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Success of students at Grabiarz School is a tribute to motivated leadership

Success in education starts with leadership, and that fundamental rule is epitomized in the achievements occurring at the Grabiarz School of Excellence.

This Buffalo public school stands out as an example of what can be accomplished despite the challenges faced by most of the district’s schools.

Students at Grabiarz have demonstrated progress, and they do it despite poverty, hardship and lack of guidance at home. They get that guidance at school, where they have a leader to emulate.

Principal Gregory D. Mott runs a tight ship for his pre-K through eighth-grade students.

As News staff reporter Tiffany Lankes profiled, this is a school whose hallways are calm, floors are clean, classrooms are neat and teachers are standing before attentive students each morning like clockwork to deliver the lesson of the day. The orderly effort is paying off.

In a district with so many underperforming schools, students at Grabiarz stand out.

The district’s Discovery School performed better in reading, but the percentage of Grabiarz students deemed proficient in both reading and math lagged behind only a few charter schools and schools with special admissions criteria.

Grabiarz students do well at individual grade levels, ranking 16th out of about 80 schools in Erie County for sixth-grade math, surpassing the Amherst, East Aurora and Hamburg school districts. Grabiarz ranked in the top 30 out of about 110 schools for fourth-grade math.

The Grabiarz students are not cherry-picked from middle-class families. They are much the same as the general student population, with 94 percent of the students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch and about 27 percent with disabilities. Those numbers have been used elsewhere to excuse failure. Grabiarz shows that poverty does not mean that students are doomed to failure.

Mott admits that the school has a long way to go, that it remains a struggling school.

Still, his school demonstrates that the district’s students can reach high goals. They just need to be shown the way. Mott, raised by a single parent on the city’s East Side, is helping each and every one of the school’s students move ahead.

He is accomplishing that task by raising expectations, not only for students but for teachers. He hand-picked teachers who bought into his mission and understood the importance of collaboration. These educators are facing the challenge of cultivating young minds under trying circumstances while also having to meet the tougher Common Core standards.

Mott makes no excuses for the fact that the percentage of students proficient in reading and math is only 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively. As Lankes wrote, throughout all of Erie County, only 30 percent of students were deemed proficient in reading and 34 percent in math.

But the double-digit percentage point gains Grabiarz students have achieved from 2013 to 2014 shows that students can rise to meet high expectations. The progress being made by this school and a few others should motivate both the School Board and teachers union to sit down and figure out how to get there with all district schools, whether that means longer school days, a longer school year, more flexibility for principals in choosing teaching staff or any number of other changes necessary to put the education of children first.

The Grabiarz School of Excellence is shaping up as a model for others in the district. Mott is proving that strong leadership can change young lives for the better.