One child summed up the problems at Mont Pleasant Middle School by saying that he was glad he’d never have to go there.
“I’m going to stay at Zoller forever,” fifth-grader Todd Williamson said as he fished with a friend at Iroquois Lake.
After eighth grade — which seems an inestimable amount of time from now — he does plan to go to the high school. But never, ever, Mont Pleasant Middle School.
“I don’t like that school,” he said.
His friends on his football team go there, and have told him stories about fights and bullying. He’s sure he wouldn’t fit in there.
“I’m a good kid,” he explained.
Some Mont Pleasant students are starting or joining in 100-person fights outside the school, and banding together during school to confront teachers and refuse basic orders, such as sitting down and taking out their notebooks for class, according to school officials.
Superintendent Laurence Spring suspended up to 18 students from Mont Pleasant last week and has announced that they will not be welcome back at the middle school. He has also met repeatedly with police to develop a long-term solution. For now, police are maintaining a heavy presence at the school at dismissal time.
Parents are following the situation closely. Those with students at the school noted that there’s more than 700 students there. Even if 100 of them are a problem, that still means that 6 out of every 7 students are behaving appropriately.
But they said they’re worried about their children facing violence at the hands of their classmates. And many other parents are making plans to leave before their children are old enough to attend the school.
“It’s not where my kids will be going, I’ll tell you that,” said parent Jenna Oldorff as she watched her children at a Central Park playground. “Their elementary schools are fine but the middle school? Oh, no.”
Parent Kayla Schaefer plans to move to Rotterdam or Niskayuna before her 4-year-old son starts kindergarten next year.
“That’s been my thought since even being pregnant,” she said, adding that she’s not concerned about elementary school but doesn’t want to switch school districts when her son is old enough for middle school.
“You don’t want to disrupt his friendships,” she said.
Other parents don’t want to give up on Schenectady — but the recent news has them worried.
“It concerns me. I’m looking to buy a house soon,” said Devon Brott, who lives in the city and has been looking at houses here.
That purchase may dictate where he sends his son to school, and he’s worried about making the right decision.
“If he doesn’t have the right social structure in school, he isn’t going to be able to get a job,” he said. “Social interaction is a lot more important than people think.”
He likes public schools, saying they taught him the invaluable skill of “adaptability.” He learned, in essence, to get along with different people and to adjust to new surroundings.
But he’s not willing to simply accept the situation at Mont Pleasant.
“You have to train your teachers. I know it sounds ridiculous, but you have to train them to be mediators,” he said. “You have to understand what is going on with your students.”
He also wants city residents to help discipline children, reporting problems to each child’s parent.
“Now everybody’s afraid to say something because everybody’s so quick to report somebody,” he said. “We’ve forgotten to live as a society.”
Parent and Mont Pleasant resident Wendy Meyer wants changes at the middle school too: better security, smaller classes, maybe even lockdowns.
“I hope they figure something out over there,” she said.
She lives two streets away from the middle school. Her son attends St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish School, which goes through fifth grade. She’s not sure where he will go for middle school, but she’s leaning against public school. She could stay with Catholic schools by sending him to Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons.
“I’ll probably keep him there,” she said.