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Ousted head of Elmwood Franklin to oversee new school on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo

The former head of the Elmwood Franklin School, who lost her job after a tumultuous year at the elite private school, is staying in Buffalo and founding her own small private school where students will follow a curriculum designed specifically for them.

The Buffalo Academy of Scholars, to be run by Executive Director Margaret Keller-Cogan, is actively recruiting students after what Keller-Cogan calls a “soft” opening last fall.

The school will accept children in grades five through 12 for its “boutique educational program ... designed for students for whom the traditional classroom model isn’t stimulating, challenging – or working,” according a news release.

Keller-Cogan said the personalized structure is similar to that of the Fusion Academy, which has schools in New York City and elsewhere, with each school having a maximum of 60 students.

At the Academy, as it will be known, students will have one-on-one lessons in English Language Arts, math, foreign language, social studies, science and the arts. Group classes will be held in learning theory and physical education. In between instruction time, students have “independent learning classes,” similar to old-fashioned study halls, to do their assigned work, making possible the school’s “no homework” policy. However, students are expected to read 30 minutes a day outside school.

The school’s website also says its instruction is in line with state Common Core standards.

Tuition will be $10,100 per semester, Keller-Cogan said. The school also is accepting applications through April for two full-tuition scholarships for children ages 9 through 13. While financial need will be a factor, she said, the awards also will take into consideration whether the students have “well-honed academic skills.”

The school currently has five staff members. Besides the director, who also will do some teaching, they are math teacher Karen Kurdziel, elementary teacher Jennifer Borowicz, English Language Arts teacher Allyson Blair and administrative assistant Stephen Kellogg III.

“It is basically one child per teacher during much of the instruction,” Keller-Cogan said. “What they learn truly depends on the parents’ wishes. New York State requires certain subjects, but once those are fulfilled, if the parents want more of one thing than the other, we can do it.”

While the school currently is housed at 434 Delaware Ave., in an H.H. Richardson-designed mansion-turned-office building, Keller-Cogan said she expects to move to another location when enrollment increases.

“But we will definitely stay in the city. That is critical to our mission,” she said.

That is because the curriculum includes weekly field trips to visit businesses, historic sites and centers for the arts throughout Western New York, along with trips outside the region.

This is Keller-Cogan’s second position leading a school in Buffalo. A Rochester native, she was hired by Elmwood Franklin in 2012 to be head of school, with a three-year contract and annual salary of $175,000, according to a breach-of-contract lawsuit she filed following her dismissal last May.

At the time, Elmwood Franklin was experiencing declines in enrollment and other financial stress, which Keller-Cogan was expected to address. Her methods proved controversial, and she was fired barely over a year after being hired. As the school worked to right itself, 14 of its 19 trustees and its board president also resigned.

One former board member, Ludvik Karl, a Czech-born financial analyst, is helping to finance the launch of the new academy, and he has two children enrolled at the school, Keller-Cogan said.

“He has a drive and such an extraordinary enthusiasm for education,” Keller-Cogan said. “We are part of a group that is interested in providing small alternatives to education in Western New York.”

She said that, despite a region-wide decline in school enrollments and the struggles of other private schools, they feel the time is right for the new venture.

“This is a unique time in education,” she said. “I can’t remember when there has been interest and more controversy over what is being taught to our children and how it is being taught.”