We’re in the Business of Teaching and Learning – a Message from the Superintendent

By Mark Laurrie,

Supt. of Schools for the Niagara Falls School District

Niagara Falls, NY.

Back in June when I became Superintendent, I identified objectives I wanted to achieve to move the District forward. Aligned with the Board of Education’s Strategic Goals, these objectives are specific and designed to support students and employees, protect our physical plant, safeguard our finances, and enhance our community relationships.

With the help of staff, I am pleased to say much has been accomplished. While progress is ongoing, I want to take this time after the first 10 weeks of the academic year to report to the community; a complete report can be found on our website at www.nfschools.net.

One objective was to engage staff in the study of the factors affecting children, with the ultimate goal of increasing achievement and reducing suspensions. To that end, emphasis has been placed on providing a deeper look at poverty and its effects on students. A Poverty Simulation Experience took place at LaSalle Prep School and another is planned. At Abate School, staff participated in an adult community read of a book on poverty, and took a bus tour of students’ neighborhoods. The ultimate goal was to impress upon staff that poor children need to be held to the highest possible standard in order to empower them.

I also purposed to increase the hiring of minority individuals for professional and para-professional jobs. While still actively recruiting, we have so far hired secretaries, Business Office personnel, PSAs, Safety Officers, and others, all of whom are qualified, successful District employees.

Another key objective has been to expand learning opportunities. I am pleased to report that the Extended Day Program is up and running at all schools. This program provides socialization as well as academic support to students.

At NFHS, we have introduced suicide and pregnancy prevention programs, peer to peer mentoring, the Big Eagle/Little Eagle Program with Niagara University, and begun a mentoring program between students at NFHS and LPS.

Elementary schools have adopted Basic Emotional Skills Training and held Bullying Beyond the Pledge workshops.  The Too Good for Violence program continues in grade one classrooms. At Maple Avenue, Northpointe Council held a conflict resolution workshop with grades 5 and 6. This month, mental health counselors will begin work at Kalfas and Niagara Street schools.

We have instituted trimester report cards for primary grades and placed greater emphasis on the active participation of teachers in using data to inform their instructional practices at all levels.

Because I believe employees are most effective when they are empowered, encouraged, and respected for their training and experience, I have made it an objective to communicate with them. I have attended faculty meetings at all schools and begun recognizing deserving employees at Board meetings.

In order to protect the investment made in District infrastructure, we held the first of many cleaning blitzes at NFHS, performed preventative maintenance on key systems from HVAC to plumbing, and have replaced or repaired exterior building lights and tended to parking lots and bus drop-offs. We are currently conducted State-mandated lead testing at all buildings.

We have upgraded the equipment at the OSC-TV station, as we completed Phase I of Smart Schools, a grant which allows us to improve technology across the district.

Finances matter and I am pleased to report that the District received a very favorable audit from external firm Drescher & Malecki, showing $4.8 Million increased fund balance (restricted and non-spendable, assigned and unassigned). The firm complimented staff for cooperation and transparency.

I also wanted to increase communication with organizations, educational partners, community leaders, media, and the community in general. To that end, the District has joined NOAH and the Regional Economic Development Team for Mentoring. We have formed a Student Advisory Committee, established a social media presence, begun talks to established an Air Force ROTC at NFHS, and formally recognized five outstanding alumni. By year’s end, we plan to have welcome packets available to every family with baby born at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center in 2017.

This a sample of what has been achieved so far; there is much to do in the weeks ahead. I encourage all residents to follow our progress, and more importantly, the progress of our students. I am confident great things are happening.

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