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Overhaul of five Buffalo high schools offers students a chance at an exciting future

Finally – solid, long-range planning is coming out of the Buffalo School District. Less than a year into his leadership role here, Superintendent Kriner Cash is implementing transformative new missions for several city high schools in a smart and innovative effort to repurpose and reinvigorate some of Buffalo’s most troubled institutions.

Three of the five new programs target high-tech industries. Another will focus on careers involving the law. One, at Lafayette High School, will serve the needs of immigrant and multilingual students.

Previous school boards and previous administrators have only dabbled in solutions to Buffalo’s chronic and severe deficiencies, even going as far as to reject assistance offered by the State Education Department. But Cash actually seems to want to make a difference. He has the strong support of Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and is offering concrete solutions to some of the district’s most pressing problems.

Under his plan, Bennett High School – which is being phased out next year – will become the Computing Academy of Technological Sciences at Bennett. It’s purpose will be to introduce students to fields in computer science and software engineering, including video games. An early measure of its popularity is that the program, which launches this September with a ninth-grade class, already has nearly three times as many applicants as it can accommodate.

Even more focused on the region’s high-tech future is the useful partnership between South Park High School, SolarCity and Erie Community College. That program aims to prepare students for work in the solar power industry and will offer an associate’s degree in six years at no cost for college credits. Not coincidentally, the high school is about a four-minute drive from SolarCity’s future home, under construction along the Buffalo River. With 183 students seeking admission, it has nearly four times as many applicants as its 48 spots can serve.

East High School will offer programs to prepare students for careers in law, public safety, corrections and security. It has 142 applicants for 102 spots.

The University at Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo State and Empire Genomics will partner with the district to create the Bioinformatics and Life Sciences Research Lab. The program will be located at Math, Science and Technology Preparatory School on East Delavan Avenue, about a 12-minute drive from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. It has 142 applicants for 102 spots.

Finally, Lafayette High School will partner with SUNY Buffalo State and International Network Schools to serve immigrants and multilingual students, focusing on international business, law and teaching. It, alone, has openings left, with 92 applicants for 105 spots.

The new programs are part of Cash’s New Education Bargain, which represents real hope for improvement at these schools and for hundreds of city students. For those reasons, they deserve the district’s complete support. Whether it will get that backing may not be known until the new School Board majority, elected earlier this month, takes over in July. But there is no reason that it shouldn’t, even given the fealty its new members owe to the teachers unions.

Those members were elected in part as a rejection of the reform authority wielded by Elia, who was instrumental in the decision to hire Cash as Buffalo superintendent. It is important for the parents and taxpayers to get assurances from the new majority that it will not only continue to support this farsighted plan, but to back Cash, himself. Although he has been on the job here for only nine months, he has shown himself to be the most effective superintendent the district has had in years.

Students are demonstrating their excitement about the promise of these new programs. The new School Board should be equally enthused.