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ceremonyflagsThough almost every other event is being cancelled or held virtually, the Scarsdale Fire Department did not permit the pandemic from interrupting their annual September 11 Memorial Service, held this past Friday.

The ceremony began with the posting of colors by Honor Guard Unit of the Scarsdale Fire and Police Departments. Following a moment of silence, the Fire Department Bell was tolled 5-5-5-5 which signifies death in the line of duty.

Reverand Kelly Rogers from Scarsdale Congregational Church gave the invocation and Scarsdale Fire Chief Jim Seymour and Police Chief Andy Matturro lowered the flag to half staff accompanied by the national anthem, sung by SHS Senior Emily Hansen.

RogersReverand Kelly Rogers from Scarsdale Congregational church

Mayor Marc Sanwick and Police Commissioner and Trustee Justin Arest spoke and wreaths were placed at the base of the American flag and the Police and Fire memorial stones.

hansenChief Matturro, Emily Hansen and Chief Seymour

The ceremony concluded with Amazing Grace, sung by Emily Hansen and a benediction from Reverend Rogers. The Honor Guard Unit retired the colors shortly after 9:00. The ceremony was coordinated by Fire Captain Christopher Mytych and about 50 people attended the service, all wearing masks.

samwickMayor Marc Samwick

Photos by Jonathan Thaler. See more here: 

We received many letters this week in support of the Scarsdale Citizens Non-Partisan Party slate of candidates for Village Trustee nominated by the Citizens Nominating Committee. The election is on Tuesday September 15 and you can vote at the Scarsdale Congregational Church at 1 Heathcote Road, Scarsdale from 6 am to 9 pm.

Here are the letters:

Diane2Diane Greenwald
Support Candidates who Give Back, not Give Grief
To the Editor: Justin Arest, Lena Crandall and Randall Whitestone each exhibit an abiding sense of service that comes when decent people are inclined to give back. It’s no wonder they received the nomination for Village Trustee by the Citizens Nominating Committee (CNC), the body of 30 elected residents entrusted to nominate candidates for us.

Scarsdale runs well under a non-partisan system – meaning no one is elected to the Village or School Board based on Democratic or Republican affiliation. The premise is that many excellent volunteers may be deterred by partisan campaigning. The CNC hears individuals present their qualifications, then reviews their history of volunteerism and references in lengthy deliberations over many meetings. This due diligence is confidential, not furtive, to broaden participation and facilitate candid conversations, but transparent protocols are followed.

It’s more thorough than relying on a self-serving campaign ad, and more respectful than the mudslinging.

For a small, well-run town of busy residents, having a dedicated committee empowered to make educated nominations is an efficient approach. Voter turnout can be lower, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a fair contest. Of course, individuals are allowed to challenge the CNC nominations, as is happening now. But we shouldn’t pretend this is actual party politics or that open campaigning improves the quality of our already strong leadership.

Non-partisan committee membership and leadership changes annually, yet challenger Bob Berg with Selvaggio and Cohen, and campaign manager Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez, bad mouth the process as rigged, seeking to erode our trust in our neighbors’ integrity.

They are running as a slate of the “Voter’s Choice Party” (VCP) that Mr. Berg and Ms. Kirkendall-Rodriguez appear to have founded, though there is no leadership board or nomination process disclosed. It is hard to figure what the ‘choice’ is with Mr. Berg always on their ticket. Without these few individuals driving efforts, it’s unclear how their ‘party’ would be sustained.

The VCP frequently dismisses complex issues as debacles, disasters and fiascos absent balanced consideration, and they leap to blame, or worse, to sue the village, instead of to problem-solve. I often wonder, where do they live?

I live in Scarsdale. We work hard to be here and are grateful for it. I support the non-partisan system not because it’s perfect, but because it’s fair, efficient, dynamic and encourages civil civic engagement.

We know that decisions are better when diverse viewpoints are considered. We should be working together to improve diverse representation by welcoming participation. That objective is thwarted when a handful of furious, disgruntled residents relentlessly blame and falsely accuse qualified, decent volunteers of wrongdoing.

