Despite Tuesday morning’s gray skies, Niskayuna students and teachers heading back to school were upbeat.
“Good morning and happy first day of school!” said Rosendale Elementary School first-grade teacher Courtney Andrews. “Did everybody have a great summer? I was so excited I could barely sleep last night.”
Students with fresh clothes and backpacks stepped into the classroom, eager to see their friends again.
“Oh my goodness, you got a beautiful new backpack and new shoes,” she said to one student.
Andrews was trying to learn all the new faces. One new student was 6-year-old Quinn Harrigan, who was enrolling in Niskayuna schools after attending a private school for kindergarten. Quinn’s father, Tim, was on hand with a camera to capture the moment.
“I didn’t want to miss it,” he said.
Quinn said she had fun during the summer.
“I went to the Great Escape, and I went to New Jersey,” she said.
Andrews directed them to crayons and paper, Legos and games to ease them back into the routine. Schoolwork for these students would have to wait.
“For now, I want everybody to have a chance to play this morning,” she said.
Six-year-old Anna Joyce, who was busy drawing a face, said she was kind of nervous.
“I’m not really used to being in a different class,” she said.
Perhaps she was still thinking about the lazy days of summer, which for her included a trip to Cape Cod and swimming in her grandparents’ pool.
Over in Glenn Motto’s third-grade class, students were instructed on how to put away their backpack in their cubby.
“Your job is to try to keep that as neat as possible,” he said.
Avital Licthenfeld, 9, nervously piped up that she had forgotten to bring a pencil.
“I’ll let you borrow one today. It won’t cost you much,” Motto said.
Avital spoke excitedly about her trip to the American Girl store in New York City and also going camping during the summer. She said she is also an avid reader.
“I like ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Secrets of Droon,’ ” she said.
Matt Wall was lugging a load of supplies for his two sons — 8-year-old Duncan and 5-year-old Izzy. There was everything from crayons to tissues in the box. Wall just bought a house in Niskayuna and is enrolling his boys in Rosendale after being at Hillside in January.
Wall said he appreciated that the school provided him a list.
“At our school in California, you paid them a check and they bought all the supplies for you,” he said.
Niskayuna was among the few school districts that started the day after Labor Day. Also headed back to school Tuesday were students in Albany city schools.
Schenectady students won’t start until Thursday, but staff attended orientation Tuesday. Speaking before 1,200 staff members at Proctors, new Superintendent Laurence Spring said each employee has a chance to write the district’s story — a story of success.
The district has an image problem, Spring said. Too often, people focus on the 60 percent graduation rate and the underachievement of some students. To illustrate that point, he roped off 148 chairs in the Proctors auditorium — representing the number of students who dropped out last year.
“That’s the scope of our problem,” he said.
Spring said the district faces challenges of poverty, shrinking revenue, an unsettled organization and a number of students who have behavioral problems. However, he said its strengths are the breadth of the district’s programs and the expertise and dedication of its staff.
He believes race, economic status and disability should not be predictors of student achievement. However, he said, even great teaching cannot overcome some of the challenges students face — for example, living in a neighborhood with gun violence and being kept awake by sirens.
Spring challenged teachers to connect with at least one student and improve their academic standing.
“I believe,” he said. “I believe we can do this. I believe in you. I believe in the city of Schenectady and the job we have in front of us.”
The teachers also heard from Michael Saccocio, executive director of the City Mission of Schenectady, who told them the entire community has to be a partner in improving education — much as it came together in assisting victims of the flooding following Tropical Storm Irene.
“We want to treat the scourge of poverty the way we treated the flood,” he said.
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