HUDSON–With only two and a half weeks before classes begin, school officials and members of the public gathered this week to discuss the new Bridge academy planned for a building on Warren Street amid restaurants and businesses.
Officially known as the Columbia-Greene Partnership Academy, the program will serve 57 youths: 45 identified as at risk for not graduating from high school and 12 in special education. Nearly half the students who are at risk for not graduating are from Hudson and the rest from Catskill. Seven of the dozen special education students are from Hudson.
The hearing, held Monday, August 19 at the 7th Street fire house, included Hudson City School District Superintendent Maria Suttmeier, Berkshire Union Free School superintendent Bruce Potter, School Business Executive Robert Yusko, Jr., and, as moderator, Hudson Common Council President Donald Moore. All were seated at the head table. In the audience were Mayor William H. Hallenbeck, Jr., his rival in the upcoming election, Victor Mandolia, and several other Hudson political and business leaders.
The Bridge program expects to have a teacher for every 12 students, as well as teacher’s aides and staff members, with Thomas Gavin—most recently principal of Hudson High School—as principal. Berkshire Union is supplying the staff.
The districts will identify children for the 45-student Alternate Learning Program who have amassed fewer high school credits than someone of their age needs to be on track to graduate. Another criterion for qualifying a student for the program will be frequent truancy.
Mr. Potter said the classroom building, at the corner of Warren and 4th Streets, is “in the process of getting a certificate of occupancy.” It will have five classrooms. It has been a jail, a city hall, a theater, and a newspaper office, most recently for the Register Star.
Construction workers have been walking in and out of the red brick building, and Monday fresh gravel covered the front courtyard, which a few days earlier was contained dug up earth.
The building is planned to serve the Bridge for two years; after that, said Ms. Suttmeier, it may move to a bigger facility.
The Bridge will receive a $150,000 donation from the Galvan Foundation, but also will pay $66,000 in rent the first year to Galvan, which owns the Warren Street building, according to a handout prepared by Mr. Yusko.
The Bridge is “only paying rent, not for construction,” Mr. Potter said, adding that the building remained on the tax rolls, with Galvan paying the taxes.
People expressed concerns about the lack of gym, the appropriateness of the location and the predominately white composition of the staff, but also offered praise for the Alternate Learning concept.
Mr. Mendolia asked, “Will the children be locked up inside the whole time? Will they have recreation? Midday breaks?”
Mr. Potter said experience at Berkshire’s Canaan campus indicated they could “replicate” physical activities.
Ms. Suttmeier said that ideally the building would have a gym bit the need for an alternate learning program was so urgent that they could not wait. She said that if students want to participate in sports, they can do it in their home districts at the end of the school day.
Mayor Hallenbeck praised the concept behind the Bridge. “If one child is saved, then your efforts are commendable.” He suggested that the students use a gym at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club.
One business owner asked why the program could not have used the empty St. Mary’s School building.
Mayor Hallenbeck said the Warren Street building was “conducive to affordability.”
Superintendent Suttmeier said, “The rich culture on Warren Street can be an asset to our children. And our children can be an asset to Warren Street.” She noted how easy it would be for students to walk from the school to cultural facilities like Helsinki and TSL, both scarcely a block away.
Linda Mussmann, director of TSL, noting that most Bridge students would probably be minorities, asked about the racial composition of the staff. Mr. Potter replied that three employees–a psychologist and two support staff members–would be from racial or ethnic minority groups.
“That doesn’t sound enough to me,” said Ms. Mussmann.
“The faculty has been selected because they are excellent at working with at risk students, regardless of color,” said Mr. Potter. He also said that the program must follow union and recall-after-layoff rules and could not turn down a qualified teacher “just because they are white.”
Until 2010, when funding constraints led to its closure, Hudson High School had an Alternate Learning Program. Beverly Hayles of Hudson reported that one of her sons attended it. When the 2010 cuts hit, he went back to regular high school but “didn’t do well” there. So she pulled him out for another school, even though she now teaches special education in the Hudson City public schools.
Ms. Suttmeier has frequently said that since the 2010 cuts, the Hudson City School District has greatly needed a replacement for the Alternate Learning Program. She hopes the Bridge can be it.
County Supervisor William Hughes (D-Hudson 4th Ward) said there is a need to break the “child-to-prison pipeline.”
He said that saving taxpayers’ money on education is unproductive if it leads to more public spending on prisons, prisoners’ families and social services. “I have fought against other projects on Warren Street. But this program is needed,” he said.