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Schenectady to hold second urban schools conference

Schenectady to hold second urban schools conference

School district leaders hope event will grow to include many districts, from many communities.
Schenectady to hold second urban schools conference
Byron V. Garrett, chairman of the National Family Engagement Alliance, speaks to Schenectady teachers last year.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

Hundreds of Schenectady teachers will gather in Albany next month for the city school district’s second annual urban schools conference.

The event doubles as a day of training for Schenectady teachers, but it is also a nascent regional education conference with a focus on urban education and its myriad challenges. The conference, required training for all Schenectady teachers, counselors and social workers, will take place Nov. 6 in the Empire State Convention Center.

The conference offers teachers a chance to learn new strategies for improving the education of their students. It is also designed to give the feel of a national conference, with the goal of energizing them once they return to class.

“I want them to leave feeling energized, like: When I come back to school tomorrow, I’ve got more energy than when I walked into school yesterday,” said Schenectady schools Superintendent Larry Spring.

The conference is run in cooperation with the Capital Region BOCES and is open to teachers from other districts, at a cost of $150 per head. By running the event with BOCES, Schenectady gets reimbursed at a higher rate than if it organized the program as a district-only event. Last year, the event cost the district around $120,000; this year’s budget is similar, Spring said.

Jeff Duncan-Andrade, an educator and author based in Oakland, California, is the keynote speaker. He has taught high school in Oakland schools and is also a college professor who specializes in urban education and helping students who have experienced poverty and trauma.

The district is paying Duncan-Andrade $17,000 for the appearance and to participate in multiple sessions for the district’s teachers, Spring said.

“He is also very aware of and in-tune with what happens environmentally in places where there is intense poverty and the effect it has on kids,” Spring said. “This is not about teaching people about trauma. What he’s going to be sharing are the ways in which he and his colleagues have learned to respond to that.”

The district event will include other speakers from around the country, including a school principal from Derby, Kansas, a professor at New Jersey-based Rowan University and an education scholar who doubles as a spoken word artist.

More than a dozen breakout sessions will cover topics ranging from creating more constructive in-school suspension experiences to how to expose students to a more diverse array of artists and art works.

Spring said the sessions this year are largely focused on ways teachers can move beyond an understanding of the impact trauma and poverty have on students and start finding ways to improve their instruction to better respond to students' needs.

The conference falls on one of the district’s four superintendent conference days – days when students aren’t in class and teachers and administrators spend time on training or planning – and serves as a day of professional development.

But district officials hope the conference expands beyond Schenectady educators, with districts throughout the region and state – urban, suburban and rural -- participating.

“Ideally, we want our staff to learn alongside and from and with staff members from other districts,” Spring said.

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