A retired principal who was once a standout basketball player in Schenectady has returned to run Mont Pleasant Middle School as its interim principal.
The school was left without a principal when Michael Bush fell gravely ill early this year. He is expected to be out for at least the rest of the year, and Schenectady City School District Superintendent Laurence Spring said there is no word yet on whether he will return next year.
In his place is Chuck Abba, who graduated from Mont Pleasant High School in Schenectady. Abba played on the basketball team that went 22-0 in the 1969-70 season, and went on to play college ball at New York University before transferring back home to Union College when NYU dropped basketball.
Abba later coached basketball in Schenectady, as well as Bethlehem and Voorheesville. He taught briefly in Schenectady, as well, but spent the bulk of his career in Bethlehem, serving as Bethlehem High School principal until he retired a year ago.
Now he’s taken on a difficult task. Mont Pleasant was slated for big changes this year. It has hundreds more students than before, most transfers from Oneida Middle School, which is now closed. Mont Pleasant is the district’s only remaining middle school.
In addition to accommodating many more students — and many more teachers — the principal must find a way to improve the school. Mont Pleasant is on the state’s Schools In Need Of Improvement list.
And district officials promised parents that Mont Pleasant would become a “new” school — filled with advanced programs, electives and other special offerings.
Abba was so swamped by his new tasks that he asked Spring to handle media inquiries for him. Spring said Abba is starting by simply enforcing standards for students and staff.
“I think about it as a principal triage, get the basic routines in place,” Spring said.
Then Abba will focus on Mont Pleasant’s biggest problem: older students who have failed seventh or eighth grade many times.
“We’ve got some kids who are significantly over-age,” Spring said. “We can be reasonably sure that doing nothing different for those kids, beyond repeating these classes again, will not be successful.”
Teachers are also working toward the goal of advanced classes. Mont Pleasant already has created advanced math classes by offering classes students could take as high school freshmen.
They must invent new curriculum for other advanced classes. English classes, for example, are not sequential, like math classes, so it’s not easy to simply offer an advanced course.
“What does advanced mean?” Spring said. “What would increased depth look like? Would they read the same material and go more in depth, or would we want them to read different materials?”
He’s hoping to have some of those courses designed for next year.