Board/Superintendent's Inbox

On this page, we will provide answers to reoccurring questions, concerns or issues received by email from community members throughout the school year. The Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Robert Shaps, will use the Board of Education's regular meetings as an opportunity to provide these questions and answers -- with the idea that when multiple people ask the same question, the answer is most likely relevant to the broader community. As always, we appreciate our community's involvement and interest in our schools.

Questions from the Community

Has the District adequately reported cases of bullying under the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA)?

A parent at the June 18, 209 Board of Education meeting made the claim that the Mamaroneck School District has under-reported cases of bullying under DASA . Contrary to this claim, the District, since the adoption of DASA, has consistently met its responsibilities for investigating and reporting all DASA incidents and has not been investigated or cited for underreporting (or high incidence) by either the Comptroller’s Office or the State Education Department.

In fact, in 2016, when our district agreed to participate in a NY State Comptroller’s Office audit of the State Education Department’s implementation of DASA, the auditors spent two days on site at Hommocks Middle School reviewing all documents associated with any incidents and congratulated us at the conclusion of the site visit for our consistent reporting. The Comptroller’s review of our documents indicated no issues with our reporting or any aspect of our DASA process/procedures we have in place for investigating incidents.

As addressed by Dr. Shaps during the April 2nd Board of Education meeting, the District reports bullying statistics on an annual basis to SED via the School Safety and Education Climate (SSEC) Incidents Report.  During the 2017-18 school year, there were 22 reported incidents across our six schools. This specific information can be found on the above-referenced website.

Keeping our school environment safe, supportive and free from harassment and bullying is top priority for us. We have initiatives in place in every grade and every level of our school district geared towards teaching students the importance of dignity and respect. 

The Board and the District take all reported incidents of bullying very seriously, and we have complied with our obligation to report such incidents to SED each and every year.  We will continue to do so at all times in the future.

See Letter from the Superintendent related to this matter back in October, 2017.

What can you tell us about safety protocols and the incidents at Hommocks Middle School?

 

Remarks Concerning Safety by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Shaps
June 18, 2019 Board of Education Meeting

As you may recall, yesterday afternoon I sent home a message that addressed the three unrelated instances of alleged student threats at Hommocks Middle School over the past week, including the standard lockout procedures that were instituted in response on Friday.  Though none of these incidents were related or proved credible, there is no such thing as an idle threat or social media prank.  As we sit here together this evening, I’d like to add a few additional thoughts on the matter and on safety-related matters, in general, at our schools.

Reckless (or even dangerous) words or actions on the part of young people are not new to any school in this country, but the digital environment we live in has amplified these messages in a profoundly disturbing way, heightening the very real concerns we all have about safety in our schools and, frankly, almost any public space. Our nation’s schools and its school community families have been tragically victimized, especially over the past 20 years. For my colleagues here in Mamaroneck, and in our surrounding districts, school safety is by far the most significant and talked-about concern.

Over the years, this has led to ‘hardening’ of school infrastructure, vast new security investment in security equipment and training, and standard threat-level responses by all school districts, including ours. So today, in all cases of perceived threat – from loosely sourced or non-specific rumors, to more serious and obviously threatening gestures or behaviors, we respond immediately and with the utmost seriousness, and that starts, always, with contacting our partners in law enforcement. At this point in history, no one in school leadership should be wondering what to do when and if any type of threat emerges.

The guidance from law enforcement is critical in these times, and use of protocols like lockouts and lockdowns are instituted for everyone’s safety. There are also other things at work that you may not know or we may not communicate or explain because maintaining safety requires immediate action and adherence to our local protocols for the sake of everyone’s safety. For example, we may, at times, amplify our own security protocols on all school campuses. So if you see what appears to be an unusual police presence in the district, or what looks to be a gathering of security staff, know that these, too, are associated with standard processes in reaction to all safety concerns. It does not mean there is a crisis; it means we are living into the mandate of maintaining safe schools.

To this end, today, we increased the number of school security personnel at our schools, and local law enforcement had a visible presence throughout the school day. This will continue in the near-term.

Our individual school building administrators and security staff remain keenly focused on safety as our first priority. And our students and staff, who also function as partners in safety with us, are a rich source of useful information for our building level leaders. The fact is that whether a student is careless, joking, or in fact has real intent to cause harm, perceived threats are disruptive and dangerous. They will be met with a swift reaction on our part and perhaps that of law enforcement as well. This is something we remind our students of with great frequency, and we ask parents and guardians to do the same. 