The divisive, self-aggrandizing rhetoric disseminated by the VCP is simply counterproductive to building community.

We are Scarsdale. We are all in this together. I encourage residents to run to be elected to the CNC and the SBNC. In the 15 years I have lived here, over 450 voting residents have served. Give it a try. (learn more about Citizen’s Nominating Committee and School Board Nominating Committee.)

Trustee Arest, Trustee Crandall and Mr. Whitestone were nominated based on character and good judgment. Let’s get them back to work for us by voting for Row B. Vote now by absentee ballot or in person on September 15 at Scarsdale Congregational Church at One Heathcote Road. Where your mask, please. (Link to more info about the candidates and voting.)


Diane Greenwald
Oak Lane

JonathanLewisJonathan Lewis
I support Randy Whitestone, Lena Crandall, and Justin Arrest for Village Trustees because I believe in them and I believe in the non-partisan system that nominated them. For nearly two decades I have lived in this village in a park, and I’ve had the honor to serve as President of the Scarsdale Forum, a Trustee of the Scarsdale Board of Education, and as a current Trustee of the Village of Scarsdale. I understand and value the system that nominated Randy, Lena, and Justin.

In my years of service, I have been impressed by my neighbors’ commitment to service in support of the qualities that maintain Scarsdale as the special place we all believe it to be. Randy, Lena, and Justin represent the values of Non Sibi that are at the core of our shared community heritage, and have demonstrated in their volunteer service a willingness to engage in the kind of debate so necessary for our village government to evolve and respond to the changing demands of our time.

It should be clear that Randy, Lena, and Justin, were chosen after careful deliberation by our neighbors. Thirty independently elected volunteer neighbors compose the Citizens Nominating Committee. These thirty neighbors meet on multiple nights and weekends to evaluate and consider candidates for office, the neighbors they believe are most qualified to sit on the Board of Trustees at this time. Randy, Lena, and Justin were chosen by our neighbors because their skills and temperament suits them to a non-partisan style of government where we may disagree with each other, while respecting each other’s views in debate.

In these uncertain times, we need debate now more than ever and it’s important we elect trustees who can both express their views respectfully, and at the same time hear other voices. Debate is an essential part of the process that allows us to refine policy ideas and to arrive at better outcomes. We should not expect trustees to agree at all times, or vote unanimously at all times - that would be groupthink. When I voted against the budget this spring, and as I have debated my fellow trustees to adopt a more conservative approach with more frequent planning workshops, I have never doubted that my colleagues are well intended in their viewpoints though they may differ from my own. This cognitive diversity is good for the board so we can learn from each other and arrive at a better outcome. We need Randy, Lena, and Justin on the Village Board to ensure that the debate continues, respectfully, and that once solutions are identified, they are implemented collaboratively.

We are in a crisis. We need steady hands. I support the non-partisan system and Randy, Lena, and Justin.

Jonathan Lewis
Woods Lane

JonMarkJon Mark

To the Editor: With regard to recent criticism by their opponents that the non-partisan candidates lack “a platform,” it may be helpful for residents to understand what the non-partisan system is and what it is not. The non-partisan system, Scarsdale’s longstanding consensus approach to nominating and electing Village and School Board Trustees, is not issue-based. It is a system premised on the precept that we share a community and many community-wide values. The system seeks clear thinking, open-minded individuals who demonstrate that they are able to put aside their personal preferences, consider input from a variety of sources and points of view, and make reasonable judgments in the best interest of the Village as a whole. No system is perfect, but the non-partisan system is meant to be inclusive -- and over the years has grown more so. Residents who serve as Board members volunteer their time. Day-to-day Village operations are delegated to a paid professional staff.

On the subject of long-term financial planning: Scarsdale is a mature Village, mostly built-out, and is about 98% single-family residential. We are known for our schools and to a lesser extent, for our well-maintained appearance. Each year the Village operating budget and the capital budget (which looks several years ahead) are prepared in a public process that extends over many months. Underpinning that process is a well-defined long-term financial plan, namely: delivery of the municipal services – police, fire, water, sanitation, public works and recreation -- residents expect year to year at a cost they are willing to pay.

