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Ogilvie unveils school plan for redesign

In one of his last moves as interim superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools, Donald A. Ogilvie unveiled the final details of a school redesign plan that would create 2,500 new seats at schools in good standing over the next five years.

Those seats come largely with the creation of new schools, and the expansion of some of the district’s most demanded programs.

“We need to figure out the things that make a difference and focus on them,” Ogilvie said.

The plan presented to the Buffalo School Board on Wednesday brings some finality to a process that has dominated Ogilvie’s year leading the district, as administrators tried to come up with turnaround plans for long-struggling schools at the same time they faced new state mandates and a civil rights complaint.

The latest version of the redesign plan includes phasing out three schools – Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute elementary school and Bennett and Riverside high schools – and using the buildings for other purposes.

It also calls for creating three new schools that will help the district comply with the civil rights complaint, and qualify for millions of dollars in state aid aimed at integrating schools by offering special magnet programs. Those plans include a Montessori high school, a science research high school in potential partnership with the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and a performing arts elementary school.

“There really isn’t any time to waste if we want to have effective programs for this year and the following year,” said David Mauricio, who oversees school innovation. “It is critically important we move forward.”

The future of those plans, however, now lies in the hands of whoever the School Board picks as its new leader, with Ogilvie and two other top-level administrators slated to leave office next week.

Board members, who had little to say about Ogilvie’s plan, already are positioning themselves for moving forward after Ogilvie’s departure. On Wednesday, they appointed human resources administrator Darren Brown as interim superintendent.

Brown, 41, is well respected among both majority- and minority-bloc board members and is credited with fixing many problems that had plagued the Human Resources Department prior to his appointment by former interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon in November 2011.

How long he will stay on the job, however, is unclear since the board is also in the midst of its search for a permanent superintendent, and is expected to begin interviewing candidates this week.

The next superintendent may come in with new ideas for how to revamp schools that have struggled for years to meet state standards.

After Ogilvie started, he and the new board majority scratched plans for MLK and Bennett that were developed and approved under his predecessor, Pamela C. Brown.

Still, Ogilvie cautioned board members against switching direction too often, especially at a time when new state mandates often require changes to plans.

“We are looking for, and people deserve, a thoughtful, consistent plan that does not change with every development that is out there,” Ogilvie told the board. “And, of course, the reason we do all of this is our students and our families. They need to recognize there is purposefulness and there is equity.”

Under Ogilvie’s recommended plan, once MLK closes, the building could be used as a hub for prekindergarten classrooms – kinderprep – which will create space in other elementary schools to facilitate the lowering of class sizes.

The Bennett campus will become the new home of Middle Early College, and that building then will be occupied by the new Montessori program.

The district will continue working on plans developed for East and Lafayette, and it would open an annex for Hutch-Tech at Riverside.

The plan to annex Hutch-Tech also could help the district settle a civil rights complaint that alleged discrimination at the city’s criterion schools. Civil rights expert Gary Orfield issued his recommendations last month, and the board will have to take action on them July 8.

Among those decisions are how to select students for the criterion schools, and whether to set aside spots for students who do not meet the admissions criteria but warrant special consideration because of their circumstances.

The Buffalo Board of Education on Wednesday also approved a policy that will allow school nurses to make condoms available to students.

The condom distribution is part of a greater health education program that be incorporated into the curriculum.

School officials spent the past year and a half developing the policy and seeking community input.

The policy came in light of some concerning data about the sexual habits of Buffalo students.

email: tlankes@buffnews.com