Scarsdale School Budget Wins 86.2% Approval
- Category: Schools
- Published on 20 May 2015
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
It was all smiles at the Scarsdale Middle School on Tuesday night May 19 when the Scarsdale School budget passed with 86.2% of the vote – a historic high. Though the total vote count of 714 votes was low, 616 voted yes, indicating strong support for the budget, the educational program and the Scarsdale schools. The proposed $148,048,080 2015-16 school budget was actually a tad lower than the 2014-15 budget, giving residents little cause for dissent. In addition, since both the village and school budgets came in under the state tax cap, the state recently sent rebate checks to qualifying households, which may be another reason that the budget passed easily.
Pam Feuhrer and Art Rublin, who had been nominated to serve on the School Board by the School Board Nominating Committee were both elected, Feuhrer with 600 votes and Rublin with 569 votes. They will replace the current School Board President Mary Beth Gose and Board member Lew Leone, who will both complete their terms of service in June.
The vote count was announced by former Mayor Robert Steves, who was appointed Chair of the District Meeting for the Budget Vote and Election. The 86.2% approval rate was markedly higher than last year, when there were 997 votes and the budget passed by 77.9%.
For those watching the numbers, see below for a history of budget and bond votes in Scarsdale:
Additional factors that may have contributed to the positive vote include:
Decreases in the district's contribution to the NYS Pension and Retirement Systems and the elimination of a planned surplus will save Scarsdale $4.878 mm for 2015-16. This 30% savings over the prior year is a result of improved investment returns. This savings took pressure off the Board and gave them more flexibility to agree on a budget that came in under the tax cap.
This was Superintendent Thomas Hagerman's first budget vote and it appeared that he worked well with the board to reach consensus on sensitive issues. With the board and administration in harmony, former critics of the board and school spending found few reasons to object.
In December 2014, the community approved an $18.12 million bond for improvements to the elementary school, middle school and high schools. The debt service on the new financing replaced retiring debt and will cause no increase in the school budget. By separating the financing of capitol projects into a separate vote, the board and administration diffused criticism from those who may have questioned the need to improve the facilities. When the budget was turned down in 2013 for the first time in 43 years, many dissenters said they voted "no" due to proposed spending for a new fitness center at the high school.
All community organizations, including the Scarsdale Forum, the League of Women Voters and the PT Council supported the proposed budget and encouraged residents to vote yes.
Offering his interpretation of the vote, Board member Bill Natbony said, "I think the administration and board looked at all the cost areas and at all the areas where there was a need for a quality, enhanced program and came to a really good balance. The community recognized that."
The 86.2% approval rate augured a great beginning for the tenure of Dr. Hagerman and a joyful end to the career of Assistant Superintendent Linda Purvis who has managed the budget process for the past 15 years. School Board President Mary Beth Gose was clearly gratified with the response from the community as she completes six years of service on the Scarsdale School Board.
Reducing Stress at Scarsdale High School
- Category: Around Town
- Published on 19 May 2015
- Written by Geoff Fitzgerald
According to the experts, there has never been a more stressful time to be a high school student. Faced with a demanding workload, time pressure from extra curricular activities and sports and the ever-present need to excel at everything they do, many students feel like there are just not enough hours in the day or night. A 2014 study by the American Psychological Association found that teens stress levels surpass those of adults and that teens' stress levels exceed what they believe to be healthy. As a result of stress, the 1,018 teens in the study reported feeling overwhelmed, depressed, sad and fatigued.
In order to address this issue, Scarsdale High School is studying sources of stress and what can be done to alleviate it. Their initial findings were the subject of a meeting of the SHS PTA on the morning of Thursday May 7th.
The school has begun by identifying itself as one of a teen's many sources of stress and has asked the faculty to study institutional practices, teacher practices and students perspectives on stress. Three groups, each with about 50 teachers, studied the stressors and presented their findings.