Long-term financial planning positing a variety of “what if” hypotheticals is useful in managing businesses as they develop and grow – or prepare for downturns. On the other hand, the long-term financial objectives for Scarsdale are well defined by years of experience. While the details and scope of the services provided may change over time in response to residents’ desires, changes are always vetted against the issue of affordability.

Scarsdale clearly has a good plan, as folks continue to move here -- and apparently increasingly wish to do so as some abandon the City in the face of the pandemic. Resident turnover is a natural result of the occurrence of life-cycle events in residents’ lives and more recently for some, as a result of the harsh economic impact of the pandemic. It is still the case that more than a majority of residents are empty-nesters -- evidence that staying here is an attractive option for many.

Scarsdale is a community that is at its best when we work together for shared goals in the preservation and enhancement of our Village in the Park. I urge residents to support continued good governance in Scarsdale by voting Row B for the very strong non-partisan slate nominated by the Citizens’ Nominating Committee: Justin Arest, Lena Crandall, Randy Whitestone and Joaquin Alemany.

Jon Mark,
Co-Chair: Scarsdale Citizens Non-Partisan Campaign Committee
Brookby Road

JohnMccannJohn McCann
To the Editor, Since the original election day we have all learned and experienced many things, some expected, most unplanned. More importantly, I think we all know we still have much more to learn. This continuing journey has shown us the kinds of skills we need in our Village Board of Trustees. Justin Arest, Lena Crandall and Randy Whitestone have those skills.

The impact of the pandemic will be long lasting. Randy, Lena and Justin are thoughtful, work efficiently, are open to innovation, ask the right questions and are team players. These attributes will be imperative as the Trustees examine and balance all the benefits and costs of every village service and program.

On a personal note, I have known Randy for more than 20 years as a friend, neighbor and fellow Edgewood resident. In the years ahead, his common sense, streets smarts and inclusive demeanor will be a positive addition to the BOT and all its deliberations. BTW, Randy has already rolled up his shirtsleeves and has been attending every Board meeting and work session and offered on the record insightful public comments.

As we move forward as a community, the Village needs people like Lena, Randy and Justin.

Please remember to vote on September 15th!

John McCann
Edgewood Road

spivakMelanie Spivak
To the Editor: A volunteer is someone who dedicates their time and energy towards the goal of helping others, without compensation but rather for the joy and satisfaction of making a difference in someone else’s life. Scarsdale is very lucky to count Lena Crandall as a Village volunteer and Trustee.

Lena has dedicated her time living in Scarsdale, for the past 28 years, to her family and to our town, most recently as a member of the Board of Trustees. Looking at the myriad volunteer activities she has chaired over the years, Lena focused on her love for children and senior citizens, the environment and our town at large. Lena was a dedicated leader even before she was elected as a Trustee. Her time serving and chairing local committees such as Friends of Scarsdale Parks, Scarsdale Adult School, Scarsdale Forum and PT Council, enabled her to gain important knowledge and experience that she uses as Village Trustee today, serving on many of these same committees representing our entire community.

She is a Trustee who listens to the residents. As an attorney, she knows how to ask the right questions to help bring about rational answers, especially during unprecedented times like these. Trustee Lena Crandall, and the rest of the board have been responsive to the needs of our community in the wake of the pandemic, weather emergencies, electric outages and social change. They have steered our budget through rough waters, and shown a steady hand in bringing our village through unsettled times. Most importantly, Trustee Lena Crandall has taken the time to get to know many of the residents of Scarsdale, making her a more effective leader. I have personally worked with Lena on neighborhood association concerns and saw first-hand that her quiet, methodical demeanor was a key to solving issues in the best interest of all the residents. I support Lena Crandall along with Trustees Justin Arest and Randall Whitestone for re-election in September. Vote Row B, Scarsdale Citizens’ Non-Partisan slate.

Melanie Spivak
Bradford Road

Steve Pass
The candidates of the “Voters Choice Party” imply that by electing them to office they will lower our taxes. Their pitch is to everyone, but they especially focus on empty-nesters who have seen their taxes rise dramatically since moving here many years ago.

