed out schools that are in bad condition or are poorly designed and to save money. Williams said it is not yet clear how much savings the district will realize.

A school-based committee at Olmsted has been involved in planning the high school, and several committee members -- including Principal Michael Gruber -- attended the meeting to urge the board to adopt the proposal.

Board President Florence D. Johnson and West District board member Ralph Hernandez said district administrators should assure that students from throughout the city -- including those living near Kensington -- have an equal chance to attend the new Olmsted school.

"It would be important to reach out to people in that neighborhood," Johnson said.

Enrollment policies -- and what role residence might play -- were not discussed.

Olmsted School 64, which provides instruction in prekindergarten through fourth grade, will continue to operate at 874 Amherst St.

Public meetings on the plans are scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 12 at Pfc. William J. Grabiarz School, 225 Lawn Ave., and 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Makowski Early Childhood Center, 1095 Jefferson Ave. A third meeting will be announced later.


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