September 2, 2008

Not Your Same Old School

By Paul Westmoore

NIAGARA FALLS -- Niagara County's 10 public school districts will open their doors to some 30,463 children this week and spend more than $505.6 million during the 2008-09 school year to educate them.

All districts will welcome back students Wednesday except Niagara Falls, which starts classes Thursday.

Another 336 pupils began classes Aug. 11 at Niagara Charter School in Wheatfield, the county's only charter school, which sports a $3.74 million budget and a 204-day school year.

The public school districts hold classes at least 180 days this year.

When students come back to class in the public school districts, many will notice some significant changes either in personnel, new construction, equipment or curriculum.

Niagara Wheatfield and Lewiston have new superintendents, Carl H. Militello and R. Christopher Roser, respectively.

In Niagara Falls, Superintendent Carmen A. Granto will spend his last year in the district's top job. He announced earlier this month he will retire June 30, 2009, after leading the district for 16 years. Granto's impending retirement will require the School Board to start searching for his replacement.

Royalton-Hartland Superintendent Paul J. Bona Jr. also has announced this will be his last school year after a decade in the district's top administrative post.

In some districts, schools have taken on new looks, some inside, some outside.

As for physical improvements, Lewiston-Porter students will notice quite a few. The most obvious include the new maintenance building, which was erected on the far north side of the district's Creek Road campus this summer. Also, a new 40-by-18-foot concession stand and a new sports team building have been constructed adjacent to the district's new football field, which will sport a new eight- lane running track.

The district's administrative offices also have been moved.

One of the most noticeable changes in Niagara Falls will be at Geraldine J. Mann Elementary School, where pupils will begin wearing uniforms.

Students in the Newfane School District will be treated to 200 new computers that have been installed at the elementary, middle and high school levels and come with broadband Internet service, part of a $4 million district capital project.

Academic-wise, high school students in Lewiston-Porter and Niagara Falls are being offered an added selection of electives, many of them college-level courses.

There is lot happening in all 10 districts this coming school year. The following is a snapshot.


Students: About 1,032 students are expected to attend the district's three schools: Pratt Elementary and Barker Middle and High schools.

Budget: $19,863,640.

Teachers: 203.

Administrators: Six.

Other staff: 55.

Key personnel changes: The district has hired Scott M. Hoot as its new business administrator at a $90,000 annual salary. Formerly the Medina Central school district's financial services director, Hoot replaces Deborah A. Coder, who left the district in November to become assistant superintendent of finance in the Lockport City School District.

The board also has hired Deborah Sinnott as the principal at Pratt Elementary at an annual salary of $85,000. Hailing from the Rush-Henrietta School District near Rochester, where she was assistant to the principal at Winslow Elementary School, Sinnott replaces Nicolette Shanley, who retired after being Pratt's principal for five years.

The board also hired Barbara J. Converso as the new principal at Barker Middle School at an $88,000 annual salary. She will replace Cheryl M. Cardone, who left the district last summer to become director of student services for the North Tonawanda City School District.

Curriculum changes: The district is switching over from the 11/2- year Math A course to a one-year course called Integrated Algebra, as required by the state Education Department. Also, the district will provide teachers a new learning tool, "virtual trips," in which a class can travel to faraway places via the Internet, visiting locations of interest on high-tech equipment like large projector screens and SMART Boards. It enables students to tour places like the San Diego Zoo and ask questions of and get answers in real time from the experts giving the tour, all without leaving their classroom.

Physical changes: None.


Students: About 2,340 students are expected to attend the district's four schools: Lewiston-Porter Primary Education Center, Intermediate Education Center and Middle and High schools.

Budget: $40,426,958.

Teachers: 210.

Administrators: Eight.

Other staff: 153.

Key personnel changes: Aug. 19, the School Board voted to hire R. Christopher Roser, the superintendent of the Avoca School District in Steuben County, as its new superintendent, at a salary of $155,000 a year. It also hired John E. Evert as the new assistant principal at Lewiston-Porter High School at an annual salary of $75,000. He was formerly assistant principal at Buffalo's Lafayette High School and replaces John Diodate, the former assistant principal at the high school, who left the district this summer to become principal at Thomas Marks Elementary School in the Wilson Central School District.

Curriculum changes: The high school is starting up a U.S. Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Course, an elective program that already has enrolled 91 of the school's students. It offers a rigorous academic program that focuses on aviation and aerospace science, military and aeronautics history, and military science.

School officials also are developing a program that will bring a teacher here from Tianjin, China, in January to offer instruction in Mandarin Chinese to high school students.