For some background, our taxes are split into three parts: village, school, and county, and each are controlled by separate elected bodies. The Village Board is responsible only for the village budget, which makes up 19% of our total taxes and covers essential services such as police, fire, and sanitation. Roughly 80% of the village budget is allocated for employee compensation and benefits, most of which is subject to union contracts.

Rising taxes is not just a Scarsdale phenomenon; property taxes have risen dramatically over the past 20 years in every town in Westchester, largely driven by increases in the cost of healthcare and retirement benefits for public employees. A review of percentage tax increases of village taxes by town since 2002 shows that some towns have gone up a bit more than us, and some have gone up a bit less, but Scaradale is not an outlier.

The “Voters Choice Party" had never indicated how they planned to lower taxes until a few months ago, when they claimed to have found over $2 million in “easy” cuts to the Village budget and furiously circulated emails and a petition with their proposals. Many of these proposals were impractical and indicative of a lack of understanding of how Scarsdale works. Four examples:

First, their biggest cut called for defunding the budget by $1 million by removing overtime expenses for our professional fire department. They suggested our volunteer firefighters (residents) work the overtime shifts instead. This “easy” proposal would be challenging for Scarsdale in the best of times, but completely overhauling our fire department at the height of a pandemic -- which their proposal would have necessitated -- could have endangered lives.

Second, they called for reneging on $500,000 in raises to our police officers promised in a pre-crisis negotiated collective bargaining agreement between the village and Scarsdale's police union. This would surely have led to litigation, and probably ended up costing quite a bit more than $500,000. (Agreements and contracts aside, one may assume that our police officers are already the highest or close to the highest paid in New York and therefore should not have been offered a raise to begin with. This is not accurate; per Empire Center's "What They Make 2018-19," at least twenty police departments in just the Mid-Hudson region in NY have a higher average pay than Scarsdale's.)

Third, they suggested we ask our hard-working Village Justice to donate his salary to the village because he is a "wealthy and generous man."

Fourth, they proposed we cut $29,000 on resources for the village attorney, because "We do not have one anymore; we have an outside law firm." This is wrong; we still employ a full-time deputy village attorney (which helps bring down the expense of the outside law firm).

These were not “easy,” creative, out-of-the-box ideas. They were ill-conceived, impractical ideas, some of which, if enacted, would have put the health and safety of residents in jeopardy.

If you think that by voting for the “Voters Choice Party" your taxes will go down and you will continue to enjoy the services you currently receive, think again. We don’t need them to “ask the hard questions” since the hard questions are already asked during the many hours of budget meetings (all public) where trustees grill staff and make them justify expenses at a granular level.

Our community needs steady leadership focused on prudent solutions that balance values and resources, not a disruptive force offering empty promises. Please vote Row “B” for Arest, Crandall and Whitestone.

Steve Pass
Shawnee Road

ArtRublinArt Rublin

To the Editor:

There are many reasons I support CNC nominees Arest, Crandall and Whitestone, but I feel compelled to write today about their character and temperament. I have gotten to know each of these three nominees and have been impressed not only by their ability to think through community issues, but also by their ability to work well with others. Interpersonal skills are critical to the work of a Village Trustee.

One of the worst things that can happen in any campaign is when “they go low.” We have seen on the national stage how corrosive and destructive coarseness in politics can be. Perhaps we are numb to the impact of ugly personal attacks at this point, but I don’t think we should be. In fact, it is an understatement to say that Scarsdale is better than that. We all expect in our community that disagreements can and should remain about issues, and that lively debate can and should remain civil. We are neighbors, volunteers, colleagues, and often friends.
Trustees Arest and Crandall and Mr. Whitestone, nominated by elected representatives through a robust and time-tested process, are facing a contested election this year, and we are experiencing the campaigning right now. In recent days, and as a pattern over the years, the VCP challengers have demonstrated that they do not play well in the sandbox. They are running a campaign that lacks decency.

