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Plenty of work ahead as Syracuse transforms Fowler High School

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Plenty of work ahead as Syracuse transforms Fowler High School
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It's the changing face of education across the state: struggling schools trying to reopen with a new mission. The Syracuse City School District has three that are facing immediate action. One of them is Fowler High School. Our Katie Gibas tells takes a closer look at how the building will be transformed.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- With a graduation rate of 31 percent, most people in the Syracuse City School District can agree something needed to change at Fowler High School. Because the school had been underperforming for three years, the state education department gave the district a list of choices.

The Board of Education voted Wednesday night replace Fowler with the Public Service Leadership Academy.

"When students participate in programs they are committed to, that they are interested in, they do better. And we see that career and technical education programs or career-technical schools have higher graduation rates across the country," said Sharon Contreras, the Syracuse City School District Superintendent.

Now that the Syracuse City School District has decided to phase out Fowler High School, they have a lot of work to do.

Students will stay in the Fowler building, but beginning next year, Fowler will not accept any incoming ninth graders.

The academy will offer four career paths:

  • First responder

  • Homeland security

  • Military science

  • Entrepreneurial
  • "We lose many students at ninth grade. We want them to become tenth graders, so that they go on to graduate. So we want them to have really rich ninth grade experiences, CTE experiences, so that's going to be a key piece," said Contreras.

    I spoke with some Fowler students and alumni who didn't want to go on-camera and their reactions are mixed. Some are concerned about what this will mean for class sizes at the other city schools. Others say, while they're sad to lose the name Fowler, they are excited about these new education opportunities.

    "We need more career, and we need more tech initiatives and pathways for our students and they don't exist in this city as we speak," said Bob Gardino, a member of the "Be the Change" group, which is a grassroots organization to address behavior issues in school.

    Diana Merritt, whose godson attends Fowler High School said, "I think that'll be awesome. I think that more kids will come to school if they have a career to look forward to right out of high school because some kids don't go to college. They can't afford it. Their parents can't afford it. It will be a great thing."

    Students will have to apply for a spot in the Academy, interview with district officials and then be put into a lottery for a spot.

    The district will need to hire a principal and 7 to 14 specialty teachers in those fields.

    A planning team also will be formed to begin program development, student recruitment and scheduling.

    "The schedule is a major piece because we don't want students to have the same kind of high school schedule. We want students to start engaging and exploring the careers right away," said SCSD Superintendent Sharon Contreras.

    "With students in school for another six weeks or so, forgetting the exam period, I had concerns. Of course they can work on it through the summer. But you have a captive audience of reaching students for the next, at most, two months," said Bob Gardino, a member of Be the Change.

    All of this has to be in place by the start of the 2014 school year.

    The state also mandated changes for two other schools, Hughes Elementary and Delaware Academy. Hughes will become Syracuse Latin School for high achieving students. The district has not selected a model for Delaware yet. They have until April 30 to choose a plan.

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