By Darryl McPherson
Niagara Falls School Superintendent Mark Laurrie is a man with a mission.
Leading a school district with 7,101 students in 11 schools within an impoverished city is a daunting task, but the administrator is a veteran of the system, being the homegrown choice the Board of Education selected early last year.
With one school year under his belt, he looks forward to tackling another year, and moving the District forward.
“Certainly, the challenge is to always raise academic achievement. That’s our primary focus, raising graduation rates and raising academic achievement,” Mr. Laurrie said excitedly in a telephone interview. So far, the signs are positive. The graduation rate in June of this year was 92 to 93 percent, with an additional 2 or 3 percent picked up in August. “We’re going to keep working with the remaining 20 kids to get them through, so that’s a good thing.”
To facilitate that progress, Mr. Laurrie cites the “laser focus from our teachers in terms of instruction” and the loosening grip of the State Education Department. Getting the State to “leave the target alone and let us work towards something” did much to improve the teaching atmosphere, which Mr. Laurrie otherwise found to be “crazy”. “Once we see the target, we can go after it. So our teaching strategy becomes better and more focused and we know what we’re looking to do with kids. They’re not rolling things out like they did a while ago, haphazardly at break-neck speed without proper training. Finally, all of the information is starting to catch up with our staff.”
Mr. Laurrie is also fortunate with regards to his relationship with the Niagara Falls Board of Education, whom Mr. Laurrie says is “extremely supportive in terms of their votes to not only financially support us with staff development money, but material, supplies, curriculum documents, training. We get no resistance from our Board of Education based on what the educators recommend.”
“I think they’re very different from Buffalo and it’s a godsend. They question the finances, the projects and things like that, but educationally, they let the educators teach and do what they have to do. They really know their role in that regard, and that’s not blowing smoke at them, that’s appreciated,” Mr. Laurrie added. “They’re open-minded thinkers; they look at all sides of the issue.”
When asked what he was looking forward to in the coming school year, Mr. Laurrie spoke of infrastructure and community outreach. “We’re going be talking about another capital project to improve our school that’s going to come out in September. We’re going to get out there and engage more families, and engage families where they are, not having them come to us.”
He also wants to expand the education of three-year-olds in the District. “We have 40 three-year-olds in the school right now and I’m looking to add another 40,” he said. “Brains are forming; it’s a key age. And I think the more we do at that age, the greater the gains will be.”
Mr. Laurrie’s confidence in the sustained growth and development in the District is a positive sign that there is one aspect of the Niagara landscape that’s actually working well.