By KATIE HOOS
Through a series of public discussions, individual meetings and an online survey, the New Rochelle Board of Education gathered community input for the ongoing nationwide search for a new school district superintendent.
The search for a superintendent began after Richard Organisciak left his position as superintendent of schools in October 2013 due to health-related issues. In the interim, Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff is serving as acting superintendent until the school board hires a replacement.
Korostoff, who previously served as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, has indicated that he is not interested in the permanent superintendent position, according to Board of Education President David Lacher.
As part of the search, the Board of Education conducted four public sessions, held on Jan. 8, Jan. 9, Jan. 11 and Jan. 29, so residents, parents, teachers and community groups could voice their opinions on what qualities they would like to see in superintendent candidates.
The Board of Education and representatives from Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, an independent recruiting firm the school district hired for $23,500 to conduct the search, facilitated the meetings at Isaac E. Young Middle School, Albert Leonard Middle School and New Rochelle High School.
“The intention [of the public forums] was to get as widespread participation as possible from the community,” Lacher said. “Every single member of the community is a stakeholder in this search.”
Each public forum posed the same three questions to attendees: What do you consider to be strengths of the New Rochelle school district? What do you feel are the challenges facing the community now and in the future? What characteristics would you like to see in a superintendent?
Meeting attendees were permitted to speak without time constraints and were given the opportunity to speak as often as they wanted. Over the course of the January meetings, attendees expressed similar concerns, mainly the need for a bilingual candidate, a candidate who lives in the community and a candidate with a demonstrated track record of raising student achievement.
As part of the search, community members could take an online survey that asked participants to identify what they considered to be the most important qualities found in a successful superintendent and provided a space for open-ended comments and candidate recommendations.
Dr. Bill Librera, a lead consultant with Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, said all components of the search that involve the public are important since the feedback reflects the unique needs of the community.
“We try to give people in the community all kinds of ways to tell us what they think is important,” Librera said. “The public forums, the survey, the individual meetings; they’re all designed to give comprehensive feedback to the board as to what the community values as important.”
Consultants from Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates scheduled one-on-one meetings with representatives from the NAACP, the Parent-Teacher Association and local elected officials to receive input on an individual basis.
However, controversy erupted when one organization, United Citizens for a Better New Rochelle—a grassroots community group initially created to defeat the failed City of New Rochelle Echo Bay development project—felt jilted when their request for a one-on-one meeting was denied by the Board of Education.
According to a string of emails obtained by The City Review, United Citizens for a Better New Rochelle requested they have an individual meeting with Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates to collectively voice their opinions on the superintendent search.
But the Board of Education denied the group’s request, with Board of Education Vice President Lianne Merchant saying their involvement in bringing down the Echo Bay development project did not earn them the privilege of an individual meeting and that they should instead submit their input via a written statement and attend the last public meeting, held after press time.
United Citizens responded to the board’s decision, stating, “UCBNR appears to be the only community organization in New Rochelle whose request to meet with Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates was denied. If so, the decision of the board to exclude UCBNR raises serious doubts about the actions of the board and the validity of the entire community input process.”
Declining further comment, Board President Lacher said, “It’s been a very, very open process and it’s unfortunate that one self-appointed group wants to try to paint this in a negative light.”
In February, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates will create a position profile based on the input the community provided and filter through applications with those qualities in mind.
“The end product is to try to develop a profile that the board will be using as it considers the individual candidates,” Lacher said.
The school board hopes to hire a new superintendent by July 1to oversee the district’s 11 schools: Barnard Early Childhood Center, Daniel Webster Elementary School, William B. Ward Elementary School, Trinity Elementary School, Jefferson Elementary School, George M. Davis Jr. Elementary School, Columbus Elementary School, Isaac Young Middle School, Albert Leonard Middle School, Alternative Campus High School and New Rochelle High School.