Ex Albany Business Owner
I was very heartened to read in the Times Union recently that Albany High School has been identified as a “persistently lowest achieving school” by the State Department of Education. I was equally heartened to see that school officials are sitting down with the mayor to discuss these issues, and by the mayor’s words, “These are our kids whether in school or out of school”. I can tell you, with near certainty, that unless Albany solves its problems with the school district, Albany will not be a pleasant place to live in 2030, irregardless of any other plans the city makes. Hopefully something constructive will now be done about the problem in the Albany School District , particularly the High School. I feel very strongly about this issue because of my experiences at an internet café I owned on Madison Avenue from 2003-2008. A large part of my clientele was middle school and high school age kids, most of who lived in Albany . Many of these kids did not even have one “fully functioning” adult living in the household. I'd say that nearly 50% of the kids from Albany who came into the café on a regular basis lived in single parent households where the parent had physical and or emotional and or “substance abuse” problems. Many of these kids were already starting to have problems like those of their parents. On top of that there didn’t seem to be any rational and integrated set of programs in place to identify these kids and make sure they and their families got the services they needed, even after the kids started becoming truant (in the rare cases where the High School actually realized they were truant) or running into trouble with the law. To varying degrees almost all the institutions that should have been helping these kids failed them in one way or the other. The worst offender, by far, however was the Albany School District . Rather than being the primary agent for identifying these kids and making sure they got the help they needed the school district seemed to take the attitude that they had almost no responsibility for doing anything about those problems. Twice I was told by school officials that they expected the kids to show up ready to learn, and if they weren’t ready that wasn’t their problem. Well, that sort of attitude may work in suburban schools where the number of kids who aren’t “showing up to learn” is small, but it’s not acceptable in more urban districts like Albany . Citizens without kids in Albany many think that this problem doesn't affect them, but it does. Albany has a sky high crime rate, almost twice that of NYC, and a huge percentage of those crimes are being committed by the kids I've described here. Unfortunately for Albany City Government it has to rely primarily on institutions that are not under its control to ameliorate this problem, Albany County Departments: Mental Health, Social Services, Probation, Children and Family Services, etc. etc. , and the Albany School District. Hopefully part of the Albany2030 will address this problem specifically. I think that in their hearts most people know that the true measure of a City is how it treats its weakest members, particularly its kids.
Fixing this problem will also have a benefit for the city of Albany that many people may not have thought of. There are many people my age(61) living in the the NYC metropolitan area that would love to retire to the city of Albany. The first things that many of these people ask are "what are the schools like and what's the crime rate?" They already know that the cost of a nice home in a nice neighborhood in Albany may be less than 1/2 of a comparable home in a comparable neighborhood in the NYC area. When they get the bad news they immiediately cross Albany off their list. It's a shame. I personally think that Albany could completely revitalize its tax base with an influx of these people, but it ain't going to happen unless the school and crime problem is fixed.