Former trustees say current board acting prematurely

Former trustees say current board acting prematurely

To the editor:    The following letter, signed by 12 former Board of Education members,  was sent to Hendrick Hudson Board of Education on March 31, 2023

Board President Bernard and Trustees:

The undersigned are former Board of Education Trustees, and we write concerning the recent actions of the Board on the “Princeton Plan” and the Board’s determination to act without full stakeholder input or data.

While each of us has varying concerns with the Board’s actions and differing views on the Plan itself, we share a collective shock at the procedural approach that members of this Board have taken in making its decision. The Board has decided to disregard its own goals, policies (Among other irregularities, the Board has not acted in accordance with Board Policies 2310, 2352 and others.)  and procedure and decided to make a decision on nothing more than anecdotal and tangential information. This Board, notably, has affirmatively elected to ignore the viewpoint of the District’s teachers, the individuals in the best position to professionally assess the merits and problems with the banding of each cohort in a single school.

The Board is making its decision without any actual data on academic performance. The first Board goal specified for the 2022-23 school year was that “[t]he District will identify and announce specific metrics of success for the implementation of the Princeton Plan before the last Board of Education meeting in 2022, benchmark data will be collected and presented by June 30, 2023.” The Superintendent detailed the data that the Board would have available to it during the January 4, 2023 meeting. The Board, accordingly, knows what information will be available to it and when and how it will be able to compare that information against data that the District has collected and maintained for years. Any action before that information is presented in full would be premature and an error. What will the Board do should it learn in June that the data details a notable improvement in student performance in second and third grade under the current, Princeton Plan structure? Will it suddenly reverse itself again, or will it blindly stand by its position and throw away an academic success?

The public statements from the Board strongly indicate that it is ignoring the express input from the teachers responsible for grades K through 5. We understand that over 30 tenured faculty members provided responses to an internal survey and expressed overwhelming support for the Princeton Plan to date. The Board’s response to these responses was to minimize the support for the Plan and call for a broader survey, not only of teachers in other buildings but beyond the HHEA. On March 22, the Board received a letter from the HHEA, signed by 180 tenured teachers, requesting input on any alteration in the District’s structure. It is incomprehensible to the undersigned that this Board is moving forward with a drastic action without any discussion with the teachers involved in providing instruction to our students and without any effort to work with those same teachers.

The Board has also ignored the identified merits of the Princeton Plan in addressing inequities between the schools and NYS’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative. The Princeton Plan addressed the disparities between the elementary schools in the placement of minority and economically disadvantaged students; every student in a grade goes to the same building. Plan B, discussed at the Board’s March 22 meeting, restores that disparity with two-thirds of the District’s Hispanic elementary students and two-thirds of the economically disadvantaged students assigned to BV for kindergarten through second grade. Indeed, the Board could not have provided a stronger illustration for its complete lack of interest in the issue when it drew the dividing line almost entirely along Route 9; the Board is literally creating a division line in the District and assigning to BV all students on one side of the “tracks” and furthering existing economic and racial and/or ethnic origin disparities within the District for the youngest grades.  (This intentional redrawing of District boundaries with disparate impact on Hispanic students raises legal implications and possible facial violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1966, which the Board should consider carefully and review with counsel. The Office for Civil Rights has clarified that school districts may not segregate students on the basis of race, color, or national origin.)

The Board has also made this decision without having any actual plan for students with disabilities or any viable student data or non-anecdotal input from HHSEPTA. Annual review season on IEPs is well underway and the late plan will, minimally, make it very difficult to implement IEPs that have the CSEs have already finalized. This rushed plan will undoubtedly lead to more challenges in meeting federal and state mandates for our most vulnerable students, whose struggles are already compounded by repercussions of the pandemic. The same lack of analysis applies for students who are learning the English language.

Ultimately, the fundamental problem is that this Board is making an inadequately informed and unsubstantiated decision. The past vote to move to the restructuring of the Princeton Plan came after more than three years of discussion, a well-researched, 81-page Report by Castallo & Silky, completed in 2019 and well over fifty public meetings, open forums, PTO presentations and other efforts. This Board is ignoring that work and moving towards a new plan that had its first consideration on March 22, was not even included in the 2019 Report and which no one, other than members of the Board, has had the opportunity to discuss.

The Board appears to undertake this change during a period when the District is experiencing a leadership vacuum. Superintendent Hochreiter has directed the District for nearly a decade but is currently on a four-month leave of absence. The Board’s decision to act, three weeks into the Acting Superintendent’s four-month oversight, is, at best, poorly timed as the District has only contracted with Dr. Lauro through June 30.

The Board’s “vote” on March 22 was both procedurally questionable and procedurally and substantively defective. Based on this and the foregoing, we respectfully call on the Board to table any amendment of Policy 5110 until the Board receives full stakeholder input, receives data from this school year, and examines and fully evaluates any proposed change to the District’s elementary educational structure, in accordance with the Board’s fiduciary duties to the District. This is the only responsible and rational decision for the District and its students.

Respectfully yours,

Lisa Anderson, Stacie Cignarale (Past President), Ellette Hirschorn (Past President), Ellen Grabowitz, M.D., David Levine, Agnes Leyden, Mindy Mayer (Past President), William Orrichio, Carol Popolow Abraham, D.V.M. (Past President), Charles Thompson, Marion Walsh (Past President), Will Walsh