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A message from Superintendent Eva Joseph regarding the proposal for secondary programs
March 9, 2007

First and foremost, I want to thank everyone in the community who has come to meetings and communicated with me and the district about our bold proposal to re-engineer the district’s secondary programs. Your feedback has been and will continue to be invaluable as the Board of Education evaluates the plan and we move toward a system that yields greater results and opportunity for all students.

Related Links:
uMore information about the proposal

uMarch 6 Board meeting Middle School/High School Planning presentation

uFeb. 15 Board meeting Middle School/High School Planning presentation

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.

At this 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.

The first 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 coming months.

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 answers.

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 community?

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.


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