When Buffalo’s oldest high school got a reboot this year as an "international school," it was welcome news for the city’s growing immigrant and refugee population.
They want to help turn things around at Lafayette International High School, and have some ideas on how the school can succeed:
* Give the principal the ability to choose a teaching staff that’s best suited to handle the cultures, languages and psychological challenges these students bring into the classroom.
* Bring aboard parents to serve on a school-based management team that would play a governance role at Lafayette.
* Keep the school open longer so that it might benefit the entire refugee community.
There's also a sentiment, however, that their concerns about Lafayette have fallen on deaf ears and their offers to get more involved in the school have been met with silence.
That's what prompted a meeting Tuesday between Buffalo school officials and members of VOICE-Buffalo, an alliance of some 60 churches and religious organizations that advocates for social causes.
"We care about education and the future of our children," said Gertrude Jones, chair of the VOICE-Buffalo Immigrant and Refugee Leadership Team. "But many families don't know how to engage with the school and it is very frustrating. That is why we are here tonight."
The meeting at Our Lady of Hope Church -- located a couple blocks away from the school on Lafayette Avenue -- was attended by roughly 100 people and included David Mauricio, chief of strategic alignment and innovation for the Buffalo Public Schools; Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore; and West District School Board Member Jennifer Mecozzi.
Organizers held their feet to the fire and asked the trio to back the VOICE-Buffalo platform for Lafayette, some of which would come with funding and union challenges.
But Mauricio, Rumore and Mecozzi all agreed to lend their support -- or at least continue the dialogue about Lafayette.
"You have nothing but my support," Mecozzi told the crowd.
Mauricio said VOICE-Buffalo members have met with school officials in the past about plans for Lafayette, and acknowledged he was surprised the group came away feeling slighted. But Mauricio came away from Tuesday's meeting believing both sides have the same hopes for Lafayette.
"I think it's right in line with what we're planning as a district," Mauricio said. "It's important to build this model from the community up."
Lafayette already has been tagged a “community school” that provides outside services for students and their families. Starting in November, the school will be open two Saturdays a month and two nights a week.
If the community wants Lafayette open five nights a week and four Saturdays a month, then people will have to prove to the district the facilities will be used, Mauricio said.
The landmark school at the corner of Lafayette Avenue and Baynes Street has a long and storied tradition since its doors opened in 1903.
In more recent years, though, Lafayette has been one of Buffalo’s poorest-performing high schools. The graduation rate was 32 percent in 2015, compared to 61 percent district-wide.
Now, the district is in the process of phasing out the “old” Lafayette and phasing in a new model with new leadership and a redesign catering to the growing number of international students new to Buffalo.
Meanwhile, the VOICE-Buffalo Immigrant and Refugee Leadership Team grew out of conversations with the rising number of refugees and immigrants attending three churches -- Our Lady of Hope, Holy Angels and Holy Cross -- on the West Side, explained Jerry Manuel, vice chair of the leadership team.
Their concerns shared a common thread: education.
“We are putting down roots. We are here to stay,” Manuel said. “We want to see this whole community grow and we think Lafayette is going to be a great contribution to that process – but we still think Lafayette has a long way to go.”