The discipline mess at Schenectady’s Mont Pleasant Middle School, which is apparently spilling back and forth from city streets on a regular basis, not only threatens the viability of the school and school district, but the entire city. District officials and police need to get a handle on the problem pronto, or Mayor Gary McCarthy can forget about his campaign to entice people to buy houses in his fair city: No one will want to live there.
That was certainly the message in Tuesday’s Gazette story: Families were saying they’d sooner move out of Schenectady or find a private or parochial school than send their kids to Mont Pleasant.
What would be left of the middle school if that happened? You might as well kiss any moderating influence that’s there now goodbye, and the rest of the school with it.
As for the city, the situation may be much the same: If all the decent, law-abiding, tax-paying families give up and leave the district, and none will move in to take their place, the city will truly become an economic basket case.
What needs to happen is this:
-- The school district must take back its school (which is up to its fifth principal since the beginning of last year) with an all-business discipline policy that all teachers and staff adhere to. Kids who can’t follow the rules can’t be allowed in school — at least not Mont Pleasant — and those who break laws should be arrested. No matter how embarrassed district officials are by the resulting publicity, it’s got to be better than the notion that they’ve lost control of their school.
-- The district runs an alternative program for difficult students at the Steinmetz Career and Leadership Academy (named, somewhat ironically, SAMS — “Success Academy for Middle School Students”). Much as Superintendent Laurence Spring might like to get rid of these kids, he can’t simply refuse to educate them, and doing so in an alternative setting does cost more money than in a regular classroom. But the district can’t afford not to get these kids as far from the regular classroom as it can; their presence makes it impossible for kids who might want to learn, and threatens to corrupt them as well. Solving this problem properly isn’t going to be cheap, which is all the more reason Spring’s crusade over the inequitable state aid formula warrants attention.
-- As for the fights that do occur after school and off school grounds, they’re the police department’s responsibility, though the school district can — and should — provide intelligence so cops know where to go when trouble is brewing and help identify the bad actors. Cops, meanwhile, shouldn’t hesitate to arrest kids or adults who engage in fights or try to keep them from breaking up such fights.
Sadly, this crisis has been building for a long time, at least since the start of last school year. Perhaps if it had been brought to light earlier, and dealt with appropriately, the worst would now be over and the district wouldn’t be looking at yet another public relations nightmare. It may not be too late to save this deeply troubled school, or this district, but unless decisive, community-reassuring action is taken soon — with the state providing the wherewithal to do it right, not on the cheap — we shudder to think about it, or the city’s, future.