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Students, parents defend Oswego school from possible closure

Gino Geruntino
Students are allowed to choose topics related to their interests as part of ILPs, or individual learning plans.

The Oswego City School District needs to close a $1.7 million budget gap and is looking at a variety of areas to cut. One thing on the potential chopping block is the Buccaneer Junior/Senior High School. The alternative school was started just two years ago, but already has great support from its students and faculty.

Credit Gino Geruntino / WRVO
A view into one of the classrooms. In the closet in the background are materials used to collect and make maple syrup.

In the basement of the Oswego City School District's Administrative Office, today is exhibition day for several junior high and high school students. In a large classroom, one girl gives a presentation about the effects of caffeine on the body. Down the hall, another student discusses the finer points of roller derby.

The exhibitions, which are in-depth student presentations about a topic they choose, are a regular part of the curriculum at the Buccaneer Junior/Senior High School, where students get to design their own individual learning plan every ten weeks. Students accepted into the school are mainly at-risk and face socioeconomic issues.

Principal Debra Smith says the school differs from traditional junior and senior highs because the classes are smaller and the faculty is able to work personally with students one-on-one.

"Here we do our Regents classes in the morning," Smith said. "They're there for 45 minutes in each class. But in the afternoon, they have us all to themselves all afternoon. And so they can put depth in things and they can create those relationships."

Credit Gino Geruntino / WRVO
Students attending the Buccaneer Junior/Senior High School are issued laptops to work on projects and study.

Mark Bankowski teaches science and is a student advisor. He says the alternative approach helps teach life skills.

"I'm not going to be standing up front for 45 minutes and giving you a textbook or lecture notes. You're going to go out there and make something of yourself. You're going to go build a resume. You're going to go build all these attributes that are necessary to succeed in this world, and we're going to put you in those positions to succeed."

Math teacher Carole Lloyd says the school transforms children who wanted to drop out of school into active learners.

"These kids don't like when we have a week off. I've never seen this. They just want to be at school."

And during a recent public forum to discuss the Oswego School District's finances, many different cuts throughout the district were debated, from staff positions to arts programs. But none of the proposed cuts received more opposition than the possibility of closing Buccaneer School, or the Buc, as the 18 students and parents who rose and spoke call it.

Credit Gino Geruntino / WRVO
Principal Debra Smith says this poster explains the feeling many students share at the school, saying the students have formed a family bond with each other.

"It's a big family to me. And I wouldn't be in school now, but the Buc keeps me going," one girl said.

"All of the teachers and the principal and everyone at the Buc are always there to help you and you know they truly care," another student explained.

"They're not even my peers, they're my family. And I'm just asking you, please don't tear apart my family," a third student said.

But Oswego City School District Superintendent Ben Halsey says the district needs to evaluate what programs and positions, including Buccaneer School, it can afford for the long term.

"The fact that it's even being explored is simply that we really need to analyze, can we fiscally maintain it over the long haul. I mean, we're into it two years. If we're going to make a determination to keep it, we need to make it soon. We don't want to be five, six years into it and have those kids that started as seventh graders all of a sudden have it pulled out from underneath them."

A final budget needs to be approved by the school board by April 25.