LAURRIE: For Niagara Falls Schools – A New Year with New Goals

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By: Mark Laurrie

Superintendent of Niagara Falls City School District

With the school year already about a month into full swing, I think parents, students and taxpayers might be interested in hearing from your School Superintendent about what priorities I have for 2018 – 2019 calendar.

Academically, my priorities include adding Pre-Kindergarten classrooms for 3-year-olds at Kalfas Magnet School (PK3) and continuing thematic-based instruction there.

I want to hire social workers to work in the schools, focusing on attendance in primary level. It should alarm residents to learn that at one elementary school, 86% of the student body ages three to seven missed at least 18 days of school last year. At another school, that number was 55%. I cannot stress enough that we cannot teach children who are not present, and employers will not be eager to hire people who grew up feeling that a high level of absenteeism is acceptable. Whatever the barriers are to good attendance, we must address them.

I intend to implement fully the Healthy Behaviors curriculum, including information on HPV prevention, and to institute a Mental Health Curriculum that includes all grades Pre-K 3 through 12. Why? According to the New York Times, Niagara County has the seventh highest rate of suicide attempts in the state. We are all acquainted with the rates of teen pregnancy, (zip codes 14301 and 14303 have teenage birth rates between the ages of 15 and 19 that are nearly double the state average, about 148 per 1,000 teenage girls becoming pregnant – almost 15 percent). According to data from the state Department of Health, Niagara County has the highest rate of drug-addicted newborns in New York. That tells you something about drug use. Some may feel these issues are not in the purview of a school district, but I ask you, if we don’t address these issues, who will? And how can we expect academic achievement from youth dealing with these issues?

I am also undertaking a study to see how the District can address the oft-repeated concern by residents that they have no transportation to attend health fairs, job fairs, and other opportunities to obtain help they need.

I want to implement a system this year, in which all graduates will earn an endorsement on their diplomas officially crediting them with a sort of major, if you will: welding, science, math, culinary arts -whatever it may be – and to recognize every student performing 200 hours or more of community service. I am also committed to examining the possibility of bringing trade school back our District.

This is a year focused on the Performing Arts in grades 4 through 12; you will hear more on our Speakers Series, as well. We are hosting four more special evenings of speakers and panel discussions on topics relevant to our community, free and open to all. We are also inviting all residents to join us in a community-wide read of Beautiful Boy by David Sheff. Copies are available at our offices.

Other business includes negotiating contracts with our unions, whom we are proud to employ, beginning capital projects, and examining carefully our transportation costs to ensure maximum efficiency.

I hope you will join us in supporting these goals and I invite feedback at any time.

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