The high school also will offer six new college-level courses: Advanced Placement Psychology, Environmental Science, Statistics, European History, 2-D Photography, and American Government Politics and Economics. It also is offering a new advanced high school course, Honors Biology.

Physical changes: The district is in the middle of $10 million in capital improvements, much of which should be completed when school opens.

Students should notice a number of obvious changes when they return to the district's Creek Road campus. Most obvious is the new maintenance building, which has been completed at the far north end of the campus. Next door, the Community Resource Center has almost all been renovated, especially the west pod of the building, which has been converted to the new district central office. It features new windows, much new exterior work, and the offices have been painted and fixed up with new flooring and new furniture. The old administration building at the front of the campus will be empty, with school officials still having to determine what it will be used for.

The district has also built a new 40-by-18-foot concession building and a team building to cater to two home teams and two away teams during on-campus games. Both buildings sit adjacent to the new football field. Also, the restroom building, which lies between the concession stand and team building, has been painted and given a new roof. The running track that circles the football field is being expanded from six to eight lanes so the district can host regional track meets.

Behind the four schools, contractors are in the process of creating two new softball diamonds and two new baseball diamonds, which will be ready for use by the varsity and junior varsity baseball and softball teams next spring. The ball fields will feature good drainage. The district has not been able to hold home baseball games on campus for much of the past several years because of flooding and other poor field conditions, a situation that should now be eliminated.

The district also is installing four new tennis courts.

As a safety measure, a new roadway is being installed across the front of the Creek Road campus to make sure traffic and pedestrians don't mix and create potentially tragic situations and to lower the traffic volume on Creek Road when students are arriving at or leaving school. Two new bus loops also are being installed between the middle school and high school and the intermediate school and the primary school so students can be dropped off at their respective schools without having to walk anywhere near a roadway.

Three new parking lots have been added to the campus at the middle, intermediate and primary schools. High school parking will remain the same.

In less-than-obvious work, the district has installed new roofs on the middle school and on the three-story building at the back end of the high school.


Students: About 5,350 students are expected to attend the city's seven elementary schools, two middle schools, high school and the alternative school in the old Charlotte Cross Elementary School building.

Budget: $73,365,821.

Teachers: 486.

Administrators: 26.

Other staff: 246.

Key position changes: Heather Walton has been named an assistant principal at George Southard Elementary School, a position that has not been filled for several years but was reinstated because the school is possibly the largest elementary school in the district and needed another administrator. She will be paid a $77,032 annual salary.

DeWitt Clinton Elementary School Principal Marianne Currie-Hall has been given the additional title of director of elementary education, for which she will receive about an added $2,000 a year, for a total salary of $90,095. That post was last held by Superintendent Terrn Ann Carbone two years ago before she was named the district's top educator.

Also, Sharon Lansing, who was appointed last school year, will continue on in the new post of director of early childhood education for preschoolers at a $91,562 salary.

To ensure student safety at North Park and Emmet Belknap middle schools, the district is hiring two full-time hall monitors to build relationships with pupils and reduce bullying and teasing as a way to make children feel more comfortable and enjoy their school environment.

Curriculum changes: The district has implemented a new elementary mathematics program that's aligned with the state standards and is based on effective teaching practices so that children will find math easier to learn. The change should help children do better on state tests.

Physical changes: The district has taken on many projects this summer. North Park Middle School pupils will be treated to a new gym floor. Lockport High School students will find new, royal blue lockers installed on the school's first and second floors and in the sports locker rooms.

Also, there will be new lighting in many district parking lots, including at Lockport High School and at the Board of Education Administration Building on Beattie Avenue. Also, new digital security cameras have been installed in and outside school buildings districtwide, and new video-audio security systems have been installed at main school entrances so school officials can screen and identify visitors before letting them into buildings via a new buzz-in system.

The Lockport High School swimming pool has been closed because the roof above it is falling apart. School officials hope to have the roof replaced by January.


Students: About 2,100 students are expected to attend the district's four schools: the Newfane Early Childhood Center and the Newfane Elementary, Middle and High schools.

Budget: $31,949,691.

Teachers: 180.

Administrators: 13.

Other staff: 110.

Key personnel changes: Former Assistant High School Principal Peter Young has been made district director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, as well as Early Childhood Center principal, at an $89,549 annual salary. He replaces Amy Stanfield, who resigned. Sharon Smith has been named assistant principal at the Early Childhood Center at a $75,289 annual salary. The district has appointed Debra Zapp to fill the vacancy left by Young's departure. Zapp, a math teacher in the district for about 18 years, was appointed to a one-year position of administrative intern. She will continue to make her teacher's salary of $75,750.