English teacher George Olivier identified the institutional practices of the school that cause stress. Based upon research that he and his group of teachers had done, and based on personal experiences that teachers had with other schools that their own children attend, they identified some practices that Scarsdale could improve. Mr. Olivier began by examining teen stress and why it is rapidly approaching, if not surpassing stress among adults. Unlike adults, teens don't have the same mechanisms to deal with stress, and sometimes suffer more than their parents. According to Olivier, one way to address the problem of stress would be to change the atmosphere in the high school. He said that Scarsdale is a competitive school, with a "business like" feel. Students may feel that rather than entering a school they are coming into an office complex. His group of teachers looked for small ways the school could change, reduce, or manage student stress. They recommended lengthening the lunch period, beginning the day later, implementing mandatory study periods and even mandating lighter or nonexistent homework on weekends and vacations. While at this point these are just ideas they are a good starting point.
Fellow English teachers Benjamin Sawyer and Rachel Warshowsky focused on what teachers can do to help students reduce or manage stress. They suggested that teachers make the classroom feel more like a community and recommended that teachers make an effort to relate to students and demonstrate that they "aren't just robots that disappear at the end of the day," as Warshowsky explained. In a humanized teaching environment with better student-teacher relations, students might feel less stress while doing their typical daily work. In order to improve relations, the teacher panel suggested that teachers attend students' sports and musical events and take an interest in their students' extracurricular activities.
The teachers examined the difference between stress reduction and stress management. Teachers believe that their students will face stress in the future, so that stress at school will help them develop good coping skills and stress management techniques. At the same time studies are showing that students have very high stress levels, and so the added stress put on them by teachers may actually be more of a hindrance than a help. Teachers are discussing how to teach stress management and determining whether this should be the subject of a new class or taught in every class. They felt that this deserved further inquiry as the school begins to fix the issue.
English teacher Seth Evans and Dean Oren Iosepovici presented the student's perspective on stress. Dean Iosipovici contended that this was the hardest topic, saying, "Our challenge as teachers and adults is to look at it the way students look at it." In order to meet this challenge, this group of teachers got students involved in the process early, having discussions and posing panel questions to student volunteers, to delve into the issue of what causes stress for the students, and how they react to and deal with that stress. The group found that some students were handling their stress using good techniques while others have a great deal of stress and lack the skills to deal with it.
As part of a group exercise, teachers attempted to return to their teenage selves and to experience stress as a teen would perceive it. Mr. Evans led the committee of teachers through a "memory chain," a technique to stimulate the recollection of past memories. He used the technique to "transport" the teachers back to their high school years, in order to better help them understand some of the typical teenage stress. According to Mr. Evans and Dean Iosepovici, the technique worked, and the teachers determined that the stress that they dealt with as teens was due to personal difficulties in their lives and seemed to be socially induced.
As a teen and a student at Scarsdale High School, I experience this stress firsthand. I juggle demands from many different sources, all at the same time. Though I want to do well at everything I do, I am forced to divide my time between studying and preparing for six classes, attending sports practice and participating in extracurricular activities. I also need to sleep in order to grow. I always feel as if I am sacrificing one activity for another and don't want to miss out on the fun of being in high school in order to meet all my obligations.
For most Scarsdale students the prospect of getting into college looms heavily over everything we do. We put pressure on ourselves to do our best, parents set goals that may not be attainable and each year we learn that it is harder and harder to get into the "right" school. That's why I was happy to learn that SHS is studying stress and looking for ways to make the school a happier, more productive learning environment.
Promposals Round Two
- Category: Arts and Entertainment
- Published on 18 May 2015
- Written by Isabel Klein
With the Scarsdale Prom coming up on Thursday June 4, more seniors are "promposing" to their potential dates than ever. Check out Round Two of Scarsdale's Promposals. The community is invited to the Pre-Prom Red Carpet reception at Scarsdale High School on Thursday June 4, at 4:00pm. The seniors will be out in their tuxedos and gowns before the bus takes them to the VIP Country Club in New Rochelle for the big night.
