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Re-Imagining the future of Albany High School
Board eyes 2015 public vote following additional study, community involvement

The City School District of Albany Board of Education is looking toward a public vote on a major renovation for Albany High School in 2015, but not during the winter as further study and community involvement still is necessary.


President Rose Brandon, Th.D., said at the board's meeting Nov. 6 at Arbor Hill Elementary School that the board remains committed to providing city residents with an opportunity to vote on a high school project in the coming year. Follow this link to watch a video about the process of Re-Imagining Albany High School, along with many additional documents relating to the 20-month community conversation about Albany High's future.


"We know that our current 41-year-old high school cannot meet our future teaching and learning requirements," Dr. Brandon said at the Nov. 6 meeting. "The need for a completely new design to properly serve our students and families is not in question.


"We also are increasingly concerned about our ability to secure the building in its current layout and in these times. Albany High School was designed and built in a different day and age. Public facilities, including schools, did not need to be as security-conscious two, three and four decades ago. That reality has changed for all of us in America. Events here in Albany and across our nation continue to show us that. Our current high school design and layout leave too much to chance.


"We know that our students, our families and our entire community need and deserve a better high school facility. However, we also recognize that we need more time to do it right. We don’t believe that putting this project up for a public referendum this winter would allow us to do that.


"So we are asking the superintendent and staff to work with our Facilities Committee to study the current concept in greater detail. We hope to be able to deliver a project to our community for a vote in 2015. We also recognize that our design partners have presented us with a very strong proposal that provides as little impact on our taxpayers as we could possibly imagine for a project of this size and scope.


"We will keep you informed and involved every step of the way as we move forward."


Major renovation, reconstruction plan emerges

The total estimated cost and resulting tax impact of a complete makeover for Albany High School would cost about $196.3 million, according to plans the board reviewed at its Oct. 2 meeting at Sheridan Preparatory Academy. That was down $2.7 million from the first estimates. Click here to download the Oct. 2 board presentation.


Revisions to the schedule for phasing the renovations also would generate an additional $8.2 million in state aid. The original renovation estimate presented Sept. 18 was $22 million-$44 million less than the first designs for renovations or new construction over a shorter timeline (click here to download that presentation from the board's July 17 meeting).


The most current projections would lessen the potential impact on homeowners. Taxpayers with the basic STAR exemption on homes valued from $150,000-$250,000 would see a potential increase of $50-$93. Homeowners with the enhanced STAR for seniors would see a potential increase of $34-$77.


Major renovations and additions would be phased in over a seven-year period, beginning with a new fine-arts wing and auditorium in what is now the rear of the building. The current academic building would be completely renovated to create two distinct smaller learning communities, or SLCs. A new academic building with three SLCs would be added along Washington Avenue. The renovations and additions would be done in phases, making new spaces available as they are completed and allowing the school more flexibility in implementing new academic initiatives connected to the district's 2020 Vision for secondary transformation.


However, several board members questioned whether the project would generate enough community support to pass. Several speakers during the public-comment period at the start of the meeting also said they were more concerned with raising student achievement before taking on a costly facilities project.


The Times Union reported on the discussion in its Oct. 4 editions.


Concept design forum provides first glimpse of possible designs

Approximately 100 people gathered in the Albany High School north cafeteria June 18 to continue the process of re-imagining the future of high school education in our community.


Students, parents, community members and staff members participated in the Concept Design Forum (pictured at right), studying three preliminary ideas for what new high school facilities could look like and advancing a process that began 18 months ago and has included input and feedback from hundreds.


Please visit the Re-Imagining Albany High School website, where you can watch a video about the project. You also can view or download related documents such as the Board of Education’s High School Vision and the educational specifications and space relationship diagrams that informed the first drafts of building designs.


You also can read a June 20 Times Union article about the Concept Design Forum.


“We had deep and robust conversations about the work we have done together over the past 18 months, and especially about the draft design concepts that have evolved from that work,” Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Ph.D., said at the following night's board meeting.


“We will take all of (the June 18) feedback into account as we move forward over the next few weeks with the Facilities Committee and our design partners.”


