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District gathers feedback from parents about improving schools

District gathers feedback from parents about improving schools

Bolstering programs, discipline among issues cited
District gathers feedback from parents about improving schools
Aniyah Barnes, 7, walks her cousin Tiquaviez Kane, 6, to the playground oon the first day of school.
Photographer: Erica Miller

SCHENECTADY -- It’s time for Schenectady schools to let its recent redistricting take hold and focus on fine-tuning communication with parents and student, bolstering its strongest programs and working to minimize disruptive behavior, a trio of district parents said Thursday.

The comments came as part of one of nearly two dozen focus groups the district hosted this week with parents, students, teachers and community members as they gathered input in what the district should focus on in the coming years.

Working with outside consultants from Studer Education, the focus groups are the district’s first step toward developing a new strategic plan that will outline what types of programs and initiatives the district will focus on over the next three to five years.

With a major redistricting effort now a couple years behind them, district officials should focus on improving the little things that make parent and student lives better, the parents said. The redistricting converted the district’s 11 elementary schools into buildings that serves students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

The parents, for example, mentioned this week’s back-to-school night events and the difficulty they said they had in finding out simple details about the event.

“My hope is this doesn’t result in another big change,” said Ginny Casper, who has two kids, one at Oneida Middle School and one at the high school.

The group of parents, whose comments will join those from other focus groups and be released publicly in October, also said they would like to see greater consistency among teachers and support staff. One of the parents said her daughter had a very good middle school teacher who helped engage her in an interest in reading, but her son’s middle school teachers were not as effective. And even when the parents found teachers or counselors who worked well with their kids, they said, they would often get moved or leave soon thereafter.

“That was the big thing I heard, there needs to be more consistency,” said Kimberly Miller, who has a high-schooler, two middle-schoolers and a recent Schenectady graduate.

In recent years, the district has shifted its approach to handling disruptive student behavior, emphasizing “restorative” practices that aim to address behavior constructively rather than punitively.

But the parents said they were worried that approach has come off as overly permissive or even rewarding of behavior that made it difficult for other students to learn. They asked: What does it look like to the students who are behaving themselves in class and trying to study if the disruptive students are allowed to leave the class for a walk or get sent to a special calming space.

“Some of the bad kids get rewarded,” Casper said, relaying the kinds of things she said she has heard from her kids. “What do I get for doing what I’m supposed to?”

Janine Johnson said she wishes her daughter’s teachers could offer her more attention instead of focusing on disruptive students. She said the bad behavior seemed to be reinforced at times.

The parents also highlighted programs they said have helped their children and could be expanded to more kids. They pointed to the district’s music program, efforts to find out-of-district placements to meet specific student needs and the high school’s AVID and smart scholars program, which emphasize social and study skills and sets students on a path toward college. The kinds of supports given to those students would benefit many more students, one of the parents said.

While the overarching goal should always be graduation, the parents said, they also wanted the district to begin teaching more practical life skills, like how to set a budget or apply for a job.

Miller said her oldest son is looking for a job but struggling because he wasn’t taught basic skills about that process or given enough opportunities to gain skills and experiences that would qualify him for a job.

“He’s not doing anything because he wasn’t taught how to do the job application process, he’s totally lost,” she said.

After the consultants finish collecting input, they will work with district administrators to convert the feedback into priorities and goals that can be measured over time. Sometime around February, Studer consultant Melissa Matarazzo said, a more specific plan would be presented to the school board.

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