Experiences to share about Albany schools?

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Eric emails:

I live in Pine Hills and it offers just about everything I'm looking for: a (relatively) safe, walkable neighborhood, lots of parks, some diversity, interesting people... The problem is that my kid is about to enter the school system and I'm hearing things about the Albany school district that concern me. My experience as a former teacher was that the kids who graduate from the upper level programs at Albany are more well-prepared for life after high school and college than many of their suburban council peers. I've heard that smart, but lower-performing kids are being pushed into the honors classes in hopes of helping them achieve more, but the real effect is that the honors classes are being dumbed down.
I've seen several comments on AOA from parents who are proudly raising their kids in Albany, so I'd love to hear what their experiences are with the schools. Are they happy with the public schools? Are they sending their kids to charter or private schools?
Thanks for the help!

Based on similar previous conversations, we're guessing people probably do have a few thoughts to share. And something that's been very clear in conversations both here on AOA and in-person is that kids, families, and situations are varied and often in different in their own ways. What might be right for one family might not necessarily work for another. So we'd just like to gently remind everyone to be respectful of that.

So, have some thoughts for Eric? Please share!

Earlier on AOA:
+ Ask AOA: Which school district should our family pick?
+ How Albany can make its case better for why young families should stay

Comments

I'm in the same boat as Eric. I've found that anecdotes from neighbors, friends, or internet "strangers" can only take you so far. If you haven't already, I strongly recommend you get out there and visit these schools during the school year, during the school day to get a feel for things. In the last few months, my wife and I have made a series of visits to our local elementary, middle + high-school. During those visits, we had the chance to talk to multiple teachers and see the kids "in action". It was very VERY telling in a lot of ways - both good and bad.

Hello Eric,

Our experience with Albany City Schools (K to 4th) has been "solid", for a lack of better terms. Our child goes to New Scotland Elementary. Communication from teachers and the Principal has been excellent - very responsive and often proactive. My worry of a faceless, hierarchical city school bureaucracy awaiting my kids was happily untrue. Having said that, much of this responsiveness may also be due to heavy parental involvement in the school - it's an expectation from the stakeholders.

I believe that the experiences my child has had with other students could not be replicated in a suburban, private or charter school environment. He has made friends with kids from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. This is important because we believe that relational skills and empathy are just as important as STEM skills. We want our kids to be "world" ready.

If you're interested, look up the Albany Parent Advocacy Group and the Albany Parents for Physical Education and Play Facebook groups. They might be able to give you a different or deeper perspective than mine.

We have had a very good experience so far with Albany Public Schools. Our child's teachers at Montessori Magnet are professional, caring, communicative, experienced, and creative. The administration conveys respect towards parents, and clearly conveys expectations for the school day. He is reading way above grade level, with most of the heavy lifting on that front coming from his time at school. Most of all, he loves to learn. His brother will start there in the fall.
Public schools are a microcosm of the community at large, and certainly the schools reflect some of the biggest challenges our community faces, most importantly poverty. But our children will be charged with addressing those community problems in the future,. I am that the public schools in this city will prepare them to acknowledge and address these challenges.
Ultimately, it's your decision, but I would urge you to make sure that empathy and understanding are in the curriculum no matter where you send your children.

My husband and I live in Pine Hills and our son attends New Scotland Elementary School. Before our son got a spot in the Pre-K we were asked by many non-Albany residents what we were "going to do about schools." When we said we were excited about sending him to our neighborhood elementary school we received a lot of raised eyebrows and reactions that I can only interpret as horror, like I was a bad parent.

Every Albany school parent we have met has had nothing but positive things to say about the schools. There are so many options and programs that make Albany schools truly unique and exceptional in the Capital Region. We have had a great experience this year and look forward to next year at the same school.

I hope you choose Albany schools.

Also, there was a good piece on urban schools in The Alt earlier this year: http://thealt.com/2017/01/23/resistance-choose-urban-school-district/

I'm going to second everything @proudlypublic said. There's no need to repeat those arguments.

I don't think much has changed in the two decades (gulp!) since I graduated Albany High School ('97!). The teachers I had in Albany public schools were engaged, supportive and excited to be doing the work that they did. And I admit I gave 'em hell from time to time.

Even back in the 90's there was the stigma of a City education and exaggerated tales of things that never actually happened. "...my best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw someone with a [insert bad thing] at AHS. I guess it's pretty serious...." There was also a palpable media bias.

I decided to put down roots here, still in the 12208, and my son goes to New Scotland Elementary. Admittedly, it's only been a year, but we're very pleased. We have a great rapport with his teachers, there's a genuine community at the school, and we absolutely love being able to bike and walk. I think my son has learned and grown so much in the past year. I'm happy to see him navigate relationships with his friends - from very diverse backgrounds.

At the end of the day, I think most schools in the Capital Region are great. I think suburban schools excel, too, and my friends who left the city would tell you that they, too love their schools. But I believe Albany offers more opportunity, a more realistic perspective, and teachers that teach there because they really do want to make a real difference in a child's life.

I know you offence, or whoever you're referring to, but I've got to take umbrage at the statement " smart, but lower-performing kids are being pushed into the honors classes in hopes of helping them achieve more, but the real effect is that the honors classes are being dumbed down." Dumbed down? Isn't that a defeatist statement? That the bad apple has already spoiled the whole bunch? I might have been one of those kids, smart but under-performing, with a lack of focus - but being pushed, rather than marginalized, really helped me grow. I was fortunate to have people that believed in me and the challenge made me a better person. I can't think of where I'd be if not pushed or challenged. That's exactly what we want from our schools. Albany offers that.

At the end of the day the decision you make will be yours and anyone be damned that tells you how to raise your kid(s). You should not be made to feel guilty about where to live. I just think, if you want a child to have the best opportunities, and to have a well-rounded quality education in a community that would benefit from you being here and being engaged - well Albany is your best bet.


We're only three years in, but so far we're loving the Albany City Schools. We keep hearing great things from friends with older kids, and are seeing successes in the kids of different ages and abilities in our neighborhood.

Before picking our neighborhood school, we visited all the magnets and one other community school to get a sense/vibe. They do vary, and I encourage everyone to schedule a visit (or go to the open houses or any social events open to the public).

We've lost a few kids in my kids' classes lately, and I was worried it was the Delmar/Guilderland jump as older siblings hit middle school. Instead its been job opportunities moving families across the country.

I love the kids in our school. I love the teachers in our school. I love our staff. I know the state stats are bad, but they just don't reflect our reality.

Anybody have comments whose kids go somewhere besides New Scotland Elementary, Montessori or Eagle Point? What about Pine Hills Elementary?

The best thing you can do is reflect on who your kids are and what you seek in a school. Curriculum? Extracurricular activities? Athletics? Values? Small classes? Diversity? College counseling?

Then go tour a few schools. Bring a list of questions. It's fine to take in stories, but the Capital District is fortunate to have lots of options - public schools, charter schools, parochial schools, and independent schools. Go see them. Some children could thrive anywhere, but others may be suited to a particular environment. Touring area schools will help you educate yourself about the pros and cons of each place, and ultimately feel more confident in your decision.

My child has attended Albany schools 2nd-7th grade, Pine Hills Elem and then to Myers middle and we're looking at other options now. I have had problem after problem with the schools, from a total lack of interest in student's safety and whereabouts during the school day, to disrespect of the students themselves, and an extreme dearth of quality education at the middle school level. I can count the number of homework assignments I've witnessed this year on my two hands, no book reports or large scale projects to speak of; and I'm concerned that even as a supposedly high honor roll student, my child will be behind by any other district/private curriculum standards.
I've had more than one conversation with other parents who get the impression that the teachers are just babysitting in the most lackadaisical fashion.
I'm sure there are passionate educators there, but I can't change or advance the curriculum myself just by wishing and hoping. I want to send my child to school and trust that they're getting the best education there possible.

The elitism on display here is truly something to behold.

I sent all my children to Albany Public schools; they are proud and successful graduates, who got into the colleges they wanted and mostly with good jobs. I love the friends they made in school.

I have also spent many, many years volunteering in the schools.

If you want to perpetuate all the racism, inequality and privilege of our society, by all means send your children to private schools or move to the suburbs. That way they'll never need to actually meet and work with undesirables.

If, however, your beliefs in equal opportunities for all really mean something, send your children to our public schools, which are pretty good by the way, and maybe avoid exercising your privilege for once. Believe it or not it will be really good for your kids.

Well that went south fast. Let's be respectful...everyone is trying to do the best for their family. I am interested in what everyone has to say and everyone's experiences.

I have a child about to enter middle school. She's been in Albany Public schools since Pre-K. We have many friends with students in the middle schools and the high school in town who are very happy with their children's education (and they have high standards).

I hear so many stories from friends in the suburbs about students with drug addiction issues, problems with kids becoming obsessed about keeping up with their more affluent peers, and plenty of mean girl social problems that have caused people to move their children to private schools.

Keep visiting schools and keep talking to parents who have kids in the school district that you are considering. Mostly try to decide what you want. If status is important, if you don't want people looking down on you when you mention where your kids go to school, do not choose Albany Public Schools. If you care to look past that, you might find a lot to like about Albany public schools.

Not sending my kids to Albany public schools was my choice fo a variety of reasons that are personal and have nothing to do with race, elitism, safety or quality of education. Having said that the kids my daughter hangs out with are PHENOMENAL! All graduating or graduated from Albany High....all are superior students and great kids and all going to great colleges. They are so inspirational.....and it's not just a few it's a huge number of well adjusted ambitious caring and well educated kids.....I think a good kid-student will do as well in Albany as anywhere else! And the kids that are choosing not to go to college are all going into the military or have half decent jobs lined up already. I know the naysayers will quote the drop out rate etc but my word these kids are good.

I love Albany. Loved my Pine Hills home and community. My children attended schools outside the district when we first moved from the suburbs to the City of Albany. I opted to have my younger daughter start school in Albany- New Scotland Elementary. Our prior experiences were with the South Colonie School District and the Troy Prep Charter School. It is probably important to note that both of my children are special needs- one with a 504 plan, and the younger one, and IEP.
The principal and general staff at NSE were kind, thoughtful, knowledgeable. They love their job and they love the children- that is undeniable. But all the love in the world doesn't make up for a lack of resources. The classroom was overcrowded. My child shared a desk with another student, and the lessons being taught were well below the level my child was accustomed to from our prior school- Troy Prep (and again, my child has an IEP so...). The cafeteria and play areas were deeply segregrated along racial/ ethnic lines. For a school with such rich diversity, I was surprised and disappointed with this fact. The office staff was uneducated in working with children from diverse backgrounds and often, their commentary was insulting and culturally ignorant. The morning program was essentially students sitting in a hallway awaiting breakfast, rather than being engaged in any sort of productive activity (I hope this has changed), another disappointment. The teacher, while engaged, was clearly overwhelmed and unable to keep the names of students and their needs adequately met. After that school year, we unfortunately decided that we could not send our children to Albany Public Schools, and could not afford private school options, so, off to the suburbs we went... and while I absolutely hate it here and miss my Albany home and community, I am confident that my children are receiving the best public education at this point, so we are stuck till Albany gets the resources it needs to compete with other local communities.

I have so much to say on this topic that I don't know where to begin. I have had my kids in Albany Public Schools for ca. 15 years. First of all, Sean gives excellent advice above. If I had a nickel for every statement of "Albany schools are. . . " from people who never went to, worked in, or sent their kids to Albany schools, or maybe did a generation ago, well, I wouldn't need to work any more. Everyone has an opinion, but many don't have knowledge. This was really made obvious to me when my kids were reaching PreK age, and people said they were moving because of the schools but didn't even know what school they were zoned for. Please visit and talk to current families.

I have seen so many staff members who are so incredibly dedicated. The poorer the school, the more this seems to be true. The flip side of this is that those schools have more problems that are beyond the capacity of staff to address, so some things fall through the cracks. And the faculty and staff do sometimes have low morale due to the abundance of reporting required of "failing schools."

Staff members are usually very alert. Twice in middle school I got calls from a school social worker about something my son said that raised red flags for them. Both times it ended up being nothing, but I was very reassured that they were on top of things like this. Another one of my children was being harassed by another student who had lots of his own problems. The staff somehow dealt with it in a way that solved the problem yet didn't reveal that my child had "snitched." It is probably true that there are more inter-student issues in Albany than in some of the suburban schools. On the other hand, I feel that my kids are safer in Albany because the staff watches more closely. I have heard horror stories from friends with kids in suburban middle and high schools because those kids are very adept at avoiding detection.

Families who have moved away from Albany say they miss the fact that there were more opportunities for everyone in Albany. In high school and never played lacrosse before? That's OK - come join our team! New to this country and can barely speak English - Come improve your skills by performing in a play! Some might say this is why our teams are not the greatest, so I guess you need to think about what is more important to you. My clumsy youngest child is very happy that he goes to Albany where sports don't seem to be as much of a focus as it is for his friends' suburban schools.

Probably because parents don't demand as much as in places like North Colonie or Bethlehem, communication with parents can range from OK to really bad. If you are a parent who is involved, has internet access, and is educated enough to know who to call or what to ask, you and your kids will probably be fine. I do think the district needs to do a much better job of reaching out to parents in lower socioeconomic groups, who didn't graduate from high school, etc.

I feel like my kids are gaining a lot of the tools they need to go out into the world. They are seeing things from lots of different points of view, and befriending people who come from other countries, whose have teen parents, who have lived in shelters, to name just a few, has kept them from being entitled brats even though we live comfortably. They are appreciative of what they have. Sometimes, though, I fear that they might be more prejudiced than if they grew up in a more sheltered environment because sometimes the kids are fulfilling stereotypes, and kids are too young to understand where the behavior comes from, if that makes sense.

If your kids make it past elementary school, in Albany, be prepared for them to develop some dark humor. They, especially if they are involved with activities outside of Albany, will hear things like "How many shootings in your school?" "I am too scared to go see your play at Albany High." "How often do you take a weapon to school?" etc. This view of their schools upsets some kids, but many find it amusing and will play it up. I understand why kids have these ideas, but why I find shocking is how many adults with advanced degrees say things like this and more - things not based on fact at all. (Goes to show that the prestige of your school may not mean as much as we might have thought.)

My oldest child is currently at a "highly selective college" for what that's worth. Although she entered without some of the skills that kids from tony private high schools arrived with, she has been able to hold her own and quickly rise to the challenge. College admissions is a black box, but I suspect the fact that she went to Albany High helped her application come admissions time. She was a good student in high school, but not the very top, and she got into schools where her scores were below the mean, some with merit scholarships! When 90% of private school applications come from places like Bethlehem and NIskayuna, colleges are looking for something a little different, plus students who are used to encountering people different from themselves.

I have heard some complaints about dumbing down of honors courses, but I don't think there is much to it. Maybe my kids aren't terribly smart, but they have struggled and worked hard in their courses. I really like the fact that in Albany, your course is not set by 7th grade. If you don't get your sh*t together until 10th or 11th grade, you can still try higher level courses. You are not pigeon holed at an early age. I would say that the bigger problem is that not enough kids are getting the intense attention they need in the early grades so that they are even at a place where they can try honors classes at AHS. Given what you have said, I doubt this applies to your kid. The students who have trouble completing school tend to be transient, poor, and have other issues they are dealing with at home.

Whew, I told you I had a lot to say! There is much more, but I will give someone else a chance to talk.

The Parent Teacher Association of Pine Hills Elementary will be happy to discuss the school with any prospective parents and answer any questions. Please contact us at pinehillspta@gmail.com

Yes by all means sacrifice your children's future in the name of "equal opportunities for all." They will thank you later.

In response to Gary taking about elitism, I think it's an unfair statement. As a family some of our children went to private schools and other went to public. As a family we made decisions on the best education choices for each child individually. Just because they went to private schools does not mean that they haven't met the "undersireables" as you called them. Quite the opposite because their are plenty of social and recreational opportunities in Albany to take advantage of and be with their peers.

I have a child in her second year at ASH. She loves going to school, we've been consistently pleased by the warm and respectful atmosphere in the building - kids seem to treat each other with kindness and courtesy (at least when parents are around...). The magnet aspect (humanities theme) means there has been abundance of performers and performance opportunities as well as an international focus on geography and culture. I have mixed feelings about standardized testing but one upside is that they demonstrate my kid is doing just fine by statewide and national standards. And she's learning to work with kids from radically different back grounds which I think is a key 21st century skill.

We live in Pine Hills and our daughter started at Pine Hills Elementary in 6th grade. She had an amazing experience and the teachers for that grade are top notch. She is now at Myers Middle School and is enjoying it and excelling. My son is at TOAST, which he really wanted to go to when he found out it was focused on science and technology. My wife also volunteers in the classroom at TOAST. My son also had a good experience and has been excelling there. It is true that there is a mix of students who both care and don't care (what school doesn't?), but we have noticed that for those who are trying and wanting to learn, they have plenty of opportunity to learn, grow and excel.

hello AOA! This is my first time visiting this website and I just so happened to stumble across this article. I am wrapping up my senior year at Albany High School. I've attended Albany School Of Humanities and Myers Middle School. I plan on studying at a highly selective college on a pre-med track. Honestly, the City School District Of Albany has provided me with some of the best opportunities imaginable. First, let me cover the demographics of the school district. We have one of the most diverse populations in the state. This provided me with an extremely well-rounded experience involving many cultures. I've taken classes and had lunch with refugees. If you're looking for your child to receive knowledge in cultures other than their own, I highly recommend the the CSDA. In addition to our ethnic background, we hold some of the finest teachers in the Capital Region. I can say my experiences with ALL of my teachers have been phenomenal: they are dedicated to seeing their students succeed. I've received a lot of help from teachers when I didn't understand a topic or needed extra practice on something. The curriculum (this applies particularly to the high school) offers extremely challenging classes, and offers one of the largest available selections for AP Classes in the region. Many people assume due to the previous "low graduation rate" that the curriculum at the High school was less than stellar. However, there are multiple routes. You can take my route, which involved harder classes and more research-intensive courses, or take regents level classes and get great grades. Both are great ways, and this approach to education at the high school has been one of the essential things to the CSDA's success. I can say, however, if you are scared of an urban environment, that this district is not for you. In some of the schools in the district, the majority of the students come from an urban background. This is present in most of the schools placed in some of the rougher neighborhoods of Albany. I have attended three schools where a large portion of the student population came from low-income, urban backgrounds. And as a student of these schools, it provided me with some interesting experiences. Of course there will be fights, but there are no crazy brawls or melees. The security staff around the district, from what I've seen, has been greatly upped in ability. I come from a higher-income suburban background, and some of my bestfriends and classmates come from a separate background, and I am thankful to the City School District for helping me come across such amazing people and receiving an amazing, well-rounded education.

@Z thank you!!! Our kids are young, so we have many years to worry about tracts and all that. In my school growing up, by 7th grade they decided if you were high on the list or not. (And many were pegged in 4th grade for 'talented' enrichment.) The more I learn about our schools the happier I am that we're in the district. I know its not for everyone but that's ok, plenty of other options are out there.

After raising three daughters in a very well respected suburban school in a very affluent community, we decided to buy a home in the City of Albany (mostly because is was more affordable). I would have to say that we prefer the city school district. Our daughter went to Albany School of Humanities (pre-K - 6th grade) and we loved this school. The staff, teachers and parents were truly like family. She then attended Myers Middle School and will be graduating from Albany High next month. We have been very happy with the school district. I am glad she has grown up in a very diverse community.
I think the key to success in such a large school district is to be involved in your child's school. Attend PTA meetings, keep up on district happenings. The district has amazing music programs, clubs, sports etc. Our daughter has has many wonderful opportunities in the district.

We are still very early in our journey with Albany Public Schools but I'm so grateful of the opportunities we have had just in the past nine months. My son was lucky to get a spot in the district's extended pre-kindergarten program so we were able to save on childcare while he received a great education. We participate in classes for parents offered by the district. We were guided through the special education system when his teacher noticed a problem with his speech. Most importantly my son has met friends from many different backgrounds. We were so excited to see everything the district is doing with community schools and refugee outreach. We want our children to learn empathy and kindness above all. Being concerned about less prepared students being in advanced classes is such a strange first world problem.

Have absolutely loved our experience in the Albany City Schools. Have two children who are in Elementary schools. One is about to graduate and will attend Hackett in the Fall. Our elementary school ecperience has been great - great programs, great opportumities, incredibky gifted Staff (for the most part). Were there things/aspect that were less than desirable? Yes, but managable. Were my children exposed to some things that I wish they hadn't heard/expetienced until older? Sure. But, overall, their experience has taught them to be tolerant of differences, appreciative of others and compassionate. And, I'll take that experience over everything else. As we transition to middle school, I've done research but most importantly have talked with students, parents, teachers and administrators at the school. All of whom have acknowledged challenges but who have raved about it. My child also shadowed a student. My advice is to meet with school adminstrators, take a tour if offered and talk to students who currently attend and parents who are currently involved in the specific school. Much of the negativity comes (for whatever reason) people who have never stepped foot in the school. Best wishes!

This was an interesting topic of conversation at dinner tonight. Thanks AoA!

I asked my kids - first year in college and 9th grade - what they thought the pros and cons of going to Albany Public Schools were. Some excerpts:

Older: A con is your kid will be with kids who are poor or who don't finish high school.

Younger: I think that is a pro because you get to learn about other people and what life is like for lots of people in the US.

Older: Well, it is a con if you are one of those whiny parents that complains that all the resources aren't spent on programs for your "advanced" or "gifted" kids.

*****
Older: Sometimes kids are disruptive in class.

Younger: That breaks up the day and makes school fun.

Older: Yeah, I'm not sure if it's a pro or a con. Sometimes college classes are really boring because everyone is so serious. I sometimes miss the fun at Albany High. Kids in Bethlehem are so worried about getting into a good college that they can be like robots doing everything that they are told and not rocking the boat. Kids in Albany aren't butt-kissers like that.

****

Younger: A pro is that there are so many different courses and you don't have to apply to get into programs like AP and IB. There are so many levels of courses - from basic level to AP, and you can move around easily. You can take high level courses in things you are good at and lower level courses in things you have trouble in.

So there you have it.

I would suggest you base your decision on what your family values.

For my family, it was important to receive that 'real world' education referred to. I also wanted to support public schools because we value the public school education we got. Personally, I see public education as a kind of glue for our society. I felt, on some level, obligated to be a part of the system. I also thought I could help make a difference by being involved.

Part of the decision in choosing Albany schools was that we love living in Albany. While there are many nice things about the suburbs, they are not for us. Yes, there are many hassles to Albany life, but there are also many good things. The schools, in some ways, are a microcosm of that sour-sweet trade-off.

We went to a non-magnet school and had a good experience over all.

Re: charter schools, it's a crazy situation in Albany, but I don't begrudge anyone their choices because I can't in good conscience tell a family they should send their child to Phillip Schuyler instead of a charter school.

Our children have done well academically and we've taken full advantage of all on offer, plus the enrichment they get from the things we provide outside of school.

Have their been issues? Yes, for my kids and for me as a parent. From the district and some of the schools, communication is awful and change can be glacial. Try as I might, I can't understand the curriculum mess. There is lots of talk about equity, but there are such stark differences among the schools. It's definitely true what an earlier comment said about how there just aren't enough resources for all the needs. Some of the neediest of Albany's students have profound issues, not all of which the schools can address.

We've seen some stellar teachers, who do so much for their students and their school. But also some bad teachers and poor staff. Of course, the grass is not always greener. Suburban schools also face these issues, but I think some of those teachers maybe don't have to be that good, since there aren't as many challenges.

About the 'dumbing down'.... yes, there is criticism that one way to close the achievement gap is to lower the higher end. I am not sure this is valid, however. It is worth noting that if your child has special needs, the district is mandated to meet your child's needs. But if your child excels or is bored, there is not much to compel the district to offer more. This is where you need to advocate for your child and others like her. 

I appreciate that I've met the most interesting people, both staff and parents, through the schools. Yes, there is some crazy stuff going on, but there are also some amazing things going on. 

Finally, Albany schools do offer a lot of programs that you just can't get in the suburban schools. Even the private schools don't compare in this regard, if you are looking for a variety of opportunities. There are some hurdles and issues that are not for everyone, or every kid. Again, it's a trade-off and you need to figure out what's important to you.

Best of luck. I hope you will follow up and let us know of your experiences.

Z said pretty much everything that I would have added to the conversation other than this: Do I think my children would have been more academically prepared for college had they attended a suburban district? Yes, perhaps. Do I think they would have been more prepared for life and interacting with a diverse population after attending a suburban district? No. My children have a lifetime ahead of them to continue their educations. I'm happy to know that wherever they go they take with them the skills needed to interact, accept and appreciate people who don't necessarily reflect their own experiences and reality.

"everyone is trying to do the best for their family"

Right, I believe that. But the thing is, when you do your best for your own family you often hurt others.

How about we all do our best for our whole community? And that might mean occasionally NOT giving our own children every possible privilege and maybe sacrificing a little ourselves so as to lift the whole community?

We have sent our children to a private school for the religious education. But it wasn't a good fit for one of our children, so we switched him to New Scotland, then on to Hackett Middle School, and now Albany High. We have been very impressed with the high quality of teachers and administrators. We've seen very caring and dedicated educators across the board. I would especially recommend Hackett, which so often gets a bad rap. They have an incredibly professional staff. They care about every child and work really hard to get them educated. The Hackett principal is very inspiring and energetic. If your child is in the Honors level classes, they are getting a first rate education. I've been a little less impressed with Albany High -- there is a lot of social engineering, as far as I'm concerned. I think this mostly comes from NYS curriculum requirements. A young staff, but many very good teachers among them.

"Yes by all means sacrifice your children's future in the name of "equal opportunities for all." They will thank you later."

Mine have.

Seriously, one of the best things that has ever happened to me as a parent is that all of my children thanked my for what I did for them before they turned 30. I sure didn't expect to hear that before I had one foot int eh grave and the other on a banana peel ;)

I don't think I 'sacrificed their future' by sending them to Albany schools. Like I said, they're all doing well.

Unlike Gary, I don't see much elitism in these comments. These are just young parents trying to navigate the crazy US school system. It can be scary, and there are concerns with any choice - public, private, charter, urban, suburban - which one is the best fit for your child can be hard to figure out.

However, I understand Gary's defensiveness. When you have been an Albany parent for a long time, you have heard hundreds - nay, thousands - of comments like Herbert's ("Yes by all means sacrifice your children's future in the name of "equal opportunities for all." They will thank you later.") I have even been accused of child abuse for sending my kids to Albany schools. It can get very tiresome. Honestly, outsider's comments may be the worst thing about sending your kids to Albany schools.

Thank you to All Over Albany for providing a space for these discussions. I looked to this forum this time last year when I was preparing to move my family from Louisville, KY (a city with great public schools) to Albany. My oldest son would be ready to start kindergarten in the fall as soon as we arrived. Moving from another state meant that I didn't know all the local gossip, biases, and historic reputations of the schools. My husband and I knew that we'd live in the city, so it was a question of getting to know the schools. I did my research on the schools' state report cards, but those report metrics that often reflect the demographics of the population more than they reflect the education the schools provide (e.g., test scores, attendance, and graduation rates). So, they didn't hold too much water. We were lucky enough to be able to send my parents up to visit a few schools on our behalf. The principal and home-school coordinator from NSES and EPES were kind enough to show them around while school was in session. They reported back to us that we couldn't go wrong in either case. We ended up moving into the catchment for Eagle Point.
It has been a wonderful first year of school for our kindergartener. The teachers and support staff at Eagle Point are smart, kind, loving, and communicative. The PTA is remarkably active and well-organized. It seems there are school-community events almost weekly. Our son has never complained about attending school. He has gone from showing no interest in literacy or numeracy when he started school to being able to read, add and subtract. There is more testing than I would like, but that will be true at any NY public or charter school. The important thing is that his teachers know it is developmentally inappropriate and try to counter those experiences with more meaningful ones. To name a few: they have weekly art and music classes, and gym 3 times a week; they raised chicks in their classroom this spring; wrote a book about each child in the class; and have a field trip planned to the aquarium. The school has more resources than I would have expected. There are regular assemblies with professional and amateur theater and dance performances, free breakfast and lunch for all children regardless of need, and multiple family events throughout the year. Our son has made friends of different colors, nationalities, and socioeconomic backgrounds than his own. His class participated in a multicultural night to celebrate the diverse origins of the school’s students. On Thanksgiving, the teacher focused on the theme of pilgrimage, which was inclusive of all the children, many of whose families were from overseas within 1 or 2 generations. Parents were invited to bring in dishes that represented our heritages to share with the class. These are the lessons that our son will remember and make us value the education he is receiving in Albany Public Schools.

Our child has been in the Albany School System (Elementary) for two years. Here is our list of pluses and minus with the district:

Pluses:
• 4 year-olds can attend FT PK if they are selected in the PK Lottery (this isn’t always offered in the suburban public school districts)
• They are developing a 3 year-old program as well
• Breakfast and lunch is free for all students in elementary school (perhaps MS and HS too)
• There is a variety of choice for elementary whether it be magnet, charter or the public school closest to your home. You aren’t stuck with just one school as it may be in smaller communities.
• There is more attention to struggling students because of socioeconomic need and number of special education students
• Diversity
• The teachers that our child has had so far have been very good and caring
• Very involved parent associations and there is a strong emphasis on the schools and parents partnering
• Principal does not hide in the office. Is very visible and greets students and parents each morning.
• Field Trips
• Summer Enrichment Program
• After School Programs

Minuses:
• School taxes are very high in Albany. But if your family is able to benefit from the pluses of not paying for full day preschool, lunches, etc., maybe it outweighs the cost.
• The school board and administration doesn’t represent our views on education and does not make the best financial decisions:
o Past Superintendent and School Board could not work out their difference and the district bought her out. Poor use of public dollars to pay someone not to work.
o Held a vote on renovating school but there were ethical problems with how the voting took place when the second proposal was voted in.
o Wrote a public letter denouncing the new US Ed Commissioner.
o Started to renovate/build a theater without following proper state finance procedures. Correspondence was published between various school board members that were contentious.
o Many of the schools are not performing well as a whole and have been put on receivership with the State Education Department.
• Sometimes students with more intensive behavioral issues take time away from the teacher’s instruction to other students in the classroom. There are significant behavioral needs in some of the classrooms.
• Durham Bus Company has not provided the best transportation services (late pick-ups, drop-offs, issues with bus monitors) but the contract will be ending.

We’ll likely keep our kids in the public elementary school that came through the lottery, but will have to re-evaluate when it comes time for Middle School. A lot of it will depend on their personalities, education style, and how they fit with the school in question. I’ve known families who have picked different schools for each child based on their individual needs and all have done well within each environment whether public, private, or charter. In comparison with other districts, Albany seems to have more choice.

I look forward to seeing some of you volunteering to serve on the school board or making other unpaid contributions to our school community. That's what makes a community work.

Thanks to all who have shared here. I'm of a similar mindset to most people who support the Albany Public Schools, and despite being short-staffed the teachers are absolutely phenomenal when they are offered the right support. My child goes to Eagle Point where the PTA has done a lot of good work supporting the school in various ways. The administration could be more communicative and verbal about having to stretch precious resources a long way; so lack of communication can sometimes be annoying. I never attended a suburban or private school, so I cannot speak for how things happen elsewhere. I think as long as you remain engaged with your child's education, things tend to go smoothly. And the kids have a healthy dose of respect for social and economical differences.

Thanks for raising this topic... so timely and critical.

I want to say thanks to everyone for sharing your thoughts and experiences, and to please keep the comments coming.

A couple of people mentioned large class sizes, and I'm curious to know how current those observations are. When budgets were cut deepest (2012 or 2013), the situation was the same in nearly all districts in the area. Teachers I know in suburban districts that were known for smaller classes suddenly found themselves with 30+ students. In some districts, this has only gotten better in the last year or two.

Before those budget cuts, I enjoyed a short career as an English teacher and worked as a substitute in almost every district in the area while I was completing my degree. My experience was that Albany's class sizes were comparable to any of the other big districts in the area. None of the big suburban council districts had particularly small classes, though parents in nearly all of them would probably brag about the class size.

Very interesting comments. I went to Bethlehem schools and now teach at a large urban middle school outside the Capital District. I obviously can't comment much on Albany schools other than saying that I know many intelligent, thoughtful graduates, but I will say a bit about those large suburban districts that everyone thinks so highly of.

Bethlehem schools are great and are deserving of their reputation, but any parent who thinks they can just move their kid into highly-resourced suburban schools and get their kid into the Ivy League has another thing coming. Bethlehem, like any other school, is a reflection of the wider community. There are plenty of parents with advanced degrees who emphasize education from the cradle. But there are also many, many parents who are less engaged whose kids coast through and end up with a pretty mediocre education. Then there are a few kids who perform horribly because of problems at home and/or emotional issues.

From what I've seen in the school I currently teach in, the children of engaged parents tend to do pretty well anywhere. There are way more of them at Bethlehem than where I teach, but even in the somewhat chaotic, overcrowded, discipline-challenged school I work in now, those kids are doing fine.

The outcome is worse for the other groups (ambivalent parents/kids and totally disengaged parents/kids) at my school than it probably would have been at Bethlehem. There's no denying that a school that has fewer challenges overall can dedicate more resources to those unmotivated or troubled students. But it can't ultimately change who those kids are or the homes they come from.

In discussions of urban schools, the suburban schools are often cast as perfect oases of rigor and excellence. But schools aren't magic, and they can't transform communities or families. If your kid is disengaged and failing, moving to Delmar probably won't turn that around.

Remember that quality of education, public or private, is poor is the US. Moving to the suburbs or picking a private school is not elitism, it's reasonable.

Lapin - Where are you getting the idea that education in the US is poor? People from other countries often try to get their kids education in the USA. It is a very complicated subject, that is affected by things like poverty - our poverty rate for people under 18 is around 23%, much higher than most other developed countries. When you control for poverty, US educational outcomes are very good.

Another factor is percentage of students who go on to secondary education. When you are in a country like China, where only about 65% of students go to school after 8th grade, vs. in the US where everyone is required to go to school until at least age 16, comparison of scores is not statistically valid unless you control for that, which few of the scoring mechanisms do.

Some summary bullet points on this can be found at the beginning of this report: http://www.epi.org/publication/us-student-performance-testing/

There is definitely a difference in scores between private and high end public schools vs. lower end public schools, but much of that appears to be based on the socioeconomic status of the children, not on the education itself: https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/studies/2006461.pdf


Susan wrote: "When you control for poverty, US educational outcomes are very good."

That is in fact correct. Educational attainment almost perfect tracks socioeconomic status. It ain't the schools that are the fault, or the blessing. It is the fact that we have a system that creates ghettoes and privileged suburbs. And a majority like it that way.

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