As the concept moves forward, we will be
relying on all interested parties – students, parents, community and
staff members – to help shape a proposal that meets the imperative to
prepare all students for a successful future.
point, it is important to address where we are specifically with this
proposal, and the most immediate decisions that are necessary for it to
move forward. The Board of Education will not be voting on these items
on March 15, as we have worked collaboratively to make sure that they
and the public have enough information so that we can move forward
confidently, and move forward together.
decision the Board of Education is expected to make regarding the
proposal concerns two specific items.
Should the district apply for a
competitive federal magnet grant with the goal of using the funding, if
awarded, for two magnet middle school programs and a magnet academy of
Albany High School? In my opinion, this is a
funding opportunity that should not be missed. The district will seek a
$4.5 million grant that will be spread over three years – a significant
amount in terms of the district’s budgets, which we all know are very
tight. The sooner the decision has been made to move forward in this
regard, the earlier district staff can begin work on the grant
application, which is an exhaustive process. The application is due on
April 27, and the completion of this application is a significant part
of the groundwork for building school programs from the bottom up – the
holistic aspect of our overall proposal. The district has a short-time
period to ensure it is a strong strong contender in what is likely to be
a competitive field.
What will be the future of Philip
Livingston Magnet Academy? Based on enrollment
projections, the district has said for quite some time that it would not
be able to support three middle school programs and the K-8 program at
North Albany Academy beginning in 2008-09. In addition, Philip
Livingston is at an advanced stage of the accountability process set
forth by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation and the New York
State Department of Education. This means that there is the potential
for state oversight, possibly requiring the school to close and re-open
with dramatically different structures, programs, and even personnel.
And, while these consequences are part of the accountability system,
they do not guarantee success. So, to maintain control over its own
programs and to give all students the opportunities they need to be
successful, the district has advanced this bold proposal, which calls
for Philip Livingston to become Albany High School’s academy of
nanoscale science, engineering, and environmental science. Philip
Livingston is a natural fit to host this program and become part of
Albany High School; while they are separate physically, the land around
Philip Livingston is included in the district’s athletic facilities
plan, and the school is adjacent to the Tivoli Nature Preserve, which
will allow for valuable hands-on work in the environmental sciences.
For the reasons
outlined above, these are the first board actions that are anticipated
as part of the proposal. The rest of the proposal, including the plan
for Albany High School, will be discussed at Board meetings in the
At the meeting and
public sessions held on the proposal so far, we have received a lot of
feedback and been asked many questions, all of which has been valuable.
Here are some of the most common questions we have been asked and some
Is the district
concerned that the proposal is being rushed and there has not been
enough public dialogue?
No. The district
believes that it is in the very early stages of a lengthy public
dialogue that will ideally bring everyone together to yield a final plan
that all interested parties – students, parents, community members, and
staff – have helped shape. There is no doubt that this is an aggressive
proposal. When you look at middle and high school achievement and
graduation rates in recent years, the district must be aggressive.
Additionally, when the timeline and the importance of public input are
mentioned, it is important to note that at this point, the proposal is
in its conceptual stages. A concept must first be introduced to the
Board of Education and win the board’s endorsement before the district
can move it toward implementation. As an implementation plan is
developed, public input will be more crucial than ever. The district
will be looking for public feedback on all aspects of the plan,
including what elements could be incorporated into the middle school
themes; what themes would be suitable for the high school academies; how
the schools will be enrolled, etc. It is worth noting that smaller
learning communities are an idea that the district has discussed for
years and never fully implemented at Albany High School. It is an
approach that the district believes the community supports, and one that
educational research shows to be successful.
Will these plans,
especially for an off-site academy in nanoscale science, widen the
achievement gap and create a two-tiered system?
We believe our proposal
will do the opposite. Our proposal is for academies of equal stature
that are fully resourced that serve students from all backgrounds and
all academic performance levels. We will insist on that. Albany is not
unique as a school district in terms of needing to ensure more students
are successful. However, we are proposing to confront this challenge by
rebuilding our secondary programs from the ground up. We plan to
redesign the curriculum and the way it is delivered to students so that
learning is relevant and personal, rigorous and engaging. Indeed,
research indicates that to lift students who are not meeting standards
to grade-level performance and above, students do not need remedial
work; they need a challenging curriculum with intensive support in the
form of academic help, meaningful relationships with teachers,
counselors and administrators and a learning environment that is
familial and inspiring. This is the foundation of our proposal.
The district says
that if Philip Livingston is converted into Albany High School’s academy
of nanoscale science, engineering and environmental science, the
community will be the home of a cutting-edge program. Is the district
concerned that the program would not draw students from the surrounding
The district fully intends that the school will draw
students who are interested from every area of the city. This academy is
really an opportunity for all students, from all areas of the city and
from all levels of academic performance. We anticipate that the high
school academies will have different themes but be equally strong; if a
student has a strong interest in environmental science, nanoscale
science or environmental science, the academy at Philip Livingston
Magnet Academy would be expected to be a great fit for them.
How can the
district be confident this plan will succeed? Why not eliminate the
achievement gap, and then work on these plans?
In recent years, the
district has often focused its improvement strategies on one school, one
class, or one content area at a time. Frankly, the district will not
close the achievement gap without the kind of bold, holistic change that
this plan prescribes. The significant improvement that is required of
the district will not be obtained one piece at a time. We are talking
about fundamentally changing the way the school programs are structured,
redesigning the curriculum and investing heavily in teacher training.
Increasing the achievement of students at all levels requires rigorous
and relevant coursework, strong relationships between teachers and
students, and intensive academic support. Our proposal is fundamentally
built on these tenants.
Is the community
ready for a high school program that specializes in nanotechnology?
The concept of the
proposed Albany High School academy at the current Philip Livingston
Magnet Academy is one that offers students opportunities for innovative
study in nanoscale science, engineering, and environmental science.
Each of these fields are expected to offer strong career opportunities
as today’s students become tomorrow’s leaders. Albany High School
currently offers courses in engineering, and next year, two courses in
nanoscale science will be offered. While this proposed academy would
offer students opportunities for hands-on, cutting-edge study in these
fields, the intent is not to limit students’ future avenues for higher
education and careers. Yes, a high school experience in this academy
would superbly prepare all students for higher education in these areas.
However, they will receive a Regents-based education like students at
each of the academies, and the kind of training and higher level
thinking required by a student to successfully complete these courses of
study will prepare them well for all future pursuits. Themed academies
are a vehicle to produce students who are critical thinkers, problem
solvers and communicators. These skills are transferable to any endeavor
students wish to undertake.
The district’s efforts to provide nanoscale science are
rooted in its growing partnership with the University at Albany’s
College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, as well as Albany being
the Capitol of New York and the hub of Tech Valley. The UAlbany College
of Nanoscale Science and Engineering's Fuller Road complex has
facilities that are as fine as any in the world, and the district sees
the access our students will have to these cutting-edge research
materials and equipment as an opportunity to be embraced. Additionally,
nanotechnology includes a variety of applications that may meet a
broader range of interest such as biology, health and medical sciences,
economics and emerging consumer trends in the global marketplace.