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Community questions BOCES plan for East High School

Parents, staff and graduates of East High School on Monday night questioned why Erie 1 BOCES should have anything to do with running the school.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. has directed the district to give Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services a role in the turnaround of East and Lafayette high schools, two of the district’s poor-performing schools. District officials met with community members at East on Monday night. A similar meeting is scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lafayette.

Johns Hopkins University was to have been the lead manager at both schools, but King denied the district’s application for a grant to pay for Johns Hopkins work to turn around the schools.

But the university has spent the last half year training staff, and many teachers and staff want to go forward with the Johns Hopkins program.

“Kids are excited about it, we’ve been pushing it on the kids, getting them excited about it; everybody’s onboard,” said Mary Nathan, a social worker at the school. “Then they come in and tell us, ‘Oh, no, we’re going to pull them out and put BOCES in.’ ”

Nathan said that she is not opposed to BOCES but that she is opposed to the district “making us believe” there are two options. But both options involve BOCES, she said. She also suggested using money that would fund the transportation of students going to BOCES to open career and technical programs in the city.

“If we have 26 programs in Buffalo serving 6,000 students, why would we send them out to the suburbs unless there was something to offer that we don’t have?” said Peggy Galante, a health occupation and technology teacher at East.

With graduation rates well below 50 percent, no one challenged that nothing should be done at East.

“I feel there are changes that need to be made,” said Terasa Hall, who graduated three years ago and is studying bioinformatics at the University at Buffalo.

She said the support of parents and a strong neighborhood will help students and the school.

Last year, only 27 percent of seniors graduated from East. Two years prior, in 2010, the graduation rate at East was 44 percent, and it was 40 percent in 2011. But the district said this year’s preliminary graduation rate at East has jumped to 47 percent.

King told the district it must allow students from East and Lafayette to attend vocational programs at Erie 1 BOCES or have Erie 1 serve as the “educational partnership organization” for the schools.

Superintendent Pamela C. Brown gave an overview of the issue, and representatives from BOCES and Johns Hopkins explained their programs. Some parents were worried that their children would be required to attend the BOCES Harkness Career & Technical Center in Cheektowaga.

“Do not put our kids in harm’s way,” one mother said. “You’ve got to send more than a bus; you’ve got to send security.”

“This is a volunteer program,” the superintendent said. “No child is going to be forced to participate in a CTE class at BOCES.”

She also maintained that “this school will remain open,” putting some fears to rest.

“We continue to hear strong sentiments for the continuation of the Johns Hopkins Talent Development program here,” Brown said after the meeting. “There is some concern that adding BOCES to the formula of what’s being offered at the school will somehow take away from what the school has been able to offer.”

She said the district’s challenge is to make sure the progress made in the school this year continues.

The community meeting at East wasn’t the only news coming out of the district Monday. In response to requests last week by Buffalo school leaders, the state Education Department released a letter outlining three major deficiencies in the district’s school turnaround grant applications for Lafayette and East. The letter also listed specific dates where state officials discussed application deficiencies with district administrators by phone and by email in February, March, April and May.

The information was given in response to earlier criticism by school and union officials that the state didn’t coach the district on how to submit a successful application prior to the education commissioner rejecting the grant applications for Lafayette and East on July 10.

“What distresses me is they never came to the community first,” said Dwayne Kelly, a proud 1966 graduate of the school. “John King is the worst commissioner. He wants to try to be a bully.”

At last Thursday’s board meeting, members discussed the possibility of Johns Hopkins continuing to work with both schools and having BOCES provide vocational instruction. The board is expected to make a decision July 31.

For related education news, visit the School Zone blog at News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report. email: