Niagara Gazette

September 26, 2013

State of the district|Bianco says Niagara Falls School District is "good and improving"

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — According to the district's superintendent, the state of the Niagara Falls City School District is "good and improving."

Cynthia Bianco took a portion of her superintendent's report during Thursday's school board meeting to deliver her annual address, highlighting some of the accomplishments her staff has accomplished since last September and point out some areas needing improvement going forward.

Much of both categories focused on preparation of teachers and implementation of necessary instruction methods under the common core learning standards. On the positive side, Bianco said the district formed 70 work groups over the course of the summer to help 214 staff members better prepare for the rigorous demands of the state's new education method.

But work is still needed, she added, to get student achievement in line with where the district would like to see its results fall, a number Niagara Falls failed to achieve in the first common core round of state examinations, of which results were released earlier this year.

"Our challenges include the fact that our movement to the common core is not yet fully implemented," she said. "We are continually feeling the impact of a low economic climate both locally and throughout the state and nation, along with shrinking resources. Changes in the global landscape requires a shift in focus from preparation for graduation to preparation for success beyond (high school) and expectations are not always high for every student."

Graduation is another area she focused her address, though she wasn't critical of the districts recent figures showing 79 percent of students receive their high school diploma. Instead, she compared the number to the state average of 74 percent.

But despite her point, she continued on, exploring a notion that, to the public and to her administration, "good isn't good enough."

She said education has become one of the most important things in the country as more and more futures for students are depending on a successful school experience. Preparing students for success is both more difficult and more important than ever, she said.

"We must prepare not just most students, but every student, for success in our ever-changing world," she said.

One way the district will achieve its goals, she said, is by ensuring all of its staff is "highly effective" in the classroom. Providing teachers with the means of properly educating students only goes as far as how well the teachers implement what they have.

There are other factors to student success, too, she said. Some of the responsibility also falls on the shoulders of parents and guardians of the students, as well as the children themselves. 

She said that if the students stay in the district for three years or more, an issue the district faces due to the economic climate of Niagara Falls, the children will be able to perform at an acceptable level and be prepared for life after school, wherever that may be.

"If students stay with us through graduation, they will graduate ready for college, career and life," she said. "Parents and the school district must collaborate and work together to achieve student success. We must work together to close achievement gaps, to prevent students from dropping out and to raise the achievement level of all. It is our desire, it is our job."

Another positive aspect of the past year, she said, is the district's $67 million capital improvement project, approved by voters last September.

Though progress on the project is reported ahead of schedule, including the installation of artificial turf on three of nine athletic fields behind the high school, attention turned to paying bills related to the project Thursday.

The school board approved approximately $5.3 million in payments to its various contractors, along with 14 change orders associated with the project. Most notable among the change orders paid Thursday was a fix of underground pipes outside Kalfas Magnet School, which is expected to fix a continuous problem of sinking cement walkways.

"Because we knew there'd be some unforeseen conditions associated with this project, we've maintained a contingency budget to pay for these changes," Assistant Superintendent Mark Laurrie said. "And there's also some owner changes we'll fund through this. And the fund also is maintained for any required (state education department) changes passed down to us."

Mug of Bianco, Cynthia Cynthia Bianco District heading in right direction

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.