Niagara Gazette

September 30, 2013

HIGGS: New high school transforms school district

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — OK, it’s now the year 2000 and the new Niagara Falls High School has been established at 4455 Porter Road in Niagara Falls.

This school was opened in September 2000 and is the city’s only public high school. There are approximately 2,400 students under one roof as the building project culminated in the merger of the “old” Niagara Falls High School and the former LaSalle High School. Fortunately the two populations meshed without incident and any worries proved unfounded.

The new school provides students with their own television production program and cable-access channel and a Performing Arts Center that rivals a Broadway theater. The “Our Schools Channel” is an educational access channel created by media director Rich Meranto. Wikipedia continues “The programming that it creates or accepts from schools and colleges to be broadcast is educational in nature. The station is operated by students who are part of the Media Production Program. The school website states that many foreign visitors have walked these halls of learning to gain insight of the academic programs offered and to experience the building in person. The building offers health and other human services in addition to the academics. Community events are hosted in the theater (note: it is no longer called an auditorium) and its spacious gymnasium.”

Owned by and operated under the auspices of the Niagara Falls City School District, the current Superintendent is Cynthia Bianco with a faculty of approximately 130. The new school was placed sort of mid-center of the city and nearly all of the students are bused on a daily basis.

The Niagara Gazette published a 10-year look at accomplishments during 2010 authored by Nick Mattera, a former reporter. He wrote what everyone now knows that “the former high school was crumbling the roofs leaked and the teachers and students were not working and learning in quality conditions.”

The $80 million (yes, you read that right) cost used a “lease back” deal with Honeywell Corp. This method replaced two aging schools without adding the financial burden to the taxpayers. Other schools throughout the country have copied this method. The school not only brought all citywide students together but they have graduated more students with Regents diplomas and provided special education students a better chance to succeed. One of the district’s goals was to make this new edifice a community building offering after-school programs for both students and the general public for meetings, presentations, fine arts performances and sporting events. One example is the annual Dr. Martin Luther King program which is held here.

The school was built in four separate wings — each one having a principal, a dean of students and separate office. This makes moving about this large campus easier if each student is contained in one wing. Laptop computers were provided to each student but that was scaled back to only those who requested them.

This building will surely be a landmark for Niagara Falls for many years to come – like the former high school which is now the NACC. While it was left in terrible, demolition-ready condition, the former high school is slowly but surely being transformed into a useful learning center, cultural center, art center and a historically preserved landmark that is enjoyed on a daily basis.

But there is still more to come at the Porter Road High School. The school district is currently involved in a districtwide capital improvement project. STEM class rooms are an important element of this program. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The Gazette recently reported that these classrooms are only months away. “While each younger school will receive a STEM classroom as part of the project, the high school will have two built. And they’ll each have a distinct theme for helping advance the studies of those who choose to take advantage.”

The fear among parents, teachers and staff about the merger of two separate and distinct high school student populations was felt more among the adults than the students. The kids quickly adapted and took pride in the fact they were in one of the most advanced schools in the state. In the Gazette 10th anniversary article, longtime school board member Don King stated, “Melding the rich and the poor, the black and the white and the challenged and the gifted, all of these in one building, it becomes a community. Kids have the opportunity to learn how to live in that community every day. That’s something worth talking about, that’s giving these kids a real life, real world experience and it happens every day right here in Niagara Falls High School.”

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.