Features

Mark Laurrie – Niagara Falls City School District  

Always looking out for students, faculty and staff 

For any school district, one way to measure success is by its high school graduation rate. Just six years ago, the Niagara Falls City School District was graduating 67 percent of its students. But thanks to the hard work and dedication of countless people, led by Superintendent Mark Laurrie, that number has risen to 86 percent.  

Mark Laurrie | Superintendent |  Niagara Falls City School District  

Mark Laurrie | Superintendent |  Niagara Falls City School District

“That is a significant jump, but I won’t be satisfied until that number starts with a 9,” Laurrie tells Toggle magazine from his office in late February.  

Laurrie has worked in the high-poverty district for over 40 years and plans on retiring when his contract expires in two years. He says it will be a feather in his cap if the district’s graduation rate improves just a few points to crack the 90-point barrier.  

“It is going to take a lot of hard work, and a number in the 80s is good,” Laurrie says. “But the 90s is better.” 

In addition to improving the school experience—something that directly correlates to graduation success—Laurrie is responding to challenges ranging from budgetary constraints and staff shortages to technology concerns and how to best deploy artificial intelligence.  

When Laurrie last spoke to Toggle in early 2021, he was helping navigate the district during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time called the most challenging of his educational career. Fast forward three years, and Laurrie is working through new challenges that districts across the country face: school security.  

Securing the district 

Laurrie says the Niagara Falls City School District takes the security of its students and staff very seriously, especially in light of the increase in school violence nationwide. The district recognizes that school shootings and other types of violence have become a disturbing trend that stems back to events like Columbine. He says that addressing these issues and keeping kids safe is essential, especially given the added fear caused by the pandemic.  

“We understand that what happens in childhood can have long-term impacts on individuals, even into adulthood,” Laurrie says. “We believe in sending a strong message and implementing necessary security measures within our schools, and we hope colleagues in other districts do the same.” 

Niagara Falls City School District has prioritized school security by allocating funds from the local school budget. Security measures at various places within the district include double-door vestibules at school entrances, bullet-resistant film applied to the doors and all first-floor windows, and highly advanced weapons-detection systems guests must pass through before entering campus. Additionally, AI-powered cameras monitor parking lots and identify potential threats. Secondary campuses are also patrolled by at least one armed officer from the Niagara Falls Police Department.  

But students cannot feel like their attending school in a dangerous place, so as much as security is important, creating a welcoming atmosphere is also crucial, Laurrie explains.  

“This security comes at the expense of some things, but we cannot let it distract from the reason we do this: to educate and help grow the next generation of leaders in our city, state and country,” Laurrie says.  

A better school experience 

Superintendents change districts regularly, and often, the local school board will convene a search committee and hire a consulting firm to assist in a nationwide search for its new leader. That works well for some districts, but Laurrie believes his replacement should come from Niagara Falls’ district. 

“Our board has a choice to look at candidates from wherever they choose, but I am trying to ensure there are several qualified people from within the district to consider,” Laurrie says.  

Being superintendent is more than just knowing academics and curriculum, which any high-level administrator or school official can excel in. A superintendent needs to build trust within the community; for someone from the outside, that takes time.  

“We’ve set up a couple of people who have shown the desire and the capability to step into the role, and they’re learning central office-type tasks and what it takes to be successful as a superintendent,” Laurrie says. “We want to have the best person possible representing our kids.  

Leaving a legacy 

Laurrie has spent his entire career in the Niagara Falls City School District. After graduating with a degree in political science from Niagara University, he spent 11 years as an elementary special education teacher.  

He was an assistant principal for two years before becoming principal at Maple Avenue Elementary School in 1997—two years later, he was named principal at Niagara Middle School. He was the principal of Niagara Falls High School before serving three years as the school’s chief educational administrator.  

“Building relationships with the staff, students and community is at the forefront of what I have always sought to accomplish. When you have a relationship, you have trust, and anything is possible,” Laurrie recalls.  

In 2009, Laurrie moved to central administration and held the deputy superintendent position for six years. He was tapped to lead the district in 2015.  

While retirement is coming in a few years, Laurrie says he will never stop caring about this district. It is where he got his professional start and where his career will conclude. Niagara Falls City School District is a place Laurrie will never forget—and he hopes it won’t soon forget him, either.  

“I have spent 53 of my 62 years as a student or faculty member in the Niagara Falls City School District. It has been extremely good for me and my family. I hope I left a footprint or bridge from which the district can continue to spring forward and build,” Laurrie says with pride and humility.  

View this feature in the Spring I 2024 Edition here.

Published on: April 23, 2024

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