The board's Facilities Committee continued work on the design options July 10, and the full board will revisit the updated designs and preliminary cost estimates at its meeting July 17 at Albany High. That meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the north cafeteria.


The three preliminary designs all would build on the site of the current high school at 700 Washington Ave. Each design features a separate lower school and upper school. A lower school on one side of the facility would include three smaller learning communities for freshmen and sophomores, designed to provide the school's youngest students with the additional supports many need for a successful transition to high school.


An upper school on the other side of the facility would include two smaller learning communities for juniors and seniors. The upper-school experience would include numerous options for students to participate in college work and hands-on experiences in the community alongside traditional high school requirements.


"We want to think about high school not only as a place within the walls, but also as a place beyond our walls," Dr. Vanden Wyngaard said.


The lower and upper academic wings would be divided by a wide multi-story enclosed common area, similar to the way Albany High's current outdoor courtyard separates the school's current academic wing from the auditorium, music wing, physical education wing and main office.


One of the current preliminary design options is a major renovation with some new construction, one is primarly new construction that preserves only the current main gym, and the third option is entirely new construction. Cost estimates for each, and a full picture of the state aid that would support the project, will be determined as the designs are updated and finalized later this summer.


Numerous opportunities for public participation will follow through the summer and fall. The board is working toward the Oct. 16 board meeting for approval of a final design concept to send to voters. A referendum tentatively is planned for December.


“Our work between now and then will include many more opportunities for stakeholder input, and we look forward to continuing that work and that partnership toward what I know will be a strong plan for our future,” Dr. Vanden Wyngaard said.


Board presentation marks first preliminary design options

The City School District of Albany’s process of Re-Imagining Albany High School moved forward June 5 with a Board of Education presentation of the first ideas of what a new or renovated school could look like.


Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Ph.D., and the district’s architectural design partners outlined three concepts based on the district’s 2020 Vision for secondary transformation, and informed by 18 months of planning in partnership with the board, community and staff.


You can download the June 5 PowerPoint presentation, which include the preliminary designs discussed at the meeting.


Demographic and enrollment study envisions future facilities needs

The Board of Education commisioned a demographic and enrollment study in the spring of 2014, with a final report presented in June.


Although the city's population of school-age children is expected to remain steady, the study also considered district enrollment trends with variables such as a significant increase in Albany High School's graduation rate and the continued closure of underperforming charter schools. Three charter schools have closed in recent years due to poor academic and financial performance, and seven of the city's remaining nine charter schools are up for review over the next two years. That includes both current charter high schools, which served a combined total of about 500 Albany students during the 2013-14 school year.


District and Albany High enrollment were nearly 9,000 and 2,300, respectively, during the 2013-14 school year. The study determined that those figures could grow beyond 10,500 and 3,800, respectively, over the next 10 years. Click here to download the June 2014 Demographic and Enrollment Study.


School's 40th anniversary marked by planning for the future of high school education

Albany High School turned 40 during the 2013-14 school year.


Back in 1973-74, the school at 700 Washington Ave., represented a state-of-the-art approach to high school education in our city. That version of Albany High, just the third since the city’s system of public education began in the 19th century, reflected the community’s shared vision for a new way to educate all students.


Now, as the school marks its ruby anniversary in 2013-14, the City School District of Albany is continuing its work with the community to plan for a 21st century vision of public high school education.


“I am energized by the opportunity we have as a community to re-imagine high school education for our future generations,” said Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Ph.D. “This is a rare opportunity and we are fortunate to be able to work together as a community in that process.”


You can download a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the vision for a new or renovated Albany High.


Driving the process is a shared understanding throughout the community of the critical need to raise achievement for all students and significantly increase Albany High’s graduation rate.


Under Dr. V’s leadership, the district is undergoing a major academic reorganization, focused on aligning resources and staff to support teachers and principals in their mission to help all students reach their highest potential. A new or fully renovated high school at the current location is another important element in the district’s future plans. It would match the modern elementary and middle schools serving all district students since the successful completion of the facilities project at the start of this century,


“We know that new facilities alone are not the answer, and we fully recognize that we must remain mindful of what our community can afford,” said Board of Education President Rose Brandon, Th.D. “But we cannot ignore the powerful message that the learning environment communicates to students, and the strong impact it can have on their educational outcomes in tandem with highly trained and highly motivated staff.”


