Schenectady High School is coming off the “persistently dangerous” list, a label school officials believe the district never should have received.
“It’s a perfect way to start the school year,” said Superintendent John Yagielski.
State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. made the announcement at a back-to-school kickoff event the district held Tuesday at Proctors. “That is obviously an important indication of the hard work the people in this room have done and the work of the community as a whole,” King said.
In 2008, Schenectady became one of 19 schools and the only one in the Capital Region placed on the list. Under No Child Left Behind legislation, schools are required to submit reports about violent incidents to the state, which rates them and gives schools a violence score. Schools that exceed a certain violence ratio are placed on the list.
Three years ago, Schenectady school officials said the district was being punished because they were reporting all incidents accurately. Board members also blamed the state’s stringent reporting requirements, which classifies as “violent” incidents where a student pushes a chair or throws an empty plastic water bottle in another person’s general direction.
Yagielski said school officials always believed that they did not belong on the list. He said the district was reporting incidents that other school districts weren’t or rating their severity differently.
“That school was a safe school,” he said.
District officials had attempted to make the case to be removed from the list last year but were unsuccessful, according to Yagielski. He said then-Education Commissioner David Steiner changed the rules so a school had to curtail its violent incidents for two years in a row to be off the list. Otherwise, the school district would have been taken off the list last year.
From 2009 to 2010, the number of violent incidents dropped dramatically, according to school officials. The school cut its assaults with injury by more than two-thirds to eight and sexual offenses dropped from 10 to two.
The New York State Education Department has not released data for the 2010-2011 year.
While school officials agree that the persistently dangerous designation gave the district a bad reputation, it did bring money to the district. The district in 2010 received a three-year, nearly $6.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to implement programs to reduce violence. This included hiring guidance counselors, social workers and truant officers and implementing anti-bullying programs. Only schools on the persistently dangerous list qualified. It was unclear Tuesday on the status of that grant.
Mary Lou Hamel, new assistant principal at Mont Pleasant, attributed the decrease in violence to the anti-bullying and anti-violence programs implemented throughout the district.
“There’s really been emphasis on … promoting positive behavior,” she said.
This has decreased the number of students making poor choices.
Hamel also believes that providing counselors at the elementary schools has helped the situation.
“They’re working with those kids who really need help with those decision-making skills and working with the families,” she said.
Also, in 2009, the district changed Central Park and King magnet schools to house kindergarten through eighth-grade students. School officials have found that the older students have improved their behavior because they are serving as role models for the younger students.