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Aim high, teachers told by Williams

Buffalo School Superintendent James A. Williams urged teachers Tuesday to "set the bar high" so city schools can build on recent academic gains.

"Refuse to be average," Williams said in speech televised Tuesday morning on WNED-TV.

"Set high expectations for yourselves and especially for your students. Do not expect, or settle for, failure. Let your heart soar as high as it will, knowing our mission is a noble one: educating the children of our great city."

Williams' talk -- given the day before classes start today -- was entirely upbeat, extolling recent gains in scores on state assessment tests, a rise in the system's graduation rate, the removal of schools from the state's watch list and renovation of city schools under the $1 billion construction project.

"We are a district on the rise, and we are a district moving in the right direction," Williams said.

"It's important to be aware of our strong and steady growth so we can continue to prosper and move forward on this path of academic success."

Williams made no mention of the specific challenges facing the school system. For example:

* Although test scores and graduation rates are on the rise, they are still far below state averages. For example, Buffalo's four-year graduation rate is just 52 percent.

* While finances are stable this year, projections call for large budget deficits down the road.

* Enrollment has been on a steady decline, as students are lost to charter schools and out-migration.

* Contract talks with the Buffalo Teachers Federation remain stalled.

Those issues were left for another day, as Williams repeatedly praised teachers, administrators and other staff members for the recent gains.

"Remember, I'm the captain leading the ship," he said. "To use a musical analogy, I'm simply directing the choir."

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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