New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia visited West Hertel Academy in Buffalo Thursday morning. Elia is traveling to school districts to explaining changes to state assessments, encourages students and parents not to opt out. WBFO's Focus on Education Reporter Eileen Buckley followed Elia during her stop at West Hertel Academy.
A diverse group of Pre-Kindergarten students sat on the floor learning letters. Commissioner Elia joined in their lesson and sat next to them.
The teacher led the young students through a vibrant, upbeat lesson of sounding out the letters. When they successfully answered, she told students to “Kiss your brain!”
Elia said she was visiting West Hertel because it was earlier identified as a school needing additional supports.
“I’ve seen some incredible changes here at West Hertel," said Elia.
But as city district struggles with high absenteeism rates, West Hertel now has one of the highest attendance rates, at 94.9-percent.
"You know you’ve got a school that’s got one of the highest attendance rates in the district and kids can’t learn if they don’t go to school and this school has broken the code to get kids coming to school," said Elia.
Principal Cecelie Owens leads the school of 900-students. Owens said they school has an attendance teacher.
“And when we have issues with attendance we have her go to the homes, talk to the parents. We provide incentives for the students in the classrooms who have perfect attendance for their week. We celebrate with a pizza parties and they have a banner they put over their door,” explained Owens.
The school has a diverse population, with many students who speak several different languages.
“Things are going very well. The climate and culture has really shifted,” noted Owens.