Process began with opportunities for public input

Beginning in the winter of 2012-13, the City School District of Albany, in its partnership with the community to develop a vision for the future of high school education in our city, held numerous focus groups, workshops and community forums to gather public input on what residents envision for the next generation of Albany High School.


That included the “Re-Imagining Albany High School Summit” attended by nearly 100 community members June 25, 2013 (pictured above). The summit continued the district's efforts to consider options for renewing rebuilding Albany High. Participants, including students, parents and community members, took part in interactive discussions about a variety of questions. Click here to check out photos from the summit.


The summit followed an open town hall meeting June 10 at William S. Hackett Middle School that provided about 70 participants an opportunity to ask a wide range of questions and provide feedback. The process continued with educational specification meetings Aug. 1 and Oct. 1. Thank you to all of those who have participated, and stay tuned for more opportunities to be involved in the process of re-imagining Albany High.


A community vision sought

After the May 2012 report of the ad hoc High School Facilities Advisory Committee that studied future options for Albany High School, the Board of Education approved CSArch and Turner Construction to provide leadership, educational planning, support and technical assistance to continue the process forward.


For the next 18 months, the district engaged the community in a broad conversation about how the next-generation Albany High School can best serve all of the city's students and advance the district's goal of eliminating the achievement gap and raising achievement for all students.


The district held small-group focus sessions for more than 250 parents, community members, students, staff and community leaders. The opportunities were designed to gather input on the academic, social-emotional and extracurricular needs that will be important for the district to consider as it plans for facilities that will serve the city's high school students for decades to come.


Click here to read more from Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Ph.D., regarding the process for engaging the community throughout the process of planning for a new or renovated high school.


Board approves architectural, construction management partners

The City School District of Albany Board of Education has hired CSArch and Turner Construction as its architectural, engineering and construction management partners in the process to re-imagine the future of Albany High School.


"I heard from community members throughout my interview process, and have continued to hear in my first month on the job, that our city is ready for a 'new' Albany High School," Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Ph.D., said following the board's approval of CS Arch and Turner on Oct. 18, 2012. "Exactly what that new school will look like or how it could be designed are critical questions that only can be answered after continuing our conversations with the community.


"The board's approval of CS Arch and Turner Construction, two firms each with a wealth of experience in helping communities build school facilities that meet the needs of their students, is simply the next step in that process. We look forward to hearing from our community about how the next generation of Albany High School can best serve the needs of all of our students well into the 21st century."


The district's High School Facilities Advisory Committee studied options for a completely new or renovated Albany High during the winter and spring of 2012. The committee, made up of 38 representatives from the community, focused on the options of renovating the current high school and building a completely new high school campus. You can download that report in .pdf format.

To advance the process following the committee's May 17, 2012, report to the board, the district sent out a Request for Proposals for the architectural, engineering and construction management services during the summer and received six proposals by the Aug. 31 deadline.
You can download the full RFP in .pdf format.


Transforming Albany High to provide smaller learning communities

By September 2011, Albany High School had been transformed into four academies -- physically smaller learning environments designed to help students feel connected, involved and engaged.


Each offers electives tied to its own theme; all will offer the same core classes in English, math, science and social studies. Students will take their core courses within their own academy, but can take advanced elective classes in other academies. For example, a student in Innovation Academy -- which offers advanced electives in science and technology -- will be able to take a playwriting class in the Discovery Academy, which offers advanced English electives.


What's different: themes

Each of the four academies has a theme:

Each academy has up to 600 students, its own principal, four teams of teachers and a "theme" coordinator. These smaller academies will offer more demanding coursework and extra support for all students.


History behind the changes

Four decades ago, a comprehensive high school serving all students in the City School District of Albany was the right plan at the right time. Now, times have changed.


Reorganizing Albany High has been a top priority in recent years. The process gained increased urgency in January 2010 when the State Education Department identified Albany High as a "persistently lowest-achieving" school because of the school’s lagging performance in math and English language arts (ELA).


A $7.5 million federal grant bolstered the transformation of Albany High. The district continues to work with state education officials to gain financial support from the state for these efforts.


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