The Heathcote School: Progressive Design for Now and Then
- Category: Local Finds
- Published on 19 May 2015
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
In the days before mid-century architecture became retro, it was considered modern. And when it was built in 1954, the Heathcote School in Scarsdale set the standard for modern school design. Last week, a busload of architects from the firm Perkins + Will, who designed the original school, came to tour this landmark.
Designed by Lawrence B. Perkins, the progressive layout included four pods or clusters, rather than perpendicular hallways lined with classrooms. Each pod included classrooms and a central meeting space that could be used for flexible learning. The exterior walls of the school were made with glass rather than brick to bring the outside inside.
Brad Perkins, a Scarsdale resident who is the son of the architect and an architect himself, greeted the visitors and explained that the Heathcote School was the second innovative school that his father designed. The first was Crow Island, in Winnetka Illinois, another landmark school that coincidentally is the previous home of Scarsdale's new superintendent, Thomas Hagerman.
Built in 1941, Crow Island shares many features with Heathcote. It too was designed by Lawrence B. Perkins – who worked with famed architect Eero Saarinen. Classrooms were grouped in three separate wings according to age and connected by a core of rooms for common use: the auditorium, library, gym, activities room, administration, and so forth. The grounds and play area extending from the classroom wings were also zoned according to age groups to allow for increased freedom and greater safety in play activities. The school won the American Institute of Architects' 25-Year Award, an award that had been given only once before, to the Rockefeller Center in New York City.
We had the pleasure of touring the Heathcote School with the architects, and here is what we learned from Joan Blumenfeld of Perkins + Will. The design of the Heathcote School was a departure from traditional school plans. Some of the design elements that were unique and forward-thinking at the time include:
- Classrooms in pods, or clusters, to create smaller subgroups within the school, thus encouraging a greater sense of community for young children.
- Central space in between classrooms that can be used for alternative learning spaces, or for group activities.
- Flexible layouts in the classrooms, allowing the teachers to arrange the furniture differently for different learning activities
- There are no traditional desks facing in a row facing the teacher, for teachers to teach down to the students. The plans encourage interactive learning, allowing for many different kinds of learning activities during the day.
- The idea that learning occurs outside the classroom as well as inside, encouraging physical activity and the engagement with the outdoors. The large windows on all sides of the classrooms, the glass corridors, all make the outside inside relationship stronger.
- Single loading all the corridors, or having them have glass on both sides, allows natural light into them along with views to the outside. There has been lots of research linking better learning outcomes when students have access to daylight and views.
- Using the idea of creating a comfortable environment, such as having a fireplace and little "living room" in the library, so that children can learn in an informal atmosphere.
- Centralizing the shared spaces, such as the auditorium and administration areas, so that they are equidistant from the classrooms. This also allows the classrooms to be at "dead ends" so that there is less traffic in the corridors.
All of these features are emulated in school design today.
Some of the features of the school did not stand the test of time. The classrooms were designed for small groups, and there was less "stuff" in them when they were designed, so that they are now a bit cramped, and have inadequate storage space. The lighting and ventilation has been upgraded and the windows have been replaced with more energy efficient models. Technology has been added on, as there was little or none when the school was designed, but as a result it is not well integrated.
We wondered why the school has no cafeteria and were told that at the time Heathcote was built, there was no need for a cafeteria as mothers did not work and children went home for lunch.
Some Scarsdale residents might ask about the relationship between Perkins +Will, the firm that designed the Heathcote School and Perkins Eastman, the firm that designed the new commercial building at the Heathcote Five Corners. Perkins+Will was headed by Larry Perkins and Phil Will when they designed Heathcote School, built in 1953. By the 1980's they had retired and were succeeded by a number of other partners, among them Larry Perkins' son, Brad Perkins. Brad Perkins, along with Mary Jane Eastman, split off from Perkins+Will to form their own firm, eventually named Perkins Eastman, in 1981. The building on Palmer Avenue is by Brad Perkins, along with a local partner.
