Dr. Champ's Superintendent's Report, Feb. 27, 2018

Superintendent’s Report

February 27, 2018

Board of Education Meeting

As I begin my report tonight, I want to start by sharing a portion of the call to action issued by one of my professional organizations.

“The Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, comprised of School Superintendents who are responsible for the education and well-being of more than 240,000 children, is shocked and saddened by the tragedy that occurred at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018. We strongly decry the senseless shooting that cut short the lives of 17 innocent students and staff. This incomprehensible and horrific act of violence demands immediate and bold action by state and federal legislators to end gun violence in our schools and communities.

As school superintendents who represent 77 schools districts in New York State, we speak with one voice on this issue. We again call on our state and federal legislators to immediately enact stricter gun control legislation, and to provide adequate funding and access to mental health services for children and families.

As education leaders, we believe that school safety is a fundamental right we must provide all our children. The statistics draw a picture that calls for immediate changes in a civilized society committed to protecting its citizenry, and especially its children. According to the New York Times, more than 438 students and teachers have been shot in at least 239 school shootings since Sandy Hook in 2012. There have been 63 people injured or killed in six school shootings in the first 25 days of 2018, according to Education Week. These outcomes are unacceptable.

A reasoned and rational approach to gun control and increased access to mental health services for students and families in our schools and communities are essential first steps.”

I begin with this statement as I think it conveys the sentiment of so many educators and points to one of many issues that are so heavily weighing upon us all at this time. Situations like this impact every single one of us personally and profoundly. Part of the national frustration we all feel is due to the unresolved issues around this that are merely symptomatic of the fear and divisiveness that exists in our country. Each of us may not necessarily be the cause of the divisiveness, but each of us lives within an incredibly emotionally charged environment where sound bites, tweets, and posts happen far more quickly and often than they should, and all largely absent of context.

That being said, I know there have been a number of communications issued recently by the District that were intended to be informative and to allay fears, but thanks to the environment we are functioning within, the heightened stress and emotion that we are all dealing with, the fear and concern for our children’s wellbeing, and the wellbeing of our community as a whole, did not have the intended effect for some residents. I ask that we all take a collective moment to stop, breath, and consider a lesson that I once learned from a marriage book: The concept of assuming that both parties are coming from a place of good will.

In any relationship there will be conflict. When we come at one another assuming the worst of motivations or intentions, then we come braced for battle and view everything through the lens of defensiveness and win/lose. When we come to one another believing that one another may have different viewpoints, perspectives, experiences, and perceptions, but that we are coming to engage in the relationship with goodwill toward one another, then we find a common ground from which to begin.

I urge us as a school and a community to truly take the time to remember that we are all coming into this from a place of good will, seeking what is best for the students of Pelham. That is, and will always be, our common ground and the foundation upon which we all must stand, together. I’m told that in Pelham, that is one of our greatest strengths. We have many different opinions, many, many different opinions, and we debate and disagree, but at the end of the day we find a way to come together in support of our schools and our community. Let’s not let fear, divisiveness, and uncertainty tear us apart. Let’s use it as the reason to draw together and to strengthen our trust in one another; we are all in this to do what is best for our students and our community.

With that said, I do want to offer a few points of clarification regarding recent matters. With regard to the email about rumors at the secondary campus, we always have been and will continue to be limited in what we can share regarding student situations that arise. Today was a perfect example of how fear leads us down a rabbit hole that quickly spins out of control. Students noticed something concerning on social media before the break. They reported it to the school just as they should. But as I said before, everyone is scared. Our students are scared. That is the nature of the world we live in at this moment.

Unfortunately, students also made some assumptions about what was seen, and in the game of telephone that hasn’t changed since we were kids, they told their friends and they told their friends and things escalated into rumors that were unfounded. Those rumors resurfaced Tuesday and started spreading at the high school to a point that we once again looked into them and reconfirmed that these were baseless rumors.

The intent of my email was to convey that these were concerning rumors, we’re aware of them and doing what we need to do, and that everyone is safe. We as a district have to assure the safety and wellbeing of our students, and have to make reasoned, measured responses to situations every day that are in the best interest of our students.

Each of us as educators has had to grapple with our own internal decisions since Columbine about our commitment to our profession, our schools, and our students. And we have chosen to double down and commit to them over and over and over. These things weigh very heavily on us each day and we ask you to please remember that commitment and to trust us to do the work that we need to do. Even when we can’t tell you everything that is going on, we ask you to trust us. I know that is not a popular theme in today’s environment, but it is what we ask. We have two outstanding police forces in our community that work side by side with us. The safety measures that our district has in place are well thought out, practiced, and consistently upheld. We meet regularly to review and improve our own practices as we learn new lessons.

To speak specifically to that, we have already made a few adjustments to our current safety measures. Doors at the high school will no longer be open in the morning. All doors will remain closed and staff will use key access until security monitors arrive. We have already contacted security vendors about installing security cameras and a buzzer entry for the front door of the high school as well as the entrance at 18 Franklin Place. These will be installed ASAP so that all district schools will be equipped similarly and no one can have direct access to the main entrances without being let in by security staff. Our district safety team is meeting next week to review security protocols as well as review any ideas and suggestions that have come in recently that might assist us in making our schools safer. If you have any suggestions, please pass them on to your building principals so they can forward them to the committee.

With regard to the student movement for gun control that is surging around the country, it is important to note that as a District we cannot take a specific political position on issues, but we can and do take a position on supporting what is in the best interest of our students. We also support our students’ first amendment rights and are working with student leadership to provide a coordinated, safe opportunity for our students to express their free speech and to do it in a way that does not disrupt the educational process. The national day of protest is planned for March 14th for 17 minutes at 10 am. We have amazing students that are passionate and will make a difference in the world. Further procedures and information will be forthcoming regarding this. We ask that if your child plans to participate that you notify us in advance in writing so we can plan accordingly.

And finally, with regard to residency, the District has a longstanding and effective policy on residency. Many districts, ours included, have had residency issues over years largely due to our proximity to NYC. As we have engaged the community over the past year regarding capacity issues, construction projects, etc., we have often had concerns expressed about making sure our residency policies are upheld and followed. The new hot line was put in place in an effort to provide a vehicle for communication. We are certainly not having a crisis of abuse of the residency policy. We are not asking residents to do our investigating work for us. We are not asking our residents to enforce our policy for us. We most certainly are not looking to target any particular population. And we are not looking to cause any problem for families and students that live within our district. We are just trying to find ways that we as a district can be sure we are educating those students that we have the legal authority to educate in a fiscally responsible manner. There are legal provisions for protected classes of students such as homeless and displaced students. We embrace these students and fully comply with these regulations as we always have. Districts use a variety of techniques in this manner. Some use hotlines, some require updated leases to be produced on an annual basis, some require all students to reregister at certain checkpoints during their schooling. We did not want to ask our entire school community to reregister when the problem has traditionally been very small. We will continue to monitor our efforts around residency and will make adjustments as needed.

So as I close I once again ask us all to take the time to remember that we all come with different and valuable perspectives, but we all come from a place of good will wanting the best for our students. Our district vision end with the statement:

“The Pelham school community is dedicated to continuous improvement and is committed to maintaining the flexibility necessary to anticipate and respond to a changing world.”

Our world has changed, and continues to change. Let’s find a way to navigate that changing world together and in a way that fulfills our mission of “Inspiring A Standard of Excellence For All Students.”

Thank you.