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Facing Devastating Cuts, Albany School District Increasingly Turns To Virtual Learning

With a 20 percent reduction in state aid for this school year looming, staffers let go Friday included 51 teachers.
WAMC Composite Image by Dave Lucas

The Albany City School District Board of Education held a hybrid meeting Tuesday night to plan for the most challenging school year to date.

Anxiety about New York's 20 percent pandemic-related budget cuts to state aid for education dominated the board meeting.

"Nothing takes the place of in-person instruction. We want our students back and we want them back in person as much as we can."

Albany Schools Superintendent Kaweeda Adams says in the event of any additional stress on budgeting, the district has formulated two emergency contingent plans.

"So option A, pre-K through 5th grade and students with disabilities in person. 6th grade through 12th grade virtual... Option B is the instructional program where in-person would be pre-K through 3rd grade and students with disabilities self-contained and 4th through 12th grade virtual."

The idea is to be ready should any "what if scenario" materialize.

The panel decided on a fall-learning model where kindergarten through 6th grade and students with special needs attend school in-person. Grades 7 through 12 will be virtual for the first semester.

Upper grade Albany International Center and Tony Clement Center for Education classes are being moved to Albany High. AIC Teacher Jennifer Warnecke is incredulous.

"AIC until two weeks ago was a targeted program that was prioritized to give in-person instruction this fall, five days a week, like special ed. To go from that, to nothing at the middle school level, is unimaginable. Part of our vision statement talksabout equitable opportunities to meet their potential. Equitable means all students get what they need to succeed. When designing the AIC program, this district was innovative. They looked at the needs of our refugee and immigrant population. Many of our AIC students are considered students with interrupted formal education. Students who because of war, poverty, migration, refugee status, missed one or more years of education. These students often enter the U.S. with limited academic school and low levels of literacy in their home language. The sooner we address this problem the better. AIC at the high school level only is not a good option."

Albany Public School Teachers' Association President Laura Franz addressed the board during the public comment period.

"There are Albany teachers who are trying to figure out how to make a meaningful classroom orientation experience for our students this week, who have spent the past few days in professional department or department meetings fully engaging with their colleagues and supervisors in order ot reinvent the way they teach this year, who have ordered materials and made plans for their students to welcome them back to a school environment that will be less than welcoming. And who nest week will find out they no longer have a job here. And still, they will not stop working to make sure that they get this as right as possible for our students. And I know this because for the past 26 years I've had the great privilege to call these people my colleagues, my friends, and quite frankly, the finest group of professionals that I have ever met. Their lives and the lives of their families are about to be left to fate. It is wrong. It is unfair, and it will be a loss that this district will grieve for years to come."


Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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