Understandably, situations like what we experienced at Hommocks over the past week are upsetting for all.  And aside from the obvious need to first assess and address the credibility of any perceived threats with law enforcement, communication to our school families is critically important. Our families have a right to know how we are addressing any security matter, and we are committed to doing so as facts are established and confirmed, especially by our partners in law enforcement. But we don’t want to create fear where none should exist. And we don’t want a lack of information to spur rumor and panic.  I appreciate the letters I received from community members and the concerns expressed about the need for more timely information.

With this in mind, we will be working this summer to create a clearer and more commonly understood set of communications procedures and messages when we are faced with perceived threats. This includes examination not only of the ‘what to say and when’ dilemma, but also the means we are using to communicate these matters. I look forward to engaging our staff and families in this important issue to reinforce our collective desire for safe and healthy school environments. Finally, knowing that we may face a range of serious events in the future, we will focus our attention and efforts to provide just in time support to attend to the emotional needs of students and staff experiencing uncertainty and anxiety as a result of threats to safety.

As far as the earlier communications to parents relating to the three recent events at Hommocks, I need to clarify the facts specific to last Friday’s communication.  We reported to parents that police informed us about a potential threat. That statement was not accurate. In fact, we learned about a potential threat from a student and immediately contacted police with a request that they respond. Additionally, we reported that the student was in police custody. That was not accurate information. The student and family met with police and were interviewed based on the information provided by the district.

 

What guides the development of the annual school calendar? Can the Superintendent add instructional days to the school year?

 

What guides the development of the annual school calendar?

The academic calendar is developed in accordance with the New York State Commissioner of Education’s Regulations for school attendance and eligibility for State Aid. In addition to complying with the required number of school days and hours of weekly instruction, the District develops the annual school calendar in accordance with the Mamaroneck Teachers’ Association collective bargaining agreement.

What are the major requirements mandated by Commissioner of Education?

In New York State, public school districts must be in session for at least 180 days and provide a minimum daily instruction of 5 hours for elementary students and 5.5 hours for secondary students. As of the 2018-19 school year, schools must provide a minimum of 900 instructional hours for pupils in grades one through sixth and 990 instructional hours for pupils in grades seven through twelve.

How are early-release days, Superintendent’s Conference Days, and inclement weather give-back days determined and scheduled?

Per the contract agreement between the Mamaroneck Board of Education and the Mamaroneck Teachers’ Association, the work (calendar) year is comprised of 184 workdays including two snow/emergency days subsumed in the 184-day work year. The 184-work year will include two Superintendent Conference Days.  The calendar will also designate two half days with early student dismissal in fall and spring to provide for parent-teacher conferences. Additionally, elementary students will be dismissed at 11:30 a.m., on three of the last five days of school excluding the last day. The last day of school for all students is determined by the designated date of the New York State Regents Scoring Day.

Can the Superintendent add instructional days to the school calendar?

Beyond the minimum 180-day requirement, any increase in the number of instructional days must be negotiated between the Board of Education and the Mamaroneck Teachers’ Association. Currently, if in a given year, one or two of the four snow days are unused, the Superintendent will designate one or two days whereby schools will be closed. For planning purposes, the Superintendent of Schools designates two snow closure days in late spring to account for possible school closures due to inclement weather in winter months.

 

 

Does the District report bullying incidents that occur among students to the New York State Education Department (SED)?

 

As addressed by Dr. Shaps during the April 2nd Board of Education meeting, we do report these statistics on an annual basis to SED via the School Safety and Education Climate (SSEC) Incidents Report.  During the 2017-18 school year, there were 22 reported incidents across our six schools. This specific information can be found on the above-referenced website.  The Board and the District take all reported incidents of bullying very seriously, and we have complied with our obligation to report such incidents to SED each and every year.  We will continue to do so at all times in the future.

 

In response to community member questions/public comments regarding race, equity and inclusion

See District Response portion of the April 2 BOE meeting presentation addressing the following community member questions/comments:
- Does the district report “isms” or incidents of bullying and harassment to OCR?
- What are t
he District’s protocols for investigating complaints? 
- The District should be required to set “hard” deadlines for investigating and reporting complaints.
- The District “sweeps” incidents of racism and bullying “under the rug.”
- The District does not employ staff with the knowledge required to address bullying, harassment, and racism.
The administrator responsible for hiring is white and only hires her friends.

Will Changes be Made to the Hommocks Team Structure/Schedule in '19-'20?

See Letter from the Superintendent, sent to the community on Feb. 25, 2019.

