It hasn't been a good first half of the year for Schenectady High School.
The school is dealing with two crises: a troubling decline in attendance, and an uptick in fighting that district officials have described as gang-related.
Some have questioned whether the gang label is really warranted, but we shouldn't let concerns over wording distract us from what appears to be a very real and very serious problem.
Worrisome reports of violent physical altercations, occurring on a daily or near-daily basis, have parents and students on edge.
One parent I spoke with Monday morning told me that her daughter says there are at least six fights a day at the high school.
Even if that figure's exaggerated -- even it's just two or three fights a day -- that's way too much fighting. If you're like me, and attended a high school where there was maybe one fight a year, if that, it sounds almost unfathomably violent.
Nobody disputes that fighting at school is a problem.
Much less clear is what to do about it.
The district has taken a step in the right direction, reviving regular meetings among school district, city police, probation, mental health and county sheriff's personnel focused on preventing gang activity.
The purpose of these meetings, according to Schenectady schools Superintendent Larry Spring, is to determine who is in a gang, and needs services to get out, or who is at risk of joining a gang and needs services to "reverse that trajectory."
High school students are young enough that reversing a destructive trajectory is almost always a possibility, or ought to be.
But doing so requires a full-on, all-hands-on-deck community effort.
Asking the school district and criminal justice system to solve problems that are tied to poverty and need is to set yourself up for failure. Kids bring their problems to school. If we don't address these problems at the root, beyond the school walls, they'll continue to fester.
The high school's dismal attendance is also a symptom of problems that originate in the wider community.
According to an article by The Daily Gazette's Zachary Matson, the number of chronically absent students and longterm suspensions in the first quarter of the year reached their highest levels in at least four years. Five hundred and thirty-seven students missed 20 or more of the first 45 school days of the year.
These students aren't getting much of an education, and their high rate of absenteeism makes it far less likely that they'll graduate on time.
It also puts them at much greater risk of getting into trouble. What are all these kids doing when they're not in school? Some of them might be home sick in bed. But all of them?
The high school school plans to return from the two-week winter break and launch a schoolwide reboot, called "In Class, All In," that aims to boost attendance.
Much like the district's renewed attention to in-school violence, this attendance initiative will only succeed with support and buy-in from the community. Among other things, parents must make getting their kids to school a priority.
All students deserve a safe, stable learning environment, and the opportunity for a decent education.
Let's hope the second half of the school year is a better one for Schenectady High School.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]