Johns Hopkins University will get the chance to prove that it can turn Lafayette and East high schools into success stories.
The Buffalo School Board voted, 8-1, at a special meeting Wednesday to have Johns Hopkins University serve as the lead supervisor for both schools over the next few years. Erie 1 BOCES, meanwhile, will provide vocational programs to any interested student at Lafayette and East.
That is doable but logistically complicated. Students interested in BOCES programs will have to travel either to Cheektowaga or the Town of Tonawanda for classes.
The Johns Hopkins/BOCES arrangement will also be expensive.
To have the two organizations work with both schools will cost the district from $2.2 million to $5.2 million this coming school year, according to Chief Financial Officer Barbara Smith.
In 2014-15, the district would spend about $1.5 million to $2.6 million, slightly less than this year, because the district will qualify for some career and academic improvement aid from the state, as well as transportation aid, she said.
Smith recommended the board wait until October, after it’s clear how many students will enroll in BOCES, before making any final decisions regarding where this unbudgeted money will come from.
David Mauricio, one of the district’s chiefs of school leadership, presented two options for the board’s consideration based on extensive feedback. Both options would have maintained Johns Hopkins’ active role at Lafayette and East, and both options would have BOCES providing vocational programs.
The only difference was that in the first option, Johns Hopkins would serve as the lead supervisor for both schools, essentially holding the powers of a superintendent and answering only to the School Board.
In the second option, Johns Hopkins would still partner with both schools, but Superintendent Pamela Brown would retain the ultimate authority over both schools.
The board voted, 8-1, for the first option, with board member Carl Paladino voting against. The first option was in line with the district’s original concept when it submitted turnaround grant applications to the state.
“I think it’s the one that makes sense,” said board President Barbara Nevergold after the meeting, recalling support by community members, parents and teachers for this choice.
Johns Hopkins has already established itself at both schools through its preliminary work this past school year and has the confidence of the people in those buildings, she said.
Board members James Sampson and Paladino seemed interested in BOCES serving as the lead supervising agency for Lafayette and East, but BOCES Superintendent Donald Ogilvie said it wasn’t possible for BOCES to assume that role on short notice.
Board member John Licata expressed lingering irritation at State Education Commissioner John King Jr.’s mandate regarding a BOCES partnership, particularly given Lafayette’s high refugee population.
“What’s the expectation?” he said. “The expectation is to create lifelong learners who graduate from our schools. That’s the expectation. So if our expectation is not being met because of a language barrier, I don’t see how adding power tools is going to improve the situation.”
His irritation was echoed at a rally in front of the school before the meeting. The heads of community groups, Lafayette and East parents and alumni, county legislators and union-affiliated organizations slammed the state Education Department in general and Commissioner King in particular.
County Legislator Timothy Hogues, who has three children in Buffalo schools, said, “If we allow this to happen at East and Lafayette, what’s next? They going to take over all of the Buffalo public school system?”
The board’s action still is subject to approval by the state Education Department.
The nuts and bolts of BOCES’ role at East and Lafayette would require special scheduling and transportation provisions, Mauricio said.
BOCES students at East and Lafayette who choose to participate in BOCES programs would be required to start school about 40 minutes earlier than other students so that they could take all their core academic classes before lunch, he said.
After lunch, they would be bused to either the Kenton Career and Technical Center in Tonawanda or the Harkness Career and Technical Center in Cheektowaga.
If a student is unable to squeeze in all the core academic subjects at the home school before lunch, he or she would be able to pick up those courses in BOCES after-school classes. This could require some students to start school at 7:30 a.m. and leave BOCES by 6 p.m. or even 8 p.m., Mauricio said.
Contrary to what some have stated, students do not have to be “in good standing” in order to take BOCES classes, he said, but students who are very far behind in their academics may be discouraged from participating in BOCES programs if it means they’ll be another year behind in graduating.
Finally, students at Lafayette and East who want to take vocational courses will need to travel to Cheektowaga or Tonawanda for classes even if the district provides similar vocational courses.
That’s because Buffalo doesn’t yet have any mechanism for students to travel from one city school to another to take the classes.
For a breakdown of Wednesday’s meeting, visit the School Zone blog at www.buffalonews.com/schoolzone