The Schenectady school district did everything possible to undermine the International Charter School of Schenectady for the six years it existed before its charter was taken away and it was shut down in 2008 for curriculum, performance and enrollment reasons. The district, so far at least, has taken a kinder, gentler approach to Eximius Academy, a new charter school proposed for the city.
That may have something to do with an apparent lack of organization on the part of its organizers. They have already seen two proposed sites not work out, withdrawn one application to the state and pushed back the intended opening date moe than a year. It may also have something to do with a lack of vocal support for charter schools in Schenectady, the kind found in places like New York City. In fact, only one person not affiliated with the charter school spoke in favor of it at a state-required public hearing Wednesday night; the rest were vehemently against.
But the organizers have done an impressive job with the latest application and Eximius sounds good at least on paper. It would focus on science, technology, engineering and math to prepare students for further study in those fields and the new jobs expected with the nanotechnology research effort at SUNY Albany and the GlobalFoundries chip manufacturing plant. There would be small classes and a teacher assistant as well as a teacher in each one. Perhaps most important, there would be a longer school day, longer school year, and four weeks of summer classes with extra help for students who are struggling.
Like most public school administrators, Schenectady’s new superintendent, Laurence Spring, isn’t a fan of charter schools. He says they take needed money away from school districts when there already isn’t enough money to do what needs to be done. And he asks: If charter schools are designed to get around regulations that won’t let traditional public schools innovate, why not simply get rid of those regulations? He then answers his own question: because that would “plug into the labor environment” — i.e. meet with resistance from teacher unions.
Although he doesn’t like charter schools, Spring sounds as if he could live with them — or at least one. That is provided Eximius ever finds a building — it’s now looking at the former county Department of Social Services building on Nott Street, which is owned by the Galesi Group and would require costly renovations to be used as a school — and wins a charter from the state.
Spring points out that a number of students from the district already attend charter schools elsewhere, or parochial schools, or are home-schooled. He acknowledges that charter schools offer alternatives for students and competition for schools. And he says, “If we’re doing a really good job in the city school district, we won’t have a big problem with charter schools.” That’s the right attitude.