All the Children Are Above Average
to expand eligibility for Albany High School’s honors program
has some parents concerned
If a C average is good enough to earn automatic admission
to a high school’s academic honors program, then what value
will that program have in the world beyond high school?
A large number of Albany parents have posed that question
to Albany school officials in recent weeks, as Albany High
School prepares to greatly broaden the admissions criteria
for its acclaimed honors program.
The current admission standard is an average of at least 85
in a given subject area, although any student who asks to
be admitted is allowed to enroll. Beginning next year, students
with an average of 75 in eighth-grade English and a score
of Level 2 or higher on the statewide eighth-grade English
Language Arts exam will be enrolled in honors. Any other student,
“no matter their past academic performance,” according to
the Albany Public Schools website, will also be allowed to
enter the honors program.
Under the new “all or nothing at all” system, honors students
will also be enrolled in all courses in which honors are offered,
instead of being allowed to select just one or a few honors
Parents whose children are either already in the honors program
or hope to enter it from middle school are “confused” about
the definition of an honors program that appears to be reaching
down in an effort to be inclusive.
not to say that I’m not concerned about the kids who are lower-
performing academically,” said Cyndi Myers, whose son is a
middle-school student. “But you have to make sure you are
preserving a true honors program for the kids who are performing
at that level.”
As news of the change started to spread by word of mouth,
an e-mail list that eventually reached nearly 200 parents
circulated as a way for parents to ask questions, exchange
information and to announce meetings—either those they held
among themselves or those hosted by school officials in the
last several weeks. Parents in the group said it included
a diverse mix of people united by concern for their children’s
education and frustration with what they perceived as prevarication
by school officials.
have asked very direct questions in e-mails and in the informational
evenings,” said Karin Maag-Tanchak, the mother of a Myers
Middle School student and one of the parents instrumental
in circulating the e-mail list. “It’s very difficult to get
a direct answer.”
A number of parents resorted to contacting their child’s guidance
counselor, and Maag-Tanchak said she was disturbed that this
ended up being the only way that some parents felt they got
satisfactory explanations of the changes. What about parents
who didn’t know to take that route, or didn’t have the time
to do that, she asked?
Some parents have already decided to transfer their child
to a private school, she said. The numbers are difficult to
quantify, but Maag-Tanchak said that anecdotally, it’s becoming
more common to hear of parents who are either making the change
or seriously considering it. She can think of maybe a dozen
Albany school officials at first appeared to be caught slightly
off guard by the reaction to the planned expansion of the
honors program, which comes at the same time that the high
school will also be remodeled into four themed academics that
will offer concentrations on citizenship, leadership, arts/communications
and science/technology. The results of a lottery for admission
to the new academies will be announced tomorrow (Friday, Feb.
A $7.5 million, three-year federal grant made the restructuring
possible. The school system developed the restructuring plan
and the change to the honors program in response to the high
school’s placement last year on the state’s list of persistently
reason we’re doing this is we need to raise the level of academic
rigor for all students,” said schools spokesman Ron Lesko.
“We want all of our students to think of themselves as students
who can be challenged at a new level. We did have the questions
about ‘dumbing down the curriculum.’ That is absolutely not
the case. We’re asking students to rise to the level of our
School board president Dan Egan noted that the school is being
asked to raise its performance at the same time the state
is cutting funding to programs that could address low-achieving
students, and that poor cities across upstate New York face
the same dilemma. Still, the leading indicators of poverty
and achievement speak to a critical need: The school’s four-year
graduation rate stands at 54 percent, and slightly more than
half the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
want to say it was a myth, but it was a reality: Albany High
was two schools. We needed to change that,” Egan said.
But the e-mail campaign quickly caught the attention of Albany
school administrators, some of whom found out about it because
they have children in the school system and ended up on the
email list. An initial rumor briefly spread that the honors
program would be eliminated, but even after school officials
hastened to dispel that rumor, concerns persist among a sizeable
group of parents.
Egan said the e-mail campaign was a painful reminder that
the school system could have done a better job of explaining
the forthcoming changes. A public discussion of the divide
between academic achievers and underachievers is never easy,
and Egan said that parents had every right to complain that
the language school officials used at a series of forums to
explain the changes was circuitous and confusing. Egan attributed
the confusion to an attempt to “please everyone.”
was at one of the forums, and I think people [from the school
system] were talking out of both sides of their mouth,” Egan
said. The restructuring plan is a good one, he says, and the
board believes, based on available studies, that lower-achieving
students will benefit from the honors program without impeding
the higher-achieving students.
