Schenectady County

190 sign petition favoring charter school in Schenectady

Although 190 people have signed a petition supporting a charter school in Schenectady, some of them

Although 190 people have signed a petition supporting a charter school in Schenectady, some of them say they were not requesting it for their own children.

Some of the signers have children too old to attend an elementary-level charter school. Others live in Albany and other areas, where some of them have already enrolled their children in a charter school.

The organizers of the charter school provided phone numbers for a few parents, but not one of them would be directly affected by the creation of a new school.

One parent said she signed the petition at an event for children, even though she has reservations about a charter school.

“We’re going to take risks either way,” said Shampagne Levin, who has been a volunteer working with at-risk youth in Schenectady. “Something needs to be done. We have to find some way of catching those kids who have been slipping through the cracks.”

Starting an elementary school might help build a better foundation for those children so they do better in high school, she said.

But the cost worried her.

“People get very, very nervous about the financing,” she said. “What has happened over the past few years is we have been taking tax dollars from our public school system, which is taking away from the enthusiasm and the teachers. Do we invest into this school when we have maybe four or five other elementary schools going on? It’s almost like a catch-22.”

Levin has a 3-year-old, so she has no direct experience with the Schenectady City School District as a parent. But she said she was disturbed to see teenagers skipping school and “leading a fast life” on the streets.

She decided to simply move to another area, an hour away, which she would not disclose.

“We just relocated for a better school district,” she said.

Another parent, Garry Murray, signed the petition even though his only child is far beyond elementary school age.

His son attends Schenectady High School. Murray said he was disappointed by teacher availability for extra help.

His son needed help in math, Murray said, but the teacher would only offer extra help at 7:30 a.m., before school started. His son wanted after-school help.

“I had to have a math tutor come over,” Murray said. “The teacher did help after class, but it’s not like a charter school where teachers come in at 7 a.m. and don’t leave until 7 o’clock at night.”

He also wants schools to offer longer days and require uniforms.

Parent Vanessa Turner also signed the petition, although she lives in Albany. Her son has always attended charter schools and is now in 11th grade at Green Tech High.

She said the charters are clearly superior to public schools.

“Their focus is totally different,” she said. “It’s not big huge classrooms. They welcome the students to stay after school for help. It’s receptive to the kids.”

She also likes the required uniforms, saying it allows students to concentrate on class rather than on their clothing.

Schenectady school board President Cathy Lewis said teachers do offer extra help to students, through group classes during the day as well as individualized sessions.

At the high school, students are also assigned to a team of core-curriculum teachers who meet weekly to discuss struggling students and devise plans to help them improve.

“Our teachers work quite deliberately with young people that need help,” Lewis said. “I feel we have very dedicated teachers.”

But Levin said she thinks teachers need to do more. When she worked with at-risk youth in Schenectady, she said, parents complained that they didn’t hear from teachers often.

“A lot of parents are not even getting reached out to until the kid is suspended,” she said.

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