State blocks Bridge

HUDSON–Dismay characterized the Hudson City School District Board meeting Monday night, August 26, as parents, Hudson District Superintendent Maria Suttmeier, Berkshire Union Free School Superintendent Bruce Potter and Hudson school board President Kelly Frank alike expressed anxiety and frustration over last week’s announcement of new legal technicalities that threaten the Bridge alternate high school program.

The Bridge program—also called the Columbia-Greene Partnership Academy—is planned for 45 Hudson and Catskill general education students judged to be at risk for not graduating from high school. Their teachers would come from Berkshire Union, a residential school in Canaan that works with at-risk students. Classes would take place in the building under reconstruction for that purpose at the corner of Warren and 4th streets. In addition to the 45 alternate learning students, the building would have 12 special education students who would have gone to Berkshire Union’s home site in Canaan.

But since Tuesday, August 20:

•Lawyers say Catskill must have voter approval for spending budget money on general education students educated by a different district and that both Hudson and Catskill need voter approval for having district general education students educated by another district’s staff.
Ms. Suttmeier believes this might not be necessary for programs that, like the Bridge, could last less than two years. “Our district lawyers and the state department of education lawyers have different interpretations” of Education Law 2040, she said.
•Governor Cuomo has not signed legislation to allow Berkshire Union to practice education off its home site, even though the state legislature approved the program June 22. The bill is in the Assembly with other bills awaiting the governor’s signature.
If these obstacles are not resolved, the options include using the Warren Street building for just the special education students. If they remain for only Catskill, the Academy could also get started with just the 22 general education students from Hudson.
Without Bridge, its Hudson general education students would have regular high school classes. Ms. Suttmeier explained that both classrooms and teachers were too booked to give these students their own section of the building. In addition, union and other rules prevent Berkshire Union teachers from teaching in Hudson District schools. If the issues are resolved after the start of the school term, the Bridge Academy could open, but that would mean students changing schools in mid-year.
The prospect of starting the school term without Bridge devastated at least some of its intended students and their families. Stacy Coons and Priscilla Blanchard told the meeting about Ms. Coons’ son, who is also Ms. Blanchard’s nephew, an intended Bridge student. He’s smart,” Ms. Coons said, but in a regular classroom he gets “thrown out of school every day. Teachers pick on him.”
This summer Ms. Coons got a phone call saying her son qualified for Bridge. And as the first day approached, he told his mother he was looking forward to being a part of the Alternate Learning Program (ALP).
Now, Ms. Blanchard said, the boy’s reaction was: “Now I’m not going to school!”
Ms. Blanchard said it is hard to believe this had happened: “These kids were taken out of [regular] high school for a reason!”
Ms. Coons told the board, “The state should come and explain to the 25 kids… and see the look on their faces!”
Another mother, Brenda Hedges, said her son is “a very smart kid,” but he is dyslexic and can’t sit through a regular classroom.” She said that in the previous Hudson ALP discontinued in 2010 he got A’s and B’s. Back in regular high school, he got D’s and F’s.
Ms. Hedges said her son “is very upset” at the possibility of no Bridge. When he was invited to join Bridge, he was promised he would graduate within a year. “Now he won’t…. Hudson has failed him!”
Another woman at the meeting said that canceling the Bridge program would “abandon” the children, as closing Hudson’s ALP in 2010 had. “You’ve pulled the rug out from under the kids again.”
Kelly Frank responded, “It’s the state that has pulled out the rug from under us.”
“I don’t understand how after months and months, suddenly they discovered” the problems, she said. “I don’t understand why they didn’t see this earlier. The timing seems odd!”
Mr. Potter, the Berkshire Union superintendent, appeared shaken. He said he and his teachers had been working “tirelessly since May” to design the program. Now, he said, “I stand before you disappointed, disheartened, frustrated…. We did not want another cohort left back.” Still, he added, “I stand committed….We’ve been delayed but not deterred.”
Ms. Suttmeier also remains committed to the program. “There is a delay. A roadblock. The Bridge has not collapsed.”
The Hudson superintendent said that she had gotten a call that day from the state Education Department “because parents have been calling it up saying: Why are you doing this to my kids?”
She added, “We want to expand the program. We have other districts knocking on our door to get in.”
On a related topic, Ms. Suttmeier also spoke of Destination Graduation, the strategies to improve Hudson’s graduation rate 15% over the next three years. “The end product will be a graduate who is college, career, and life ready. How are we going to teach in a way that really excites our students and makes them want to stay and graduate.”

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