For now, the school board and administrators can only wait
to see how the changes play out, and hope that the families
of students at all levels give the new approach a chance.
got to have buy-in from every family on every block in this
city,” Egan said.
control advocates want local representatives to support banning
On Jan. 8 in Tuscon, Ariz., a gunman opened fire on an open
constituents meeting held by U.S. Representative Gabrielle
Giffords (D-Ariz.). The first shot struck Giffords in the
head, critically wounding her, and 31 more bullets tore through
the crowd, killing six people and wounding 12 others.
Thirty-two bullets were discharged in as few as 16 seconds
thanks to the so-called high-capacity ammunition magazine
that alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner used to outfit his
Glock-19 semi-automatic pistol.
A proposed bill in the House, H.R. 308, sponsored by Rep.
Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), is aimed at banning these high-capacity
magazines in hopes of limiting the potential carnage a would-be
shooter can cause. At the behest of New Yorkers Against Gun
Violence, local gun-control advocate Robyn Ringler has begun
to seek the ear of House representatives to encourage them
to co-sponsor, or at least support, this legislation.
ammunition magazines,” said Ringler, “are designed to make
it easy to shoot large numbers of people quickly and efficiently
without reloading.” Also known as ammunition feeder devices,
these magazines can hold as many as 100 rounds of ammunition.
Supporters of the ban point out that a criminal in possession
of even a 30-round magazine can easily outgun police officers,
who usually carry 10-round clips. High-capacity magazines
have been used in many high-profile mass shootings, including
Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, and now, Tuscon.
For Ringler, Tuscon recalled what would become a defining
time in her life: the failed 1981 assassination attempt on
President Ronald Reagan. Reagan was the first gunshot victim
she’d tended to as a young nurse at George Washington University
Hospital, where he was taken for treatment. Her experience
with the president and his family during his precarious nights
of recovery led her to become a staunch advocate for gun control.
why?” said Ringler. “I have to ask why in 30 years our government
can’t pass some kind of sensible gun-control legislation that
would prevent this from happening again.”
H.R.308 would amend the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention
Act to prohibit the manufacture, sale, or distribution of
ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The law
would also prohibit possession of these magazines unless owned
prior to the law’s enactment. A related bill, S.32, was introduced
in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.),
and currently co-sponsored by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), among others. Both House
and Senate bills are currently in committee.
In addition to New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, supporters
of the legislation include the Violence Policy Center, the
Legal Community Against Violence, and the Brady Campaign,
and Vincent D’Onofrio, who recently appeared in an ad promoting
the bill funded by the Citizens Crime Commission of New York
really probably the least restrictive kind of gun control
law you can enact,” said Ringler. “We’re not asking to ban
guns. People can still have whatever weapons they want. They
can still hunt, they can still target shoot, they can still
defend themselves at home; the only thing we would restrict
is the number of rounds of ammunition that could be in the
The National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America
have started their own campaigns opposing the legislation.
The groups claim that existing magazines of this type that
are already in circulation bear no markings indicating when
they were made or purchased and that this could lead to difficult
legal battles for law-abiding gun owners. They also question
whether such measures will have any impact at all on violent
criminals’ ability to obtain high-capacity magazines, which
currently exist in great numbers in the United States.
To supporters of the bill, any impact is worthwhile.
we had had this law enacted before Tuscon, the shooter would
have had to reload after 10 shots,” said Ringler. “He had
a 30-round magazine. If he had been forced to stop and reload
after 10, it would have spared half of the 19 people who were
shot.” The shooter was reported to have been tackled as he
paused to reload.
Ringler said she met with U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) on
Friday to ask him to co-sponsor H.R. 308, which he has agreed
to consider. Now, Ringler is preparing to meet with her own
representative, Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.). Gibson, “an outspoken
supporter of the right to bear arms and to protect one’s life,
loved ones and property,” according to his campaign site,
will need some convincing.
understand that [Gibson] is not prone to passing gun-control
legislation, so I’m trying to get some support from people
to go with me,” said Ringler.
Through Facebook, Twitter, and blog posts, as well as the
mailing list from East Line Books in Clifton Park, which she
owns and operates, Ringler is gathering a contingent of concerned
citizens to voice their support for H.R. 308 and attempt to
sway Gibson. In the first 24 hours after her plea went out,
Ringler received 35 responses from people willing to accompany
her or write letters to Gibson for hand delivery, as well
as leads on up to 60 more potential supporters.
Ringler plans to continue to gather support through the next
couple of weeks, culminating in her eventual meeting with
think that he’s a reasonable person and I think that he would
be surprised how little [the bill] restricts the freedom of
the gun owner,” said Ringler. “And it really can save lives.”
business survives robbery thanks to help from the community
A small store, formally an apartment building, sits on Mohawk
Avenue in Scotia, its storefront sporting a dark purple sign
that reads “Pastime Legends Video Games.” Inside, stacks of
games, accessories and movies line the walls.
