Community Engagement Is Necessary to Guide Greenburgh Central School District’s Future
LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
As the parent of a child in the Greenburgh Central School District, I am deeply troubled by the Board of Education’s recent determination to not renew Superintendent Dr. Tahira Dupree Chase’s contract, expiring in June 2021. A leadership change is a great loss to the students and a waste of taxpayer money. The future direction and leadership of our district should be a thoughtful, unrushed process that engages all community members, including the many involved and invested district parents.
Under Dr. Chase’s tenure over the past five years, the district has made enormous strides. Today, GCSD is one of only nine districts nation-wide that has an International Baccalaureate program for Grades K-12, as well as an IB Diploma. Mandarin instruction is offered for all children beginning in Pre-K. The robust Pre-K program is now full-time for all students. High-quality literacy programs have been integrated among the primary schools. The Advanced Learning Program was designed and implemented for exceptional young learners, along with more Honors and Regents courses for older students. STEAM has become part of the curriculum at all grade levels with technology labs at even the elementary level, and robotics and engineering courses for older students. Test scores, while still in need of improvement, have significantly increased. The district offered free SAT and ACT prep courses, and the high school graduation rate is an impressive 94% with many students continuing on to top universities, colleges and technical schools.
The student population at GCSD is extraordinarily diverse, which is a wonderful way for students to share ideas and learn about cultures different from their own. As a parent, I firmly believe that learning to interact with all types of people when they are young will help our students become concerned and informed citizens of the world. GCSD does have test scores lower than the affluent surrounding districts; more than 50% of our families receive reduced or free lunch, a factor that greatly affects test scores. To denigrate the reputation of GCSD based on test scores, as many do, is unfair; it is well-proven that students who come from a lower socioeconomic status test at lower levels for a myriad of reasons.
In early 2019, Dr. Chase and the Board of Education presented a united front to put forth a $114.6 million bond for the district that would bring all schools onto the Warburg campus, building one new school, adding on to an existing building, and selling two buildings that are in various states of disrepair. The public voted down the bond even though it would have benefited them financially in the long-term. Upgraded school buildings would undoubtedly have made a difference in student performance, perhaps even attracting some of the students that currently attend private schools. Since that failed bond proposal, the Board of Education has not presented a new plan to the public as the buildings continue to deteriorate, even as the administration has sought to repair and replace whatever it can within its yearly budget.
Given all of these accomplishments and initiatives, why would the Board of Education not renew the Superintendent’s contract? It is unclear, as Dr. Chase even received an “effective” rating in her evaluation from the Board for the 2019-2020 school year. All communications from the Board of Education to the public on this issue have been cryptic and carefully crafted by their legal team. There was no vote held regarding the expiration of the superintendent’s contract and only a cursory vote to choose which superintendent search firm would be hired. The Board has not allowed community members to speak at regular board meetings since the meetings were moved online in March. They have had no public discussion on the future direction of the district, which is arguably their most important task. In response to community pressure, the Board is allowing their first public comments at October’s meetings, limited to two minutes of time per speaker and one hour total.
The Board of Education should neither be spending taxpayer dollars to hire a search firm, nor should they be undertaking a superintendent search in the current environment. The Board only has 2 members with children in the school system, and it is now clear that we as parents need a stronger voice. When the COVID-19 crisis has passed, parents will remember being disenfranchised at this pivotal time. The Board needs to focus on being more transparent in their decision-making. And most importantly, the GCSD Board of Education needs to actively engage all community members as we make crucial decisions together for the future of our district.
Sarah Lazzari is a parent, PTA leader, founding member of Friends of Greenburgh Schools, and holds a MA in Higher Education and Student Affairs.