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Lafayette High School’s uniqueness as the educational site for many of Buffalo’s international students took center stage at a public meeting Wednesday to address a turnaround plan for the school.

“Lafayette is a place to learn about the world,” said Robert Jones, a 2013 Lafayette graduate. “I’ve learned more about the world from students here. They help me understand what’s happening elsewhere.”

“You tell me what other school can take on 45-plus languages and still persevere,” said Corey Branch, another 2013 graduate.

Jones, Branch and about 150 other former and current students, teachers, administrators and parents met with district officials at the school, two days after a similar meeting was held at East High School. Both are among the district’s poor performing schools.

With graduation rates at both schools below 50 percent for the past three years, State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. has directed the district to give Erie I Board of Cooperative Educational Services a role in turning them around. King told the district it must allow students from Lafayette and East to attend vocational programs at Erie I BOCES – on a voluntary basis – or have Erie I BOCES serve as the “educational partnership organization” for the schools. Other scenarios would involve Johns Hopkins University, either as the educational partner or in a supportive role to BOCES.

Last year, only 21 percent of seniors graduated on time from Lafayette. Two years before that, in 2010, the on-time graduation rate at Lafayette was 36 percent, and it was 31 percent in 2011.

For this year, the school is reporting its on-time graduation rate at 23 percent – a 2 percentage point increase over 2012. Of the seniors who did not graduate this year, 46 percent were learning English as their second language.

Schools Superintendent Pamela Brown told the audience that other statistics at the school have improved. For instance, she said, the average daily attendance increased to 85.07 percent in the 2012 school year, from 83.6 percent the previous school year.

Still, Lafayette has the worst on-time graduation rate in the district as well as the highest percentage of immigrant and refugee students. Between 65 and 70 percent are non-native English speakers.

During Wednesday’s meeting, which lasted more than 2½ hours, Brown explained the two options from which the district has to choose.

Under Option 1, the school district and BOCES would be in partnership, or the district and Johns Hopkins University and BOCES would be equal partners; or Johns Hopkins would be the educational partnership organization to work with BOCES, Brown said.

Johns Hopkins was to have been the lead manager of a turnaround plan at both Lafayette and East high schools, but King denied the district’s application for a grant to pay John Hopkins.

However, the state did allow the schools to use some money to pay the university, which has been working with faculty and staff for about a year and a half.

Under Option 2, BOCES would be the educational partner and Johns Hopkins would provide services.

Brown said the challenges to the options include increased transportation costs to BOCES facilities in the suburbs and the cost of tuition for each student at BOCES, which is $7,600, compared with about $1,500 per student in the city school district.

Up to 50 percent can be reimbursed in two years, Brown said.

The concern among many in the audience was the extra layer of challenges that Lafayette’s sizable immigrant and refugee student population might experience by busing them to the suburbs.

“The students try their hardest, and the faculty has worked so hard,” Jones said. “So you take all this from them and have them face another challenge on top of the one they’re already facing – a language barrier.

BOCES will hold an open house for parents at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 15 at its Harkness Career & Technical Center in Cheektowaga.

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown and mayoral candidates Bernard Tolbert, a Lafayette alum, and Sergio Rodriguez were among those attending Wednesday’s meeting.

News reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report. email: