Albany residents got a first glimpse at their newly renovated and expanded high school over the weekend, and from the pictures it looks like a much needed improvement for a school district often overlooked by parents in favor of suburban districts with more money. The new school is complete with soundproofing between classrooms, upgraded heating/cooling, plenty of sun, smart boards, science equipment, and more. It is the product of a contentious budget process in 2015/16 that saw some residents gawk at the price tag: $190 million. But the budget eventually passed and now the city has something to be proud of in a new school that will help all of our students well into the 21st-century.
The district said that the new high school was badly needed for a myriad of factors, but the simplest one was space. The old facility was bursting at the seams with new students. The district is one of the few in the state that is actually growing in enrollment. This is due to increased immigration and students coming back into the district from closing charter schools.
Albany, like many other cities in the US, is often a first destination for immigrants. These newcomers expand the tax-base and add to the economy but also have needs that can be burdensome for their new home cities. Often immigrant children need English as a second language courses in order to start their integration into the education system. Albany’s school system has been offering these programs while also dealing with an interesting problem for an older city: growth in the student population, projected in 2015 to increase by over 30% by 2020 in certain grades.
Albany’s schools have also been reabsorbing students from recently closed charter schools. Charter schools were sold as an alternative for urban residents who were often located in under-performing inner-city school districts. The school districts have to pay tuition to the charters for each student that enrolls in them. This system was devised as a means of providing choice and also as an incentive to the traditional public school to perform better and to thus not lose students to the charters. The experience in Albany has been mixed as some of these charters have failed to live up to their expectations and have closed. The students formerly enrolled in them have been reabsorbed back into the public-school system.
I hope that Albany High students love their new home.
A look inside one of the new classrooms. Photo from the Albany Times Union.