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Riverside turnaround plan calls for career programs focused on waterways

The resurgence of Buffalo’s waterfront could help turn around a struggling city high school, Buffalo school district officials say.

A proposal for transforming Riverside Institute of Technology envisions students monitoring water quality and study aquatic life in and around the Buffalo Niagara region’s waterways.

Students could use the developing waterfront and nearby Niagara Falls to learn about the business of travel and tourism.

They could also start their own fish farm inside the school.

The Buffalo school district will iron out plans over the course of the school year, and officials expect by next year to introduce new programs at Riverside that reflect this “Blue Economy.”

“When you look at Buffalo, what’s the talk of the town?” asked Sabatino Cimato, associate superintendent for school leadership. “We have the medical campus and also our Buffalo waterfront and how it’s developing and growing. That was one of the main draws.”

The Riverside redesign continues the district’s experiment to overhaul some of Buffalo’s under-performing schools, while trying to provide more high-quality, high school options for city students. Besides creating academic programs that students find interesting, the district wants to align the programs with emerging jobs in the local economy.

This year, for example, the district introduced computer science at Bennett High School; bioinformatics and life sciences at Math, Science, Technology Preparatory School; and law, government and public safety and administration at East High School.

Lafayette has become an international school for students who arrived from another country within the past four years, while there’s a new partnership between SolarCity and South Park to teach advanced manufacturing of solar panels.

Up next is Riverside, located at the foot of Ontario Street in Riverside near the Niagara River.

The district is in the process of phasing out the “old” Riverside during the next few years because of its poor academic performance. Riverside, considered a “priority” or “persistently struggling” school, had a 35 percent graduation rate among the Class of 2015, compared to 61 percent districtwide. Nearly a third of its more than 700 students were also learning English as a new language, while three-quarters were considered economically disadvantaged, according to the most recent figures available from the state Education Department.

No freshman were enrolled for this school year. The district will phase in a “new” Riverside that is more geared toward career and technical education.

While there has been uncertainty surrounding the future of the high school, more details emerged this week when the state Education Department awarded nearly $18 million in school improvement grants to seven Buffalo schools, including $2.5 million to help turn around Riverside.

The district’s proposal for Riverside is tailored toward the new “Blue Economy” movement, which is predicated on the idea that by improving the health and vitality of area waterways, like the Buffalo and Niagara rivers, economic development will follow.

“Aqua culture,” for example, is one area of study proposed for Riverside. Students who choose this major would work with local environmental partners to monitor water quality and aquatic life around the region.

“Students will be involved with trout release programs, turtle surveys and, in addition, will maintain and grow the district’s own fish farm, which will be located within the school,” according to the district’s written proposal.

A second area of study would be the “Business of the Blue Economy” – with students learning about trade, travel and tourism. Health and wellness would be another major, focusing on such issues as preventative health care and maintenance, diet and personal training.

Student surveys suggested interest in these areas of study, Cimato said.

Also, Cimato said, the Blue Economy theme was a natural fit for Riverside given its location near the Niagara River.

There had been some concern in the community that Riverside would be converted to a charter school, said North District Common Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr.

Golombek said he could support something like this for Riverside, as opposed to it becoming a charter.

Buffalo, in addition, received $2.5 million to help redesign its Academy School 131, which serves students in grades seven through 12. The school on South Park Avenue is the district’s alternative school for 150 to 200 students with behavioral problems.

The district has been under pressure to create a better program at the school and plans to add three career and technical education programs: building restoration, computer service and repair and health care cosmetology.


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