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Another Voice: The secret to success in Buffalo schools is to offer students something they want

By Jeffrey Schapiro

I get so angry and frustrated as I see and read what is happening to our educational system in Buffalo. Before I retired from the Buffalo system, I coordinated the Law Magnet Program at Bennett High School. This was one of the most successful programs at the time in Buffalo. The staff who worked in the program, the students who were part of the program and the parents of the students involved were all excited to be part of something that worked.

This program’s success just didn’t happen out of the blue; it took a lot of hard work, commitment, dedication and vision. The students felt pride and wanted to be a part of something so rewarding.

These students were no different than the students attending school now, but they were offered a program that they wanted, and had a vested interest in it. Our students were highly successful. Parent involvement was at an all-time high.

What was the one ingredient that helped make this possible? It was the fact that any program offered needs a “hook.” Our hook was that we offered something special and unique. Students had the same teachers for all four years in school. There was no such thing as failure. If students were falling behind they were moved up with the extra help needed to succeed. The program became a “family,” which worked on relationship building. Students were offered internships in their senior year. Law firms “adopted” our program and mentors would come into the school from the community to work with our students. Our kids flourished!

Shortly after I retired, the administration decided the program was “elitist.” Why? Because the students were more successful than those in the rest of the building. They were successful because what we did in the program worked! Rather than labeling the program as elitist, the plan should have been to model the rest of the school on what worked – not to water down the law program. But that is what was done.

The city needs to evaluate various hooks that will encourage children to buy into education. Not all kids need college-prep courses. There are a variety of special skills areas that could be developed to offer students the option to pick and choose which areas interest them. Children will not be successful unless they are in a program that interests them. We need leaders who can come up with innovative programs that pique those interests. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

We didn’t know how our new way of scheduling, teaching and programming would work at the time, but fortunately we had an administration, staff and students who were willing to give it a try. Were we all glad we did. The plea to the Board of Education and administrators: Work together and try new ideas. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Jeffrey Schapiro, of Williamsville, is retired from Buffalo Public Schools.