On Dec. 18, the Pastime Legends Scotia store was robbed. Joe
Pirro and Emily Petrequin, a couple and the co-owners of the
Scotia and Albany stores, were devastated.
came at night and crowbarred our back door,” said Pirro. “We’re
tired, and it broke our spirits for a while.”
The robbers wiped out between $15,000- $20,000 in merchandise,
including all of the newly released games in stock. This was
a hard hit for a small business that literally started from
nothing but the love of video games.
The day of the robbery, customers came in as usual. One woman
was buying a $4 game and saw that the cash register was damaged.
Joe told her that he didn’t have the correct change due to
the robbery, but would get as close as he could and reimburse
her for the rest.
started crying,” Pirro said. The woman left Joe her $16 in
change. Throughout the day, people from the Scotia community
donated to the much-loved store.
Nine days later, the perpetrators returned before Joe and
Emily could install a new security system. A Mobil employee
from across the street saw the robbers trying to smash through
the front window of the store, and chased them off, but they
still have not been caught. However, Pirro, Petrequin and
the Scotia Police believe they know who committed the crime
and are compiling evidence against them.
The Scotia community has come together to help Pirro and Petrequin
get back on their feet. After three weeks of renovations and
$10,000 of new merchandise, their store is up and running
Pastime Legends offers a free hangout spot for local teens
and a time capsule for adults who feel nostalgic for their
childhoods. Pirro and Petrequin also host gaming tournaments
in-store and at Proctors in Schenectady. This year they hope
to be involved in Exile, the area’s largest LAN tournament.
They host free in-store tournaments, and as many as 70 people
have crammed themselves into the tiny store to play. “This
[robbery] couldn’t take away from all the connections we made,”
said Pirro. “We like to not focus on business so much and
focus more on community, fun, and having a good time.”
funding cuts are sinking SUNY, object students, professors
300 people rallied outside the Capitol on Friday, protesting
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed funding cuts to the State University
of New York.
The preliminary 2011-12 budget calls for an almost-10-percent
drop in SUNY funding—more than $100 million. Over the past
three years, SUNY’s operating budget declined by $585 million—about
is an attack on the middle class,” said Lee Cutler, secretary
and treasurer of the New York State Union of Teachers.
The protest was aimed at the governor, the Legislature and
University Chancellor Nancy Zimpher.
remain deeply concerned about our mounting fiscal challenges
and how they will impact our ability to provide a quality
experience and education for our students,” Zimpher stated
on Feb. 1.
The Feb. 3 demonstration was peaceful, save for the beating
of drumsticks on coffee cans, the rattling of percussion instruments
and the chanting of phrases like “Fight, fight, fight; education
is a right,” and “Think ahead! Don’t cut higher ed!”
Passing cars honked in solidarity, while police patrolled
on bikes, astride draft horses, on foot and in cruisers. In
glaring sunshine, marchers waved banners and carried signs.
education is expensive?” one read. “Try ignorance.”
giving our education money to Wall Street,” said another.
Cuomo’s policy “favors the rich,” burdening those with the
least power, said doctoral candidate Stephen Pampinella. The
state’s pain shouldn’t be “shifted onto students and working
people,” he said.
Tax the wealthy instead, insisted students, professors and
members of the New York State Union of Teachers and the United
supporting the millionaire’s tax, which would bring $4 billion
into the state’s general fund,” 109th District Assemblyman
Bob Riley said. “Some of it could go to SUNY and some of it
could go to state workers.”
The state’s temporary surcharge on high income earners is
expiring. If New Yorkers earning over $200,000 a year continued
paying a surcharge, SUNY’s aid could be restored, suggested
NYSUT vice president Andy Pallotta.
it not be all the students who do all of the sacrificing and
all the millionaires doing the cigar smoking,” he said, denouncing
billions of dollars in slashed subsidies to SUNY’s teaching
hospitals and Medicaid.
going to happen to patient care in this state?” he asked.
“The uninsured and underinsured—where will they go for health
Every year, students pay more, but get less for their money,
the demonstrators complained.
The university is phasing out their French, Italian, Russian,
Theater and Classics departments by 2012. Due to layoffs,
there are fewer full-time faculty remaining, protesters griped.
Some classes are so overcrowded that students must stand;
just booking a conference with your advisor can be challenging,
With so many canceled courses, students can’t amass enough
credits to graduate on time. On top of all that, the chancellor
last week proposed tuition increases for the next five years.
There is some consolation. The state’s Tuition Assistance
Program is budgeted to rise from $824 million this year to
$843 million next year, said Jeffrey R. Gordon, spokesman
for the New York State Budget Division.
Patrick Lyons of NYSUT, said it will be almost impossible
for his children to afford SUNY.
already faced with financial ruin when you graduate from school,”
he said. “Then you get out and try to find a job.”
loose ends this week-