 

Dear Community Members,

I'd like to extend a special welcome back to all of our District families after the school break and hope the change in routine offered opportunity for rest and good times spent together.  Congratulations to our Mamaroneck High School debaters (freshmen) who captured 1st Place at the Harvard debate tournament and to our student athletes involved in playoffs over the break.  This is indeed a busy time for all of us. 

At tomorrow evening's Board of Education meeting, I will present my 2019-2020 Superintendent's Recommended Budget.  I look forward to articulating our educational plan and laying the foundation for rich, relevant teaching and learning during the next school year and in the years ahead. 

As part of the budget discussion, the Board will continue to look at how best in the future to optimize Hommocks Middle School learning with fluctuating enrollment.  The Administration shared two potential strategies at the Feb. 5 Board meeting, but based on further consideration and community feedback over the past several weeks, I have decided to recommend to the Board that we add a fifth 6th grade team to meet the incoming cohort of 479 students while maintaining the existing school-wide schedule. Core team teachers will continue to teach four 55-minute periods per day. The new team will include four core subject teachers (ELA, mathematics, social studies, and science) and one guidance counselor. 

We are committed to meeting our goals of delivering educational excellence and addressing our system challenges. Towards this end, we expect to work closely with the Hommocks Administrative Team, teachers, our school scheduling consultant and stakeholders to design a sustainable schedule for the 2020-2021 school year and beyond that will strengthen the middle years program and respond to enrollment fluctuations. 

Previously Presented Strategies

While growing enrollment and financial considerations were the catalyst for exploring middle school scheduling options, the overarching aim was to explore how changes could improve teaching and learning, enhance school climate and culture and better prepare students for high school and beyond.

The Feb. 5 presentation included:
- Description of middle school enrollment history and projections;
- Review of the current Hommocks schedule for both students and teachers;
- Outline of two potential strategies:
* Strategy #1: incremental addition/subtraction of half and whole teams as warranted by enrollment
* Strategy #2: expansion of core teams to include world language and adoption of new, modular middle school schedule, including uniform 44 minute periods for core subjects and unified arts classes, together with the addition of an advisory period designed to provide differentiated support and enrichment, promote inquiry, focus on organizational, social & emotional skills, and build relationships between teachers and smaller groups of students over the course of a school year
-  Discussion of the inherent benefits and tradeoffs in the existing and proposed schedules

Further Review

Since February 5th, we have engaged District staff to review the tradeoffs inherent in both proposed strategies. Additionally, we have considered the comments and questions collated by the Hommocks PTA, PT Council and SEPTA, along with individual letters from parents. Shared concerns about the following issues have led us to the decision to implement Strategy #1, in this case the addition of a full team at sixth grade. 
·  Loss of core subject instructional time (shifting from 55 minute to 44 minute classes);
·  The restructuring of "Office Hours" or small group academic support that is currently offered during lunchtime;
·  The expansion of team size (100 to up to 125 students) and total teacher/student load; and
·  The need to further develop the specific advisory program.

I hope you will join us for the budget presentation tomorrow evening, Feb. 26, at 7 pm in the Tiered Classroom at Mamaroneck High School.

Regards,

Dr. Robert I. Shaps
Superintendent of Schools

 

What is the progress of the Enrollment Task Force?

 

Community Forum on Enrollment was held on Monday, June 10, 2019 
As a follow-up to the Enrollment Planning Task Force report presentation at the May 21st Board of Education meeting, attendees had an opportunity to learn and discuss potential long-term strategies that the Task Force has been studying over the past year. Community members spoke directly with Task Force members about what they have learned and their analysis of various possible strategies. Additional opportunities to continue this important discussion will be planned for the 2019-2020 school year. Read more about the Task Force here.  

Read Task Force Report Here - Presented by the Steering Committee at the May 21st, 2019 Board of Education meeting.

 

What is the status of teacher negotiations?

The following communications was sent from the Mamaroneck School District on January 24, 2019:
We are pleased to inform you that the new agreement between the Mamaroneck Board of Education and the Mamaroneck Teachers' Association (MTA) has now been ratified by both parties and will be in place for a seven-year period. "The District appreciates the hard work and dedication of the negotiating parties in developing a new contract that fairly compensates our highly skilled teachers, is fiscally responsible to our taxpayers and enables the District to continue to provide an extraordinary educational experience for our students," Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaps said. 

The following letter was sent to the community on January 3, 2019:

Dear Community Members,

Welcome to 2019!  We hope you had a nice holiday with time to relax and enjoy family and friends.

