Scarsdale, a community that prides itself on education, has always devoted a tremendous amount of effort and resources to ensure that its students receive the highest quality of education possible. Maintaining this high standard of educational excellence year after year requires year-round dedication. Summers are spent planning, hiring and exploring new ways to enhance the school year. This summer in particular, hiring and position changes to the school's administrative staff took a front seat in Scarsdale affairs.
It would appear that after hiring the duo of Principal Kenneth Bonamo and Assistant Principal Chris Griffin, Scarsdale would be done with leadership changes for the summer. However, this summer was an active one and there is another major swap to report. Taking over the positions of President and Vice President of the Scarsdale Board of Education on July 9 for 2012-2013 are Elizabeth Guggenheimer and Suzanne Seiden.
After graduating from SHS in 1978, earning degrees at Harvard, NYU and Princeton, and serving five years on the Board of Education, (the last two as vice president), Liz Guggenheimer knows firsthand about the importance of education. We decided to learn a little more about Scarsdale’s new BOE President and her plans for this upcoming year and sent her some questions. Here is what she shared with us…
Please tell us about yourself – what do you do and what are your interests?
I graduated from SHS in the class of 1978. In terms of professional interests, I previously was a litigator, but now I am a nonprofit manager and a nonprofit lawyer – passionate about promoting pro bono legal services, and providing legal help to nonprofit organizations engaged in dynamic work. One my main interests is spending time with family. I have two children. My son Brian is starting at Haverford College and my daughter Laura is a rising senior at Harvard. My husband Randy and I have been married since 1986 and he’s involved in Scarsdale community activities as well. In terms of hobbies, I enjoy anything outdoors, especially if it involves hiking in the woods or being on, near, or in water.
What are you looking forward to this year?
Our teachers, administrators, parent representatives, families, students, and other school staff and residents are connected by our commitment to the schools. In Scarsdale, the community puts a premium on love of learning. This creates exciting opportunities. I am pleased to work with a dedicated, smart group of Board members and I’m looking forward to working with an exceptionally talented, visionary, engaged team from the District office. And with the May passage of the 2012-13 school budget, by a 79% favorable vote, the District is able to proceed on the development of several program improvements and needed facilities projects.
What new initiatives might be under consideration for 2012-13?
In terms of curriculum, we will be starting with further implementation of the Scarsdale Education for Tomorrow: This summer our teachers spent time to enhance curriculum initiatives in balanced literacy, mathematics, inquiry research, special education inclusion and grade level and interdisciplinary assessments. At the High School we are excited to have a new leadership team consisting of new Principal Kenneth Bonamo and new Assistant Principal Christopher Griffin joining continuing Assistant Principals Sue Peppers and Chris Renino. We are adding two high school teaching positions in social studies and math to help offer a variety of courses in the upper grades. At the same time, the District is exploring ways to assess student work through its ongoing collaboration with Columbia University and participation in an international benchmarking initiative with educational leaders from high-performing schools in six countries. Physically, we seek to pay greater attention to school buildings and grounds, both ongoing maintenance and more long-term facilities planning to ensure that space, equipment, and technology will support the educational plan. Several building maintenance upgrades are scheduled for the summer, including the replacement of a non-functioning ventilation system in the Edgewood gym, replacing antiquated lighting and stage-rigging and removing asbestos above the Heathcote stage, widening Middle School exterior steps and repairing the CHOICE building, connecting boilers and heat pumps to generators at the High School, and repairing roofs and adding heat controls throughout the district.
Are the elementary enrollment estimates that were used last Spring accurate?
Estimates are just that, estimates, based on the best information available at the time. As families move in and out of the District there are always changes between spring and fall, and there still may be increases or decreases in enrollment after today before the District determines final section breaks and staffing.
The District projected 2,049 elementary school students in the spring, and we now project slightly more than 2,100 enrolled students, close to the actual number of students we had in October 2011 when we had 2109 enrolled students. Again, this is not a fixed number, and it can go up or down.
