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Who gets into City Honors depends on more than grades

Eileen Buckley/WBFO

The annual fight over admission to Buffalo's City Honors School, with its towering academic reputation, is turning into a deep look at the city's best schools and how to add to them.

The Buffalo Public Schools district potentially faces two lawsuits: for not increasing the ranks of minority students at City Honors and for favoring current city students for admission over charter and parochial students.

This year, the district changed the rules of admission. If there is a tie between students, current city students now receive preference. That will increase the percentage of minority students and possibly the one-third of the school's students who receive free or reduced-rate meals.

West District School Board Member Jennifer Mecozzi says she has been told that is a start toward educational equity, with her valedictorian daughter denied City Honors entry.

"Who was not allowed the opportunity to go to City Honors. Take the test, one, two, three times, but I know she had everything going for her. I question why she didn't get in," Mecozzi says. "But that's the point. There are so many Buffalo public school parents that know it's a good old boy neighborhood in Buffalo, New York and the money makes a difference. That's the perception. That's why this is such a hot topic."

Parents complain they started the process of getting their kids ready for City Honors years before, even moving into the city, like North District Board Member Hope Jay.

Ferry District Board Member Sharon Belton-Cottman says there is also a problem of bad grading procedures, leaving some students out of the admissions process.

"I'm talking about the GPA. If you are not in the limelight, if you are not doing what the teacher says, that impacts your GPA. Welcome to the real world," she says. "If a teacher does not like you, you don't get scores as high as if a teacher likes you. I'm very much aware of what's involved with that and we have to fix that because it's not fair."

Park Board Member Carl Paladino says there is a need for more criteria schools.

"Rather than play around with this issue for a couple of years and fight it in court or whatever ends up happening, let's do what we have to do," Paladino says. "Let's create another criteria school. We saw the overwhelming support for Emerson. We saw the overwhelming applications for Emerson and we decided to have an Emerson 2. Why don't we have a City Honors 2 or an Olmsted 2?"

Board members say there are some other high-quality schools in the city, like Performing Arts, McKinley, DaVinci and Hutch Tech, and say some of the new programs started by Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash, like the new computer program at Bennett, could be as attractive as those existing schools.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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