Schenectady County

Schenectady school chief wants to ease poverty’s harm

Schenectady’s new school superintendent is taking a new look at how poverty might be hurting Schenec

Schenectady’s new school superintendent is taking a new look at how poverty might be hurting Schenectady children.

“Intense poverty deals like a trauma to kids,” Superintendent Laurence Spring said. “After a fire, a kid acts up in class and we say, ‘Oh my god, he just had a horrible thing happen to him.’ We respond a little differently.”

Recent studies indicate that children in poverty feel as off-balance, fearful and uncertain as children who have just experienced a sudden trauma. But traumatized children routinely get counseling, while poor children do not.

Spring thinks they need therapy to help them come to terms with the uncertainties in their lives. But that means paying for therapy for thousands of children.

“We don’t have enough resources to address all the mental health needs,” Spring said.

He’s hoping to organize partnerships to help provide that therapy.

But one pediatrician wasn’t convinced that therapy is the answer.

Dr. Ingrid Allard, who works at Albany Medical Center, said poverty isn’t traumatic.

“I don’t know if I’d describe poverty in and of itself as a trauma,” she said. “I think there are people that are poor that do OK.”

She noted that poverty and traumatic events are sometimes linked, and that long-term stress can lead to stress-related diseases.

“So trauma can be related to poverty,” she said.

But she doubted children who misbehave in school simply need therapy.

“That, I really couldn’t say,” she said.

Spring has been discussing the issue on Twitter, where he tweets daily as @SchnctdySuper. He plans to use Twitter regularly to talk with the public.

“It’s a good way to create transparency with the public,” he said. “I can’t have a meeting with everyone. This is a reasonably convenient way to chime in and say, ‘I have an idea!’”

For now, as he gets into the habit, his phone chimes every day to remind him to tweet. When he can’t think of anything to say, he tweets from his list of High Performance Management Principles, which he has posted next to his desk.

He’s hoping those tweets will help him stay on the straight and narrow — and that they will provide ammunition for others if he strays.

“They’ll say, ‘Didn’t you say you would do this?’” he said.

Spring has also managed to sell his house in Cortland, where he lived while he led the Cortland schools. With his wife, he bought a house in the GE Realty Plot, which delighted his children. They are excitedly exploring the city parks, he said.

As superintendent, he is the only person in the city who gets to pick any school for his children. He hasn’t decided on a school yet, he said. His children will be in kindergarten and first grade.

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