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SCHOOL BOARD EYES UPGRADING HONORS PROGRAM

One point was hammered home Thursday night as school officials and administrators discussed ways tp upgrade the school district's honors program.

"We want to get our best and brightest, and challenge them," said Superintendent Carmen A. Granto.

"And the point is, that not everybody can get in. I ask not to be politically correct."

During the past three years, the advanced academic program has undergone extensive scrutiny at the hands of a district that is striving for excellence. Criticism of the program targeted standards that were too low and a problem that was defined as systemic.

Now, the district is looking for a "few good students."

Lee Murray, an eighth-grader at Niagara Middle School, is a good example.

Lee, in the accelerated math program, attends the University at Buffalo on weekends, but he has eyes on Cornell and Harvard universities in his quest to study research biology.

"I've got to be competitive with all the other students who want to go to Cornell and Harvard," Lee told School Board members.

"It's a nice community to learn in," Lee added, describing his advanced classes. "Everyone feels accepted. We are able to work at a fast pace, and we all have a commitment to learn."

Veronica Murray, Lee's mother, is a member of the district's Honors Committee, that Thursday presented recommendations on the revamped program.

The role of the parents is critical, according to Ms. Murray.

"The parents need to understand they can't only be a motivating force, but a supporting force as well," Ms. Murray said.

Honors instruction is given at the Harry F. Abate elementary, the Niagara Middle, and both high schools.

"The middle school is like a middle child," said Edward Marinucci, principal of Niagara Middle. "It can be a dilemma.

"What we had to do is look at the product we were receiving, then we had to look at the prospects for senior high," Marinucci said.

In fall 1998, officials said, second-graders will be admitted to the program for the first time.

"Where will the funds come from?" asked Don J. King, board president.

"Reallocation of existing funds," Granto replied.

"What about staff development" asked Trustee Nancy Joseph. "How much will that cost?"

"I wouldn't be surprised if it was $100,000," Granto said.

One example of an upgrade in the high school English honors program was the requirement of students to read outside assignments. An outside reading list was initiated three years ago.

"We're raising everybody's standards," Granto said. "In the past, we went out and found the kids. Now every student has to earn his way in, and we have an obligation to find them."

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