The Chinese Community is at Home in Scarsdale
- Category: People
- Published on 18 May 2015
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Judging from the number of new faces in the schools and around town, it appears that the Chinese population is on the rise in Scarsdale. According to the 2010 census, about 5.9% of the total population is of Chinese origin and the numbers seem to be growing each year.
From the information provided by the Scarsdale Chinese Association (SCA), the majority of these new residents came to the States as college or graduate school students many years ago. Upon graduation, they started working in various companies and eventually settled down in the US. Many have lived here for more than a decade and are naturalized U.S. citizens. They are professors, finance whizzes, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and professionals from all walks of life. Job opportunities brought them to the New York area, and when it was time to raise their families, they came to Scarsdale for the same reasons that many young parents choose to relocate here: easy commute, nationally renowned schools and the close proximity to the city. There is access to the rich cultural life in Manhattan and its an easy trip to Chinatowns in Manhattan, Flushing Queens, and 8th Ave Brooklyn.
We spoke with several members of the Scarsdale Chinese Association including Claire He, Rita Pan, Vivian Lin, Sharine Chen, Laura Liu and Julie Zhu. They all have children in the school system, ranging from elementary to high school. On average they have lived in Scarsdale for five years. They are actively involved in the community working on the PTAs, SBNC, multicultural committees and the Boy Scouts and are passionate about issues surrounding the curriculum and STEM projects.
Scarsdale Chinese Association (SCA) chair Claire He commented, "The SCA members love Scarsdale as our adopted home, and are making every effort to contribute to the schools and community."
Vivian Lin added, "In addition to the excellent school systems, Scarsdale is a well-established community that shares our values including a focus on education and family. With the open atmosphere here in Scarsdale, Chinese Americans have opportunities to contribute and to have their voices heard."
While most of the Chinese families are professionals who moved here in the past ten years, there are also long-time residents with grown or college-age children. They are the "pioneers" and share their local knowledge with their younger neighbors. Occasionally, some families move here directly from China. As a new economic powerhouse, China has produced many successful business owners and professionals who want to seek new opportunities for themselves and their children. There are similar trends in top school districts in California and Boston area as well.
Since the children of the mothers we interviewed were born in the U.S., the kids are American citizens who speak fluent English. In order for the children to learn their native tongue, many attend weekend Chinese schools just like some local kids go to the Hebrew school. At the weekend school they practice language and also learn about Chinese culture. The largest Chinese School in the area conducts lessons every Sunday morning at the White Plains High School. It is a well-organized volunteer-run organization that serves more than 600 students --and many Scarsdale moms are actively involved in its operations.
Mandarin is now taught as a language course at Scarsdale High School and some parents are advocating for it to be added to the Middle School curriculum as well. Superintendent Thomas Hagerman said that the administration will consider the pros and cons of adding Mandarin to the Middle School curriculum.
Some Chinese families include grandparents who live with their children and grandchildren, and can often be seen bringing the children to school. The tradition comes from the Asian cultures, where seniors are highly respected and multi-generational families are common. While adult children bear responsibility for taking care of their elderly parents, Chinese grandparents, many who are highly educated, contribute by taking care of their grandchildren. The Scarsdale Senior Club is popular with the older set and meets at the Scarsdale Library. Chinese seniors can network, celebrate holidays and enjoy each other's company at these meetings.
Where does the community shop to find authentic Asian ingredients? H Mart in Hartsdale and Kam Sam in White Plains are among the most popular Asian grocery stores here. Residents also travel to Flushing, Queens to shop. Local Asian fusion restaurants are also patronized by the Chinese community.
Given the large number of young Chinese professionals working in the New York metro area and their focus on educating their children, the women we spoke to believe that the Chinese population will continue to grow in Scarsdale. One SCA member said, "As long as Scarsdale's school district (amid ongoing and unprecedented pressure from the state) continues to strive for excellence, maintains its independence and global outlook, there is no reason why Scarsdale won't continue to attract like-minded families."
Residents Draft Petition to Save Greenacres School
- Category: The Goods
- Published on 12 May 2015
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
When neighbors learned that Greenacres School could be torn down and replaced with a larger building on Greenacres Field they were alarmed for many reasons.
