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Although city school officials intend to hire five elementary teachers for the coming school year, only one of the positions may be available to new applicants.

"We have two district teachers who were on leave of absence that we are contractually obligated to bring back in September. They will fill two positions," Superintendent Bruce T. Fraser said.

"We also have two longtime substitute teachers who have done an outstanding job for us," he added. "They've been teachers here on a full-time basis and have proven themselves. They will be given very serious consideration.

"I don't want it to sound like those positions are completely closed down to all applicants. We're not obligated to long-term subs. We are going to hold them up against a large pool of applicants. But here's the way I operate: If somebody has done a good job for a full year as a substitute, that counts a whole lot more than how impressive they are in an interview," Fraser said.

In essence, he said, "The fifth position is one real vacancy we're hiring for."

However, he said the district is conducting a search to fill three of the teaching posts. "But I'll say this. I'm biased toward people I already know have done a good job in an instructional setting. And I'm certain we won't hire anyone who has not substituted or taught within our district."

The five slots are not newly created jobs, Fraser said. "We aren't adding five positions. We are just maintaining the staffing levels we had last year."

He said he initially recommended cutting the positions during budget deliberations last winter because of financial constraints. The teaching slots in question were going to be vacant because of retirements. He said he later reversed his stand when the Lockport School Board was able to adopt a budget that included a small property tax cut.

"The alternative was to cut and increase class sizes," a move Fraser said he had previously considered because he believed it was necessary.

He recently has been criticized by some School Board members for changing his mind.

Fraser said he decided to keep the positions because he believes students do better when class sizes are smaller. He said studies have established this fact. Because of it, he said district grade schoolers' scores in mathematics and English language arts tests have improved substantially over the last four years.

School Board members like Beverly McDonough and Warren "Clip" Smith disagreed.

McDonough, for example, said despite improvements, "It seems to fall off as soon as these kids hit sixth, seventh and eighth grades. We aren't doing very well on the eighth grade assessments."

She said she did not believe throwing money at a problem was the solution.

"I contend we (should) put more pressure on the teachers to teach curriculum," she said. "I don't think class size makes that much difference."

Fraser said he believed keeping the teaching posts would pay off in the long run in improved performance at the middle-school level.


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