Schenectady’s new school superintendent, Laurence Spring, had a much harder act to follow in John Yagielski than Yagielski did when he replaced the unpopular, discredited Eric Ely. But so far, we like what we see from Spring, especially his challenge to every teacher and administrator to mentor one child who is struggling academically.
The challenge shows he understands the needs of students in this urban district and has real ideas for helping them achieve. And his ability to inspire the entire staff at one school, Hamilton Elementary in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood, to accept it shows his leadership.
The Schenectady district already has a variety of mentoring programs, most of them involving people from the community reading to or doing homework with kids, or just acting as concerned adults and role models. These are valuable, but there’s nothing like having someone in the building every day who knows exactly what your academic weaknesses are and how to fix them, who is invested in you, who will not let you fail.
Mentoring is probably easiest at the elementary level, where children are most impressionable and reachable, and necessarily not that far behind their peers. By middle and high school, they may have fallen so far behind and been so turned off to school that failure is taken for granted, and dropping out becomes a real possibility. With those kids the initial mentoring challenge will be to get them to re-engage in school and make the large, but not impossible, effort to catch up.
The teachers at Hamilton have committed to working throughout the year with 33 students at the school who failed the state math and English tests — on their own time for no additional pay. We applaud them for stepping up to Spring’s challenge, and wish teachers at other schools would do the same.