Why? Greenacres is the oldest school in Scarsdale and some residents want to preserve a piece of history. The field is the only remaining play space in Greenacres, after George Field was converted into a retention pond to alleviate flooding, and people who live around the field value the open expanse of green.
A group of concerned residents joined together to draft a petition and it now has 270 signatures. Here is a comment from Greenacres resident Meredith Gantcher --and find the text of the petition below:
From Meredith Gantcher:
"Seven years ago our family moved from the Upper West Side to Scarsdale. We specifically limited our search to Greenacres because I fell in love with the tree-lined streets with classic Tudors and brick center hall Colonials, the intimacy of the neighborhood, and the idyllic public school. Most of all, I loved Greenacres field and playground because it was filled with families weekends and weekdays and had the vitality of a city park, but the beauty and open space of the suburbs.
On April 20th I attended the Board of Ed meeting in order to hear KD&G's report on their feasibility study for Greenacres School because I had heard rumors that one of the plans was to demolish the existing school and build a new one on the field. After hearing the presentation by KD&G and learning that the Board was seriously considering "Option C," to tear down Greenacres school and build a huge school complex with a "High School size gym to serve the entire Scarsdale community", I met with a group of 6 other neighbors who were equally shocked that the Board could actually propose destroying Greenacres Field – the heart and soul of our neighborhood. We quickly drafted a petition and began circulating the petition last Thursday and to date we have 270 signatures representing 200 distinct households in Greenacres, or approximately 20% of GA households.
Our goal is to send a loud message to the Board of Ed that while we are willing partners in enhancing our school and ensuring that our children receive the best education a public school can offer, we must be equally committed to preserving the unique character of our community."
Here is a copy of the petition:
Keep The Green In Greenacres
To: Scarsdale Board of Education and Greenacres Building Committee
I have reviewed the proposed plans for the Greenacres School presented by KG&D at the April 20, 2015 Scarsdale School Board Meeting. As a resident of Greenacres, I URGE the Board and Building Committee to eliminate "Option C," which involves demolishing the existing historic Greenacres School and destroying the Greenacres Field - the heart and soul of our community.
The Greenacres Field, which defines our neighborhood, functions as a village green in the most traditional sense; the field is our "town center," a beautiful, open green space that is filled with residents of our neighborhood weekdays and weekends; a place where toddlers, teens, parents and caregivers all meet and congregate.
I strongly object to pursuing "Option C" because this plan would:
• Eliminate the only large contiguous green space in Greenacres, making our neighborhood the ONLY neighborhood in Scarsdale without a large open field;
• Significantly reduce the overall green space in our already densely built neighborhood;
• Eliminate the black top (built with funds donated by Greenacres residents) that serves as a gathering point for the entire neighborhood, where children learn to ride their bicycles and teens play basketball;
• Significantly reduce the playground space for our youngest students and children. "Option C" would eliminate a separate playground and blacktop like the one currently used by K and 1st grade classes behind the existing school;
• Negatively impact community celebrations (such as the Annual Fourth of July celebration, Back to School Picnic and Greenacres Carnival);
• Ruin the aesthetic of our neighborhood by creating a High School- sized gym and two large parking lots.
Beyond altering the very character of our neighborhood via the destruction of the Greenacres Field, such a plan would also fail to solve the "Huntington Avenue problem," as children would still need to cross the street to reach a playing field. Moreover, the inclusion of a large High School-sized gym to serve "the entire Scarsdale community" would massively increase the traffic flow in our otherwise quiet streets.
As a member of this neighborhood, I am dedicated to improving our school and community. However, I am convinced that the demolition of the Greenacres School and resulting destruction of the Field is not the best solution. I forcefully urge the Board and Committee to focus on alternatives based on renovating, updating, and/or expanding the existing school. These approaches will be far less disruptive and damaging to the neighborhood and allow Greenacres to remain a vibrant community for the next 100 years.
If you wish to sign the petition, click here to access it.