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LET VOICES OF PARENTS DROWN OUT CHARTER FOES

The Buffalo Teachers Federation has asked the state Board of Regents to reject a plan to convert Westminster Community School into a charter school. I hope the Regents ignore the request.

My family moved to this district so that my children could go to school within walking distance of their home and not be forced into the busing that was necessary due to the integration program. School 68 -- which later became Westminster -- was my only option.

All six of my children graduated from School 68, and the school was known as the worst school in Buffalo. The administration at the school was consistently changed, there was no school spirit, children went to school because they had to and skipped when they wanted to. Scores were down, books were ragged and the building itself was antithetical to education.

When the city began to see a rise in violence, it spilled over into the schools. School 68 was no exception. Many parents in this area went to the school and stayed to assist teachers with their classes, myself included. We volunteered so our children could graduate from that "awful school." It was horrible.

Then in 1994 there was a miracle. M&T Bank adopted School 68 and invested money and oversight. Dr. Yvonne Minor-Ragan was brought in to lead Westminster Community School in a new direction. She has done so, with the help of M&T and of teachers committed to seeing children reach the educational level we know they can achieve.

Converting Westminster to a charter school is the best option for the children. The Board of Education will have to adjust to a budget shortfall of $40 million to $60 million come September. Children are being shifted all over the city, making other schools overcrowded. And who suffers the most? The children.

I have three grandchildren at Westminster. They love school. They hate to miss a day. They read books willingly. Their homework is their first option when they come home. They have school spirit. They are inspired to learn. They read newspapers and ask questions.

I can't say the same for my children who graduated. They hated School 68 and could not wait to get out. They were ashamed to say 68 was the school they attended. That's why my parental involvement became mandatory for my children to achieve.

It's not like that now. Parents want to be involved, rather than have to be involved. Parents assist teachers, administrators and staff.

I am sure the charter for converting Westminster will accommodate disabled children and children with special needs. Even though making the school handicapped accessible is the board's responsibility, M&T will spend thousands of dollars to do it. And special education has always been ongoing at the school. I know that from personal experience.

Some of the issues the union has brought up should have been addressed years ago. I have never seen a child in a wheelchair at Westminster. But that shouldn't override the most important point in this debate, and that is that our children are being educated. Our scores are at the top. Let the voices of parents supersede outside objections.

Children at Westminster have excelled against the odds. The charter conversion is merely a means to ensure no child is left behind.