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The last in a series of three public dialogues held by the Erie County Association of School Boards and Cornell University's School of Labor and Management was the best, organizers said as the 90-minute session ended Monday evening in the Norman C. Vergils Community Room at Sweet Home Central High School.

The meetings, which focused on how Erie County's school districts could work together to benefit all the children in the county, are part of a yearlong study on that topic by a team from Cornell.

Information about it can be found on the association's Web site,

"The other dialogues were not so well attended," said lead researcher Ann Martin. "And tonight there was a lot of interest and energy around this. There are a lot of people who think this is a good idea and the way to go. They're not saying don't take this away from my district."

Attending were about 20 school board members and school administrators.

Martin began with a presentation that highlighted one benefit of collaboration -- sharing information. She suggested setting up a database of "best practices."

"If one district has figured out how to do academic intervention in a different way," she said, "you could go there and find out how they do it."

But, she added, to bring about collaboration, "There needs to be leadership. I'm just . . . an outsider. We can recommend till we're blue in the face, but that leadership has to arise from you and your colleagues."

A brief question session turned into a group discussion of how charter schools fit into the picture and how districts might collaborate to save money on health care plans. Then Miller formed three groups to develop collaborative ideas.

In the first group, a Sweet Home School Board member began the discussion by describing a collaborative effort by the Lancaster Opera House, the Buffalo schools and Starbucks that brought students together for artistic projects, which then are presented in Starbucks coffeehouses.

From there, the others -- a Sweet Home administrator, an Amherst School Board member, a former East Aurora School Board member, a longtime staffer from Buffalo's EPIC Program and a woman from the Buffalo Jaycees -- jumped off in several directions.

They talked about how Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services might be a collaborative resource; how collaboration with urban districts might offer diversity for suburban and rural students; how businesses might assist in a Big Brother/Big Sister-style program with students; how schools might collaborate on Distance Learning, except that it's fallen out of favor because it's too expensive; and how difficult it is to connect with officials in the Buffalo schools.

"We do a lot of dialoging with the northern Erie County schools," the Sweet Home administrator said. "I was on the phone today with an Amherst business official and we were talking about playgrounds, collecting taxes. And Erie 1 BOCES has meetings. But we really don't have that interface with the Buffalo schools. We don't have that face-to-face contact."


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