The New York state Education Commissioner Monday announced the appointment of a monitor for the troubled East Ramapo School District in Rockland County. Tuesday, they held a series of meetings in Rockland in what participants describe as a positive and encouraging step forward.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia appointed former state education deputy commissioner Charles Szuberla as monitor for the East Ramapo Central School District. Szuberla will be supported by Dr. John Sipple, a Cornell University professor who continues in his role as monitor, specializing in budgeting and fiscal matters. In addition to fulfilling the responsibilities set forth in legislation enacted in June, Szuberla will, like his predecessor Dennis Walcott, have the authority to monitor district operations and to provide guidance, recommendations and propose actions for improvement. Democrat Ellen Jaffee sponsored the legislation in the Assembly and participated in a meeting Tuesday with Elia, Szberla and others.
“It was clear that they, both of them, and the commissioner in particular because she is the oversight person in general, they both were very clear and very strong in understanding the need to assure that these children in East Ramapo have the education that they deserve,” Jaffee says.
Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski and state Senator David Carlucci also attended the meeting. They, too, had a hand in the legislation, which is in effect for one year. Jaffee applauded the appointment of Szuberla.
“He has an extraordinary background in education and management and fiscal issues regarding the education policy, very highly knowledgeable and certainly will bring to the table a strength and background that is essential in the role that he will be playing as a monitor on the ground, during the school year, at least,” says Jaffee.
Jaffee is hopeful that appointing the monitors will help restore the trust that is crucial to continuing the work ahead and determining what actions should be taken next legislative session, such as possibly extending the monitor’s appointment. The legislation already enacted sends $3 million to the district to restore student programs. Yehuda Weissmandl, President of the East Ramapo School Board, says in a statement he welcomes the designation of Szuberla and Sipple as monitors for the district and that over the last 18 months, state education department monitors have been invaluable in helping the district meet difficult challenges and make significant improvements.
Kim Foskew is a former PTA president in the district and continues advocating for the district’s children. She, too, partook in a meeting with the commissioner and Szuberla, though with PTA-related participants. Foskew says she left feeling cautiously optimistic and impressed there were such meetings just one day after the announcement.
“It gives you a boost of optimism and a boost of okay, we hear it, we did this and we’re going to hit the ground running, and we’re going to take the bull by its horns and do the right thing,” says Foskew. “And I really feel his credentials speak for themselves and meeting him in person today just really validated that to me that he’s what we need, what we’re missing.”
In addition to building trust, Foskew has other priority items in mind.
“Full-day kindergarten is definitely, I think, a need, that I believe building a strong foundation, and starting early and building up from there,” says Foskew. “Another major concern of mine is just the physical condition of the buildings. Children should not have to go to school and worry about the ceiling’s leaking and a classroom has to be closed for that reason.”
Some 24,000 of the district’s 32,000 students attend private schools, mainly yeshivas. About 8,500 attend public schools and are predominantly African American or Latino.