Cortland official a finalist for Schenectady superintendent

Laurence Spring first encountered poverty when he taught social studies in a suburb of Rochester.

Laurence Spring first encountered poverty when he taught social studies in a suburb of Rochester.

Now, as a finalist for the superintendent position at the poverty-stricken Schenectady city school district, he stressed his poverty credentials to persuade the audience that he could help Schenectady’s poor students succeed.

When he first taught a homeless student, he said, he was shocked to discover she didn’t have anywhere to go after school. He was so naive that at first he thought she simply liked social studies, he said.

“That was a hard lesson for me as a teacher,” he said before an audience of 44 people, including the entire school board.

Spring is one of three finalists. The other two, Fallsburg Superintendent Ivan Katz and Scotia-Glenville Superintendent Susan Swartz, will have their public interviews today and next Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Paige Elementary School, 104 Elliott Ave.

Spring said he didn’t realize how much the deck can be stacked against the poor until he became the superintendent of the Cortland enlarged school district six years ago.

He was looking at the data for students selected to join the accelerated math program. He found that students who were not poor — in school terms, didn’t qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch — and scored a 4, the top score, on the fifth grade state math test, had a 96 percent chance of being chosen for the accelerated program.

Those who had the same score, but did get free or reduced-cost lunch, had only a 20 percent chance of getting into the program.

“They didn’t come from middle-class homes so they didn’t present the same way in school,” Spring said. “That, for me, was really the turning point to make sure that systemic discrimination does not happen to kids.”

Poor students tend to be tardy and absent more often because of a lack of a car and health care, among other issues.

Spring also said he’s data-driven — wanting to follow teaching methods that have been thoroughly researched, and tracking school programs to evaluate their effectiveness.

He also said the state tests have proven to be unreliable, and said he would negotiate for teacher evaluations that aren’t “tainted” by a strong emphasis on the test results.

He promised to move to Schenectady if hired, and said his 4-year-old and 6-year-old would enroll in Schenectady schools. The diverse community here is a draw, he said, because he wants his children to live among many races and cultures. He also wants them to be able to get an IB diploma in high school — an advanced program that Schenectady is one of the few schools to offer.

Residents were impressed — even those who were concerned — because he comes from a city that is 93 percent white, according to the latest Census figures. Schenectady is 61 percent white but similar to Cortland in poverty levels, with 20 percent living in poverty. Cortland has 21 percent of its population living in poverty.

Parent Deirdre Delaney said she was reassured that Spring would not be at all like the previous superintendent, Eric Ely, who had to be paid to leave the district.

“I was worried, after the last one, about ego and approachability. He seems approachable,” she said.

Secretaries’ and nurses’ union President Louise Siler said she liked Spring because he said schools should do a better job preparing students for a career.

“That’s something I think the district is lacking,” she said.

But others had reservations.

Former school board president Maxine Brisport said all three finalists should spend a day meeting residents in Hamilton Hill and Mont Pleasant to truly see the depths of poverty in the city.

“Then, if they want to still interview, they can,” she said. “A big concern is that they’re coming from small districts that don’t necessarily reflect the needs of Schenectady.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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