Curriculum changes: Newfane High School has added Advance Placement Chemistry to its list of college-level classes offered to its students.

Physical changes: Newfane Middle School has replaced its 1950s- era electrical, plumbing and heating systems during the summer as part of a $4 million improvement project.

The district has upgraded its technology by purchasing 200 new computers, which have been installed in district buildings. The district also subscribed to a high-speed broadband Internet service.

Newfane High School is the biggest beneficiary here, as 141 of the new computers have been installed in its labs, library and classrooms. Fourteen new computers are installed in the middle school computer lab and 15 in the Newfane Elementary School library.

Also, Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston, helped arrange for $100,000 for the purchase of new high-tech equipment, and State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, got the district $70,000 to construct a new playground outside the Newfane Early Childhood Center on Godfrey Road. School officials said they hope to have the playground installed this fall and have yet to determine how the money from DelMonte will be used.

>Niagara Falls

Students: About 5,559 students are expected to attend the district's 11 schools: Niagara Street, Harry F. Abate, Henry J. Kalfas Magnet, Geraldine J. Mann, Hyde Park, 79th Street, Cataract and Maple Avenue elementary schools; LaSalle and Gaskill preparatory schools and Niagara Falls High School.

Budget: $126,758,395.

Teachers: 563.

Administrators: 26.

Other staff: 552.

Key personnel changes: Beginning his last year as superintendent, Granto has shifted five of his administrators into new jobs this fall. Mark R. Laurrie, the chief educational administrator at Niagara Falls High School the past three years, has been made a principal on special assignment in the district's central office to coordinate all school operations districtwide. James Spanbauer, who was the high school building principal under Laurrie, has been made the high school's new chief educational officer. Former Maple Avenue Principal Carol Gold has been moved to the central office as a principal on special assignment in charge of curriculum and instruction districtwide. She has been replaced with an acting principal at Maple Avenue, former Niagara Street School Assistant Principal Tina Smeal. Dorothy Brundidge, the former assistant principal at Hyde Park School, has been named an assistant principal at the high school.

Curriculum changes: The elementary schools will offer a new handwriting program to make sure pupils in kindergarten through sixth grade develop good cursive writing skills, something the district found lacking in a number of children in that they can't seem to write in longhand and have trouble reading cursive writing.

Niagara Falls High School is offering three new AP courses: Environmental Sciences, Statistics and Psychology. With the addition of the new courses, the high school now offers students 15 different AP programs.

Physical changes: None.

>Niagara Wheatfield

Students: About 4,005 students are expected to attend the district's four elementary schools, Edward Town Middle School and Niagara Wheatfield High School.

Budget: $60 million.

Teachers: 375.

Administrators: 21.

Other staff: 420.

Key personnel changes: In addition to new Superintendent Militello, the School Board also has named Timothy Carter, the assistant principal at West Street Elementary School, to be the new principal of Colonial Village Elementary School. Carter replaces Carol Beebe, who retired. Colleen Coggins, an administrator from the Iroquois School District, has been hired to replace Carter as assistant principal at West Street Elementary.

Curriculum changes: The high school will offer a new, combined English-social studies course, which will give students double credit, being taught by two teachers. It involves learning about local history and legends, including Native American lore.

The district also will offer reading recovery programs at all four elementary schools to help first-graders catch up to their reading level. The programs will be offered at Errick Road and West Street elementary schools. They were only offered to the Colonial Village and Tuscarora elementary pupils before.

Physical changes: The district just completed the installation of a new roof on Colonial Village Elementary School.

>North Tonawanda

Students: About 4,237 students are expected to attend the district's five elementary schools, middle school and high school.

Budget: $63,671,079.

Teachers: 358.

Administrators: 16.

Other staff: 197.

Key personnel changes: Gregory Witman will enter his first full year as the district's director of athletics, physical education and programs after being hired in January at an annual $77,836 salary.

The district added three new reading teachers to its staff, so each elementary school will have a reading teacher to help improve student achievement in reading and bolster pupil performance on state English Language Arts assessment tests.

The school district has yet to hire a director of curriculum and instruction, although Superintendent Vincent J. Vecchiarella has reviewed more than 40 candidates for the post and has made a recommendation to the School Board. A decision is expected at the Sept. 9 School Board meeting.

Curriculum changes: The district has Witman developing a program so each elementary school pupil will receive 120 minutes of physical education weekly, as required by state law. Witman said the district has come up short in that area by about 30 minutes a week in the past for many students. He said that will change even if it means having children exercise in classrooms, possibly just before the start of classes.

