The City School District of Albany will form a School Naming Policy Committee, which will be charged this summer with drafting a policy regarding the naming and renaming of district buildings and facilities.
The primary purpose with this initiative is to establish an official process to rename Phillip J. Schuyler Achievement Academy, and to evaluate the history behind each district building’s name in order to consider other changes as necessary. Board of Education President Anne Savage announced the initiative at the board's meeting Thursday night, and the district followed with a news conference outside the school Friday morning -- Juneteenth.
Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams noted that the date was not planned, but was fitting for the distric's announcement.
"It is appropriate for us to announce on this date, which is symbolic as it aligns the emancipation of all slaves in the Confederacy," she said. "So we are developing a policy to emancipate the naming of our schools and facilities from those who were known to oppress and enslave."
The board is committed to ensuring that all school names reflect the district’s commitment to eliminate systemic and institutional barriers that result in racially disparate outcomes in our school system, and that no school – and especially no school that serves a majority of African-American students – should honor the memory of a person who owned slaves, said Board President Anne Savage.
“This has been a discussion in our school district for many years, and the time for talking about it is over,” she said. “It is time to act – out of respect for our students and families, out of respect for the memory of all of those who suffered the unthinkable degradation and horror of slavery, and out of a deeply held belief that we owe it to our children to leave behind an inheritance that does not equivocate whenever and wherever the topic of racial and social justice is concerned.”
In cooperation with Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams, the board has selected Michael-Aaron Poindexter to lead this process. Poindexter serves as the community school site coordinator at Schuyler Achievement Academy. He will lead a community-based committee to develop the new naming policy. The board plans to appoint committee members at its June 29 meeting. Anyone interested in serving on the committee should contact the board by Wednesday, June 24 at email@example.com.
"It is extremely important that this committee operate very intentionally and purposefully with the history of our city in mind, and what it means to our children to be a part of this," Adams said. "I think this is one of the most courageous steps that our board could take, and I am thrilled to be a part of it."
The board anticipates that it will finalize a new School Naming Policy this summer. That would allow a school-based committee at Schuyler and any other potentially impacted school to begin work to propose alternate names when the new school year begins in the fall. Following standard practice district-wide, school-based committees will include students, faculty, staff, families and community members.
“Our students, our staff, our community and our country will continue to grapple and reckon with our nation’s complex and troubled history,” Savage said. “We believe a considered, thoughtful approach to school renaming can be an important component of moving our community forward.”
A district employee since 2015, Poindexter has worked for more than a decade to improve the lives of young people in Albany. That has included serving on a variety of community organization boards, working on school-based and district-wide committees, and starting an annual summer camp that has welcomed close to 200 campers annually for the past 10 years. He is a district Culturally Relevant Education (CRE) facilitator.
"I commend the board and Superintendent Adams for modeling what change is," Poindexter said. "This is clearly a dark time in our country, it is a very revealing time in our country, but it also is an awesome time in our country. I'm excited to get this work started."
The Schuyler name has been on a school district building at least since 1934, when the district opened Schuyler High School in the South End. That school operated until the end of the 1973-74 school year, when it merged with Albany High School in the school's current location on Washington Avenue. Albany High's former location on North Lake Avenue between Western and Washington then became Schuyler Elementary School.
The current Schuyler Achievement Academy opened in 2004 along with Sheridan Preparatory Academy, the first two new schools to open in the district's facilities project to rebuild or renovate nearly all of its elementary and middle schools to create smaller learning environments. Students from the former Schuyler Elementary School were enrolled in the new Schuyler and Sheridan Prep at that time.
The School Naming Committee is a continuation of the work begun several years ago to move the district toward equitable outcomes for all students.
An important milestone of that work was achieved on Jan. 3, 2019, when the board unanimously approved the district’s first Equity in Education Policy. This policy established, for the first time in a history spanning more than 150 years, an official commitment that equity is a right in Albany's public schools, and that the district must not only provide equitable opportunities, but also must actively seek to disrupt and eliminate barriers that result in racially disparate outcomes.
“Superintendent Adams was instrumental in leading our staff in the development of our Equity in Education Policy,” Savage said. “We are grateful for her work in establishing this policy and in continuing to keep it at the forefront of all that we do.”
Under Adams’ leadership, the district has begun implementing necessary changes. For example, the district has embraced culturally responsive teaching and learning, and has committed to providing equitable educational opportunities and pathways for all students. The district is integrating The 1619 Project, which examines the impacts of slavery on this country’s economy and society, into the Albany High School curriculum, and increasing representation of students of color in the high school’s broad range of honors and advanced courses.
“As we move forward to the 2020-21 school year, we are furthering the depth of our curriculum to include the integration of social justice in our content areas,” Adams said. “As aligned with our Equity in Education Policy, we are continuing to address those systemic barriers that create challenges for our students and families. We want to ensure that we are true to our vision by providing equitable opportunities for all of our students to reach their potential.”
The district also continues to work to reduce the disproportionate suspension of students of color. It has overhauled the Student Code of Conduct to make discipline more equitable, and has sought to educate all students to advocate for themselves and make their voices heard regarding the things that matter to them and their future.
“These steps demonstrate progress, yet we know, and are reminded daily, that much work remains to be done,” Savage said. “As a community and as a country, we are once again confronted with the significant racial inequities and social injustices that have plagued our society for more than 400 years. The recent protests in reaction to the continued killing and inequitable treatment of African-American men and women by law enforcement officers remind us daily how institutional and systemic injustice perpetuate the tragedy of hate, fear and ignorance that was part of the founding of our nation, and that sadly our school district is no exception.
“As a district we will continue our work to address this history and our role in it. The School Naming Policy Committee is one more step in that work.”