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Groups bid to rebuild failing schools

Board of Education to vote next Friday on submissions to improve seven targeted from the Buffalo Museum of Science and Buffalo State College to a high-profile consulting firm out of Long Island -- have submitted proposals to help turn around seven of Buffalo's failing schools.

Their proposals run the gamut.

Buffalo State, the only local college or university in the mix, would like to have faculty members teaching Advanced Placement or college courses at Lafayette High School as part of the turnaround plan there.

The Community Action Organization wants to create single-sex classrooms at Futures Academy and East High School.

And another group, led by two local brothers -- a teacher and a psychologist in the district -- wants to give away $1 million a year in incentives to students in each of the seven schools.

"The overarching goal would be to reward good academic performance and to reward the things that lead to good academic performance -- attendance, getting extra help for academics and homework, staying after school in an extended day program, etc.," said Mark Mecca, a psychologist at Math, Science, Technology Prep at Seneca and Middle Early College.

While the details would have to be worked out, he said, the incentives would amount to about $1,500 per student, on average, in the schools.

Although the Board of Education is not scheduled to vote on the outside groups until next Friday, one of those groups, Erie 1 BOCES, has already withdrawn from the bidding.

BOCES had submitted a proposal seeking to be designated as the "lead EPO," or lead educational partnership organization -- a title not identified in any federal or state legislation, but one that BOCES Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie said he thought made sense.

He wanted the board to hire BOCES to oversee whatever outside groups were chosen to turn the seven schools around. But when the district asked for specifics from each outside group regarding how it would turn a school around, something became clear to Ogilvie, he said.

"That reinforced to me that the lead EPO idea wasn't contemplated," Ogilvie said. "I wasn't interested in doing individual buildings."

Several of the groups, including BOCES, noted in their proposals that shortcomings in the district's request for proposals made it difficult to submit a full proposal. Some said it was unclear to them what services the district would continue to provide in a school, and what services the group would need to provide out of its budget.

The district is eligible for up to $2 million a year for three years for each of the seven low-performing schools, if the state Education Department approves the turnaround plans.

The schools are: Buffalo Elementary School of Technology, Bilingual Center School 33, Futures Academy, Drew Science Magnet School 59, Waterfront School, East High School and Lafayette High School.

The Board of Education in May voted to adopt a federal turnaround model for those schools that involves hiring an educational partnership organization for each school. That group would take on the role of superintendent for that particular school and report directly to the board.

Several of the groups noted in their proposals flaws with the district's request for proposals, which various groups said made it very difficult to submit a solid proposal.

Four groups, including Erie 1 BOCES, submitted proposals for all seven schools. Now that BOCES has withdrawn from the process, the remaining three groups to bid on all the schools are:

The HOPE Foundation -- which stands for Harnessing Optimism and Potential through Education -- a group out of Bloomington, Ind. It submitted the most bare-bones proposal, suggesting six to eight days of training in its "Failure Is Not an Option" approach, for a three-year cost of $159,000 at each school.

Mecca Enterprises, the team of local brothers Mike Mecca, a science teacher at MST Prep at Seneca, and Mark Mecca. They want to beef up student supports in each school, as well as provide $1 million a year in student incentives annually in each building. They would maintain all existing staff who want to stay in each building.

Research to Practice, a Long Island group that includes an assortment of high-profile names in education, including Manny Rivera, former Rochester superintendent; Rudy Crew, former Miami-Dade County superintendent; and McGraw-Hill Education.

In addition, eight other groups submitted proposals on one to three schools each. They are:

Bethel Human Services, which hopes to partner at Futures Academy with Expeditionary Learning, the same program used by Tapestry Charter School.

Buffalo Museum of Science, whose proposal for Drew Science Magnet hinges on reducing class sizes to 25 or less and enhancing the museum's existing partnership with the school, which is physically attached to the museum.

Buffalo State College, which submitted a conditional proposal for Lafayette that hinges on the district agreeing to 10 conditions, including removing the current principal, Fatima Morrell, and letting the college pick a replacement.

Community Action Organization of Erie County, which seeks to reinstate the neighborhood school model for Futures and East; keep the buildings open into the evening; and establish a family support center, similar to the one in Sweet Home.

First Hand Learning, a local group that wants to work closely with Principal Miguel Medina at the Bilingual Center and work with the Valley Community Association and professors from Canisius College.

Gateway-Longview, which would work with Buffalo State and Canisius College to provide staff development at Futures Academy as part of its turnaround plan, which also includes two hours a day of reading and one hour for writing.

Mosaica Frazier School Management, a Chicago charter school management group that submitted proposals for Buffalo Elementary School of Technology, Drew Science Magnet and Futures Academy. Mosaica would draw on best practices from Frazier Preparatory Academy, a Chicago charter school.

Western New York United Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse, which proposes making Shanie Keelean, an assistant principal at Dr. Lydia T. Wright School 89, the principal at Buffalo Elementary School of Technology and using about $1 million a year to supplement salaries to extend the school day.

The proposals are posted at http://www.buffaloschools.org/PurchaseDept.cfm?subpage=74185. The public is invited to read the proposals and send comments to RestartSchools@buffaloschools.org.

The district has requested additional information from all the bidders, including verification of nonprofit status -- a requirement of the federal turnaround guidelines.

A seven-member, volunteer review panel is scheduled to vote Wednesday on which proposal to recommend to the board for each school.

"The process is going very well," said Amber Dixon, the district's executive director of accountability. "It's a tough, smart group, and I'm confident they're going to do the right thing."

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com