subscribesubscriber servicescontact usabout ussite map
Thu, May 31 2007 
85 F
North Tonawanda, NY
High 64 F    Low 49 F

Published: May 29, 2007 06:16 pm    print this story   email this story   comment on this story  

EDUCATION: Grand Island, Lew-Port in Business First top 20

Niagara-Wheatfield continues to climb; Falls near the bottom

By Paul Lane/
Niagara Gazette

Two local school districts finished in the top 20 in Business First of Buffalo’s annual rankings.

Grand Island finished No. 10 and Lewiston-Porter was ranked No. 20 in the list, which is compiled by using four years of test data from the state Education Department. The score of each of the 97 districts that were ranked reflects the collective showing of its public elementary, middle and high schools.

Officials in Grand Island, which finished No. 12 last year, had a goal of cracking the top 10, which makes the district’s finish that much sweeter this year, Superintendent Robert Christmann said.

“It’s pretty hard to do ... There is a great deal of pride,” he said. “I think it speaks very well of the hard work that goes on every day.”

District officials have put a focus on enhancing the performance of elementary school students, which Christmann feels yields results in the higher grades and is reflected in the rankings.

“If you have a weak foundation, you’re not going to make up for it when you hit the middle school or high school,” he said.

Lew-Port has been consistent in the rankings, according to G. Scott Thomas, special projects editor for Business First. Since climbing into the top 25 in 2001, the district has stayed between 16 and 22 each year.

Despite a slight drop from 16 last year, district officials are proud of their ranking.

“This is a testimony to our quality teachers, dedicated staff and parent volunteers who together create an environment that promotes student growth,” Interim Superintendent Don Rappold said in an e-mail.

Along with the overall ranking, Lew-Port earned a subject award for social studies, which Thomas said it got for finishing in the top 10 in that subject.

Social studies is also a top subject in Niagara-Wheatfield, which continued its climb in the rankings this year. After placing 76th in 1999, Niagara-Wheatfield has climbed every year but one since then; that ascension continued this year, he said, as the district went from 37 to 28.

“They rank as one of the real success stories,” Thomas said. “It really shows a pretty strong upward thrust.”

That thrust is thanks to a change in how things in Niagara-Wheatfield are run, Superintendent Judith Howard said. An emphasis on more rigorous hiring, professional development and elementary-level literacy has improved the academic output there, she said.

“What we have done since the late ’90s was change the focus on this district to one on instruction,” she said. “If children can’t read and write, they can’t really been successful in anything else.”

While Niagara-Wheatfield continued its climb, Niagara Falls remained a model of consistency in another light. The Falls finished at No. 93 for the fifth time in six years, Thomas said, a position with which Superintendent Carmen Granto wasn’t too concerned.

“I don’t pay attention to the rankings,” he said. “It’s biased against (economic) minorities.”

Granto thinks the rankings fail to take into account the financial situations of the district’s residents; families in the Falls tend to rank among the lowest earners in the area. There should be an equalization system in place to account for that, he said.

“You get our top 10 percent (of students from the highest-earning families) against their top 10 percent, we’d outrank them. You get our poorest against their poorest, we’d outrank them,” he said of other area districts. “The impact (of the Business First rankings) is the public perception that somehow we’re behind Williamsville. I don’t think so. It just means we have a harder road to go.”

While admitting that socioeconomic factors play a role, Thomas said the numbers are from the state and based on state standards.

“Everything is performance-based,” he said. “The fact is that in real life, there is no equalization factor. No one gives breaks to kids from underperforming districts.”

The top five consisted of Williamsville, Clarence, Amherst, Orchard Park in Erie County, and Bemus Point in Chautauqua County. Buffalo finished last.


Following is where Niagara County’s school districts came in on the annual Business First list of highest achieving districts (numbers are out of 97 total districts).

• Wilson, No. 11.

• Lewiston-Porter, No. 20.

• Barker, No. 21.

• Starpoint, No. 25.

• Niagara-Wheatfield, No. 28.

• Newfane, No. 38.

• Lockport, No. 42.

• North Tonawanda, No. 43.

• Royalton-Hartland, No. 60.

• Niagara Falls, No. 93.

Grand Island, in Erie County, was ranked No. 10.