As we begin this new year, we are pleased to announce that on December 19th the District and the Mamaroneck Teachers' Association reached an agreement on the terms of a new contract.  Both parties worked hard to deliver a fair and equitable agreement for our teachers that is fiscally responsible to our taxpayers and maintains the outstanding educational program the community has come to expect.

The Mamaroneck Board of Education would like to thank the MTA negotiating team for its hard work and commitment to come to an agreement that meets the needs of both parties.  Additionally, we appreciate the dedication of Dr. Shaps, who served as the lead negotiator, and our District administrators, Carol Priore and Sylvia Fassler-Wallach, who worked beside him.

Details of the settlement remain confidential until the agreement is ratified by the parties. This will occur no later than thirty working days from December 19th.   

As always, we appreciate the opportunity to serve the community. Our best wishes for a wonderful 2019!

Respectfully,

Mamaroneck USFD Board of Education

Steve Warner, President
}aul Bulova, Vice President
Rina Beder
Ariana Cohen
Gladys Di Vito
Sam Orans
Sari Winter

 

Can installation of air conditioning in all spaces be considered for this bond?

In response to parent emails, the Board of Education and Superintendent asked LAN Associates to explore the cost of installing air conditioning in all District spaces as part of the capital bond recommendations. LAN's calculated costs for air conditioning in all buildings came to $60.4 million, an amount equal to more than the entire amount of the recommended capital bond. Knowing that classrooms can be uncomfortable on hot days and potentially impact student learning, the Board also asked administration to look into the number of school days over the past five years that have included 85 degree+ conditions. In the past five years, the average number of school days 85 degrees and above was 7.4, and the average number of school days included in that number that were 90 degrees or above was 2.

With the exception of Murray Ave. and Chatsworth Ave. schools, each of the District's schools currently have air conditioned areas that can accommodate a larger number of students. To ensure that larger air conditioned spaces are available in each of its schools, the current capital bond proposal includes air conditioning for auditoriums in both Chatsworth Ave. school and Murray Ave. school. Installation of air conditioning in these spaces was determined more cost-effective than just replacing the air handling units that are currently at the end of their life cycle.

What is the difference between "greeters" and the new security personnel?

Our new security personnel is employed by Summit Security, a firm that has been providing security for more than 40 years and works with school districts such as Scarsdale, Eastchester, Chappaqua, Bedford, Bronxville, Dobbs Ferry and area colleges, including Princeton, Columbia Fordham, and CUNY. The firm hires many retired or former military and law enforcement professionals, and the individuals are trained in following security protocol; their sole responsibility is to ensure the safety of our students and staff. Our emphasis is on securing the school perimeter, coordinating response with local law enforcement, and limiting building access. We see this change as one that will help strengthen the security at all of our schools.

What goes into Principal hiring decisions? Why has the District been hiring internally recently and promoting APs to the Principal position?

The Mamaroneck School District advertises all administrative vacancies nationally and regionally and works with consultants who are familiar with our district to identify and recruit the most qualified candidates. Similar to many other prominent area districts, our district in recent years has promoted from within following comprehensive nationwide searches that have been led by search groups consisting of administrators, teachers and community members.

Typically, out-of-state candidates consist of beginning administrators or retired administrators since NY State has a closed pension system, which means that experienced administrators’ prior service and pensions are not eligible for transfer to New York. In-state candidates must go through a “probationary period” if they are appointed. Giving up a tenured position for a new district is uncommon, particularly if one is currently working in a high-performing district. Additionally, many candidates are reluctant to engage in the search process since ultimately the news becomes public, and if they do not end up getting an offer, it becomes politically problematic.

Thankfully, given our reputation, we do see high interest in our administrative vacancies. Almost all of our probationary principal searches have included experienced principals. We look for candidates who have demonstrated strong instructional leadership, advocacy for children and systems-thinking -- individuals who we feel confident will grow as building leaders.

How does the District support new administrators?

Unlike most school systems, we offer our administrators year-round (12-month) professional development. In Mamaroneck, we invest in and grow leaders and hold them accountable, evaluating them carefully with ongoing support. It is worthwhile to call attention to the track record of Dr. Shaps: In his 16 years as Superintendent, he has successfully hired nearly 20 principals (and many assistant principals) who continue to lead and serve with distinction. We are grateful for the strong group of building leaders we currently have in place. Read PowerPoint presentation delivered by Dr. Shaps at Sept. 25, 2018 Board of Education meeting: Leadership, Supervision & Evaluation of Administrators.