HCSD superintendent Maria Suttmeier said she wished she could "turn back the hands of time." Berkshire Union Free School superintendent Bruce Potter lamented that "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." Common Council president Don Moore opined that "it's not important if you make mistakes, it's how you respond to them" and went on to say, "Out of something wrong, something right can happen." Suttmeier called the plan to site an alternative learning program on Warren Street "a bold move," and said, "When there are bold moves, there is turbulence."
Arthur Cusano reports on last night's panel discussion about "The Bridge" in today's Register-Star: "Warren St. alternative ed forum draws heavy feedback." Sara Kendall was there recording the presentations and the discussion for WGXC, so chances are, in the fullness of time, those who were not there will be able to listen to the proceedings for themselves.
In her comments, Suttmeier recounted how the choice of 364 Warren Street had been made. She said they had first "looked to the home campuses" but found that (1) there was no space and (2) there were "union issues." It seems that union agreements prohibit faculty from other school districts from working in HCSD schools, and the teachers in this program will be Berkshire Union Free School faculty. She then explained that, when she "first became superintendent," Daniel Kent contacted her and offered to house the alternative learning program in the Armory. (Suttmeier took over as superintendent on July 1, 2012; Kent took over as executive director of the Galvan Foundation on September 19, 2012.) At the time, there was no ALP, but in April 2013, when she was seeking a site for the new program, Suttmeier called Kent to see if the Armory was still available. Just a month earlier, in March 2013, the Galvan Foundation had offered the space in the Armory not already committed to the Hudson Area Library to the City of Hudson for a senior center. Something else had to be chosen from the Galvan inventory of vacant buildings, and 364 Warren Street was it.
During last night's panel discussion, it seemed frustratingly impossible to separate the noble intentions of the program from the careless and wrongheaded decision to site it in the heart of Hudson's main street. Most people who expressed concern about with the location and dissatisfaction with the process by which it was chosen seemed compelled to preface their criticism with complimentary statements about program lest they be perceived as heartless malcontents. A refreshing exception was Bruce Porter, writer and professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia, now retired and living in Hudson. After Mayor William Hallenbeck's comments, in which he declared that "the bottom line is if one child is saved," Porter began by saying, "Enough of the violins." Porter's criticism was directed at the program: "I have not heard anything here that increases our confidence in this plan." He cited the HCSD administration's record of running "probably the worst high school in the state" and suggested that HCSD has a "record of disaster."
Criticism of the program also came from Linda Mussmann, co-director of Time & Space Limited, who observed that "the community is not included in your grand plan," and predicted that "if the community is not engaged, you will fail." She also spoke of the lack of minority faculty in the Hudson City School District and wanted to know how many of the teachers in the alternative program were minorities. She was told by Potter that three of the ten people who would be working with the students were minorities: the psychologist and two of the support staff. He stressed that the faculty for the program were selected because "they are excellent at what they do."
Joan E. Hunt, project manager for the Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood, also urged that the program include plans for involving the community. Suttmeier spoke to the intention to "invite students out into the community and invite the community into the school" and said she didn't know how the "myth" that kids will be "locked up in the building" got started. That seemed a rather disingenuous comment, since Suttmeier was present when Joe Catalano, attorney for the Galvan Foundation, tried to persuade the Planning Commission that the school would have no impact on the surrounding neighborhood by saying there would be "minimum use outside the building" and instruction would take place "behind closed doors."
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