The middle school will be piloting a writers workshop as part of its Gifted and Talented program.

Physical changes: The three elementary special-education classes that have been run at Ohio Elementary School will be relocated to Meadow Elementary School. Meadow will now host all the district's special-education classes, which are run by the Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

The high school completed a renovation project that placed the school attendance office next to the school's main entrance. It includes a walk-up window that will allow visitors, staff and students to be checked in as present immediately upon entering the school.

Major physical changes are expected next year, as the School Board embarks on a planned $48 million capital improvement project, which includes spending $4 million to install the wiring and other infrastructure in all school buildings to upgrade technology.

Vecchiarella said Kideney Architects of Buffalo is handling design work for the major project, at 6.35 percent of the entire cost. Christa Construction of Rochester has been hired as construction manager on the project and will be paid based on a percentage of the construction costs, which will vary for various aspects.

"We now have a team together," the superintendent said, "and obviously this is the biggest construction project the district has ever had."


Students: About 1,600 students are expected to attend the district's three schools: Royalton-Hartland Elementary, Middle and High schools.

Budget: $23,414,000.

Teachers: 130.

Administrators: Six.

Other staff: 86.

Key position changes: Superintendent Paul J. Bona Jr. announced last week that this will be his last school year. He is retiring after a decade in the district's top administrative post. The School Board will launch a search for his replacement.

Meanwhile, the board has hired John Fucina as principal of Royalton-Hartland Middle School, at a salary of about $85,000. He replaces Jarad Taft, who served as assistant principal and as principal of the school the past three years. Taft left the district to be an elementary principal with the Lackawanna School District.

Curriculum changes: None.

Physical changes: None.


Students: About 2,840 students are expected to attend the district's four schools: Fricano Primary, and Starpoint Intermediate, Middle and High schools.

Budget: $41,883,820.

Teachers: 233.

Administrators: 13.

Other staff: 107.

Key position changes: The School Board has hired James Peiffer, a technology expert with Erie 1 BOCES who recently ran technology staff development programs at Starpoint and other school districts, as the new assistant principal for Starpoint Middle School. His annual salary is $75,000. He replaces Anthony Panella, who held that post for the past two years. Panella left Starpoint this summer to be a principal in the Akron Central School District.

Curriculum changes: None.

Physical improvements: About $15.49 million in capital improvements will greet students when they return to the Starpoint campus this week.

The biggest visible change students will notice is the new 105- by-100-foot corridor building -- containing five new classrooms, including a double-sized music room -- that will connect Fricano Primary School to Starpoint Intermediate School. There will be a new storage building erected just north of the Tudor Football Stadium's bleachers and concession stand.

With the addition of the new corridor, students may walk through all four schools from one end to the other without ever having to step outside.

Also, a new 165-space parking lot has been added just east of the Fricano facility.

All 200 district classrooms will be equipped with new technology, in the form of 6-foot screens and new high-tech projectors, so teachers can show videos and graphics, and use the Internet as part of instruction. The new projection systems will be hooked up to classroom computers. They replace the 32-inch televisions each classroom had previously.

The least-noticeable improvements include new roofs on the primary and intermediate schools.

The middle school auditorium ought to be warm in the winter, cool in the summer and always full of fresh air, thanks to the new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system that has been installed this summer.

Also, the district has prepared and seeded two new soccer fields on campus that will be ready in September 2009.


Students: About 1,400 students are expected to attend the district's three schools: W.H. Stevenson and Thomas Marks elementary schools and Wilson Middle-High School.

Budget: $23,254,849.

Teachers: 130.

Administrators: Nine.

Other staff: 100.

Key personnel changes: John Diodate, the assistant principal for Lewiston-Porter High School the past two years, has been hired as principal of Thomas Marks Elementary School at a $77,500 annual salary. He replaces Elaine Moon, who retired after 10 years as principal.

Curriculum changes: None.

Physical changes: The district has been making about $8 million in improvements this year, most of which should be completed by the time school starts. Pupils in the two elementary schools will be treated to the new air-conditioning systems that have been installed in both school gyms. Superintendent Michael S. Wendt said the air conditioning was needed because the gymnasiums often became much too hot to handle all the pupils and parents who made use of them.

Also, he said the middle-high school library-media center has been renovated and expanded into the former board room and upgraded technologically.

Wendt said the students also will see a new entryway to the middle school, a new handicapped-accessible ramp for access to the district office, new fencing for the varsity baseball field and the installation of dugouts at the junior varsity baseball field.

e-mail: [email protected]

Originally published by NEWS NIAGARA BUREAU.

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