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Ryan, Peoples-Stokes Want King to Return to Buffalo

Buffalo, NY (WBEN) After State Education Commissioner John King ordered East and Lafayette High Schools to partner with BOCES, two state assemblymembers want King to come to Buffalo and answer parents' questions directly.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan says a lot of parents showed up at last week's meetings at the two schools, and he and Crystal Peoples-Stokes have sent a letter to King urging him to meet with parents this week. "It shows a lot of parents had questions and concerns. They deserve a meeting with King," says Ryan.

Ryan says students at both schools are dealing with high levels of poverty. At East, he wonders if those satisfied with vocational programs there may have to go to the suburbs. Lafayette parents have opted out of such programs. "Will they be forced to take part in vocational programs?" Ryan asks.

Ryan says Buffalo is dealt with in a way that punishes adults in the district rather than benefits students.

Here is the letter sent by Ryan and Peoples-Stokes:

Dear Commissioner King:
We write today concerning your recently issued mandate to Lafayette and East High schools in the City of Buffalo. We understand that figuring out a strategy to improve graduation rates at these schools is certainly a difficult task.
The difficulties facing Lafayette and East high schools are prime examples of the challenges facing urban schools in New York, and across the country. Eighty-two percent of students attending Lafayette are living in poverty. At East, that number is eighty-six percent. Countless studies have shown that children living in poverty have a far more difficult time at school, and have far lower graduation rates. Language barriers are also impacting learning in urban schools. At Lafayette, there are forty-five languages spoken, and forty-six percent of students have limited English proficiency. Lafayette has seen huge growth in the number of immigrant students, and refugee students in particular. Children from all over the world are coming to the West Side of Buffalo and attending Lafayette, and the challenge of educating these children who have very limited English proficiency is enormous. Shipping a small group of students who are interested in vocational training to BOCES for two hours a day will not change these facts, and it will not give this school the complete turnaround it is seeking. After all, Lafayette is not a vocational school, and every student at Lafayette was offered the opportunity in eighth grade to sign up for career and technical programs, and they opted out. So our question to you is, how does this mandate help the students of Lafayette? At East High school, career and technical programs are offered. If a student is enrolled in career and technical training at East, will that student be forced to attend BOCES instead? We think you are going to create a situation that is both very confusing, and not beneficial to students. The BOCES mandate is clearly not going to solve all the problems these two schools are facing.
It appears that the mandate is shortsighted, and perhaps born out of frustration. We honestly feel that the mandate amounts to a band-aid that does not get at the underlying problems. These schools need a comprehensive look and understanding of the challenges facing their students. The state education department needs to be working to develop a comprehensive strategy for improving urban schools, schools with high poverty rates, large populations of immigrants and refuges, and schools with language barriers. Buffalo is not unique. We are seeing this problem at urban schools across New York. From Buffalo, to Rochester, to Syracuse, to Utica, to New York City, all these cities share a common thread. In addition, the cost of your mandate raises more questions. It would cost Lafayette and East high schools $7,600 per student to send them to BOCES; funding that should be used toward hiring more translators to help students learn, or one on one help for students who are struggling. You have not presented any quantifiable goals or objectives to measure the success of this mandate. It seems like a one-size-fits-all approach that does not look at the overriding challenges facing students in urban schools.  We would also like to know why the Johns Hopkins plan is no longer acceptable, and is now being supplanted by the Erie 1 BOCES plan. Having reviewed the letter from the State Education Department rejecting the Johns Hopkins plan, it is still not clear why you rejected the districts plans to spend grant funding on what appears to be a worthwhile plan. John Hopkins unlike Erie 1 BOCES has extensive successful experiences with urban high schools.
There were two public forums held this week in Buffalo regarding your mandate, that were widely attended by students and parents, who had many more questions than answers. Having heard from many parents and students at these schools, it has become apparent to us that the State Education Department owes it to the community to answer these questions directly. You need to hear first hand the concerns of parents and students.
It is imperative that you visit with the parents and students of Lafayette and East high schools this week, so that you can talk with them and listen to their concerns regarding this mandate. It is important that you visit Buffalo before these mandates are finalized. The students of these schools deserve to hear directly from you regarding your mandate, a mandate that has left many in the community deeply disturbed and with many unanswered questions. Far too often, parents and students are left out of these conversations, and decisions are made from the top down. We are willing to help facilitate these visits, and help out with any planning that would be necessary. Please feel free to call or email us to set up a time to visit with parents and students of these schools. We look forward to hearing from you regarding this important matter.
Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes
Member of Assembly
Sean M. Ryan
Member of Assembly

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