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A message from Superintendent Eva Joseph
Oct. 14, 2006

All communities want their schools to be warm, welcoming places that are true community centers. Asking students to pass through metal detectors on their way into school, then, was no easy decision for the Albany School District. They can seem like a public admission that we are resorting to that last, reactive step in our battle against youth violence.

But, as one parent said recently at a school safety forum, "I don't want the schools to appear safe, I want them to be safe." I agree.

In recent weeks, we have seen school violence in local school districts and in states such as Pennsylvania, Missouri and Colorado. We also witnessed a serious incident in our own high school.

Whether we like it or not, the safety landscape has changed – not just at Albany High School, but all across our country. As citizens, we’ve become used to passing through metal detectors as we enter libraries, airports, and government buildings. They are often seen as a necessary security measure that, when used properly, are an extremely minor inconvenience, not a major impediment to accomplishing one’s business at any of these places.

So, when students enter Albany High School this coming Monday, they will also walk through metal detectors.
Our students have been very cooperative as they have undergone random searches with metal-detecting wands. We are confident they will continue to be respectful, and most importantly, understanding of the fact that our goal is the same as theirs and their parents – for them to learn and grow in an environment that is as safe as possible.

To prepare our students and their families for this change, a letter detailing expectations of students entering Albany High School was mailed to their homes last week. In school, staff members spoke with students and gave them cards explaining the new procedures.

Metal detectors, when used properly, can significantly reduce the potential that weapons will be brought into a building. However, it would be a mistake to assume they will be a cure-all for a complex problem that demands a complex mix of solutions.

The good news is that the Albany City School District has a wealth of programs and initiatives designed to address the root causes of youth violence – and those programs are continually growing and improving.

We’ve added a fourth lunch period this year to reduce the numbers of students in the cafeteria at one time and a wall was removed to ensure improved monitoring of students and less congestion. We also use security cameras to better monitor activities -- both inside and outside our schools. This comes on the heels of improved hallway patterns initiated last spring.

We employ well-trained school security and resource officers, uniformed hall monitors, social workers and guidance counselors who know our kids well and work with them daily to solve problems in constructive ways. We offer character education, and all Albany City schools are working with students, parents and staff to design “Respect Campaigns” this year to promote the principles of nonviolence.

At Albany High School, we continue to offer dozens of clubs and activities that give our youth a sense of belonging and accomplishment. Students can choose from social justice and service organizations to special interest clubs such as chess and poetry to student groups that will travel to Rome and Greece this year.

We have engaged the National Urban Alliance in an effort to increase student achievement through culturally-responsive classrooms and our continual quest for excellence in teaching. After all, learning is our primary mission, and we continue to aggressively work toward ensuring all students have the skills to succeed.

Like all schools in our region, when an occasional situation warrants a lockdown procedure, we will continue to implement a swift and decisive response on behalf of the safety of students and staff. But, it is far from chaos in our schools. For example, the lockdown on September 22nd lasted all of 45 minutes before teaching and learning was back in full operation.

Lastly we will continue to look for ways to partner with parents and community-based programs that can help us work together to effectively combat the societal problems of gangs, drugs, violence and poverty.

The real answer to the problem of youth violence is not as simple as metal detectors. They are one important element in a complex web of resources, programs and approaches we currently employ and will continue to investigate to strengthen safety in our schools.

The answer to the challenge we face is giving students a sense of respect, confidence and achievement so they can grow into the smart, able people we adults know they are.

Dr. Eva Joseph

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