Have more people moved in/out than expected and will more teachers need to be hired?
The District has hired three more teachers than initially planned, for 105 rather than 102 elementary school sections. Last year we had 107 sections.
We are anticipating more Kindergarten children. We expect one more Kindergarten section than projected. The other placements will be determined later this summer. We are pleased to be able to continue Scarsdale’s practice of favorable class sizes in the elementary school. K-3 sections can have up to 22 students and Grades 4-5 can have up to 24 students when it’s time to set the teaching assignments.
Any update on the Center for Innovation?
Scarsdale’s faculty and administration are consistently ahead of the curve. The new Center for Innovation is intended to be a fertile source of ideas for how enhanced facilities and technology can enhance new models of instruction and collaboration.
In late July, Superintendent of Schools Dr. McGill, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Lynne Shain, Director of Technology Jerry Crisci and several District principals and administrators met with Tony Wagner, the first Innovative Education Fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard. The meeting was a chance to discuss and enhance the District’s thinking about the mission, parameters, opportunities, and workings of a Center for Innovation. We will hear more about this meeting when the Board gathers in the early fall.
How is the construction of the satellite cafeteria going – when will this work be done?
You are correct that a budgeted 2012-13 project at the High School is to try to convert unused space that was formerly an auto shop into a “pilot” small group instructional space and satellite cafeteria, with significant Internet capacity.
Planning is underway. Our professional staff will be meeting with architects and those involved in curriculum in the fall. We seek to determine how best to rework the currently underutilized space in and near the former auto shop. Once plans are developed, there will likely be state and other regulatory approvals, before we can begin construction. I’m optimistic that we will be able to complete the planning process this year and begin construction by the summer.
What's happening with the establishment of the School's Foundation?
The Foundation will raise funds to enhance the education of students who attend the Scarsdale schools.
There is a Foundation steering committee that is working hard and thoughtfully on the formation of the Foundation. It was incorporated as a New York State entity in the spring. The initial board, comprised of a subset of the steering committee, has submitted the application to the Internal Revenue Service seeking recognition of 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, which will allow contributions to be tax-deductible to the donor. Plans are underway with respect to identification of major donors and board development. The School Board plans to hear more from the steering committee and discuss the Foundation this fall.
Do you anticipate that there will be further discussion about reducing the undesignated fund balance?
Yes, we discuss fund balance every year. It’s too early to say what the appropriate amount should be for next year. It may go up or down. We will monitor the situation and relevant factors carefully.
What's your view on using these funds?
This is an appropriate matter for the full Board to discuss later in the year, when we are looking at the District’s financial condition and budget as a whole. We will monitor the situation carefully and seek to do what’s best for the District financially in the short and long term.
Is anything happening on the state regulatory front this summer?
Governor Cuomo vetoed a bill that several Westchester school districts, including Scarsdale, opposed. The bill would have required school districts to consider home environment and family background (such as religion) when deciding whether a child should be placed in a private school, and the concern was that this would make it easier for parents to send their children to private or religious school at taxpayer expense.
What is the administration doing to orient the new Principal and Assistant Principal? Are they working during the summer?
The Board is excited about the new leadership team at SHS. The additions, plus our continuing Assistant Principals, bring a wealth of educational and personal qualities that should serve the District well as we offer students a stimulating, comprehensive curriculum.
To orient the new staff, the district has a formal mentoring program for all new faculty members during their first year, including administrators. Current staff are mentors and new staff are mentees. SHS Principal Kenneth Bonamo, who began in early July, will be formally mentored by SMS Principal Mike McDermott. SHS Assistant Principal Chris Griffen, who starts mid-August, will be formally mentored by SHS Assistant Principal Sue Peppers. The entire administrative staff has been working together extensively, to orient the new Principal and plan for the 2012-13 school year. Mr. Griffen will be joining them shortly. There is a lot of support for new faculty from colleagues and the administration.
Writer David Candell graduated from Scarsdale High School in 2011 and recently completed his freshman year at Boston University.