I will not dignify the VCP’s approach or their hyperbole and misinformation by repeating examples in my letter, but what we see is wholly inappropriate, including jaw-dropping personal attacks that have no place in our small Village. The VCP’s ‘go low’ tactics show us something about the character of the challenging candidates. If Messrs. Berg, Cohen and Selvaggio sling mud in the course of campaigning, how would they govern?
I hope that voters turn out to demonstrate the priority that our Village places on good character and civil engagement. Residents can vote either by absentee ballot (applications by mail need to be sent by Saturday September 5th to be received by the Tuesday September 8th deadline for receipt of absentee applications by mail) or in person for Row B – to reelect Trustees Arest and Crandall, and to elect Mr. Whitestone. For decency, civility, and good government.

Arthur Rublin
Donellan Road

BillSternBill Stern
Why The Scarsdale Voters Choice Party Is Not a Choice In The Village Election For Trustee

The spokeswoman for the VCP has always criticized the Scarsdale Citizens Non-Partisan Party for not having a person of color as a nominee for Trustee and she claimed that is one reason why their role as elected selectors of Trustee candidates is flawed. The VCP does not have a person of color for any of their nominees! This smells of the hypocrisy of the VCP.

The same spokeswoman mobilized an article 78 lawsuit against the village and lost. The village has spent tens of thousands of precious tax dollars defending the lawsuit. The lawsuit is being appealed wasting additional taxpayer's money.

One VCP candidate Bob Berg is an inappropriate choice because of his temperament and one-sided view of issues. He has lost two elections but keeps coming back. Unlike the SCNP, which rigorously vets all candidates, the Party's spokeswoman said that the voters will vet the candidates. They already have. Bob lost twice by a good margin in two previous elections.

Mr Berg was quoted in the New York Times by Joseph Berger on Jan 26, 2015 in an article called the "Appraisal," and not out of context; “Mr. Berg, of Scarsdale’s assessment review board, said older mansions like those on Heathcote were hit hardest because they had not been assessed in decades. They deserve to be hammered,”

Hammer Scarsdale residents? Is that governance and fairness? Is this a quality we want in a Trustee. I don't think so.

As recently as May 12 2020 Bob Berg said at a Board of Trustees meeting that "loan shark late fee payments are a pretty despicable practice" something he has said before despite the fact that he had been informed that this penalty is stipulated by the state and county and are implemented by all government entities in the state. This type of aggressive, insulting judgmental approach is not befitting a trustee.

If the VCP can choose a candidate so inappropriate as Mr. Berg then it makes me wonder about their other two candidates.

On the other hand the two Trustees Arest, and Crandall, chosen by the SCNP have sterling records of dedicated service and leadership during these trying times and have earned re-election. The third, Randall Whitestone has been extensively vetted as an even-handed, clear thinking, smart choice. Judge Alemany, candidate for reelection as Village Justice has shown his masterful and Solomonic leadership of the Village court.

Scarsdale is a precious gift which should not be put in the hands of disgruntled , inappropriate VCP candidates.

Keep Scarsdale as the Village we all love and vote for the SCNP Row B Trustee slate of Arest, Crandall ,Whitestone and Judge Alemany for Village Justice. The election is at the Scarsdale Congregational Church, 1 Heathcote Road on Sept 15 from 6 am to 9 pm. Absentee ballots are available by mail at from the Village Clerk at Village Hall.

Bill Stern
Rural Drive

mindfulness“What a long, strange trip it’s been.” Yes, it most certainly has and the words of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead have never rang more true. It began in March when our schools closed, followed quickly by a full-blown lockdown, and right as we started to feel confident about re-opening, hurricane force winds wreaked havoc in our community and beyond ...Life, to say the very least, has felt like a roller coaster. Through all the ups and downs, the one thing that seems to have remained constant is a great sense of uncertainty.

Not that any of us needs an explanation of just how uncertain times are, but take for example my sister who lives in a small town in Northern California. After much back and forth and months of planning by their district, last week my sister sent her son to school for his first day of in-person learning. By the end of that day however, the county closed all the schools because of a rising number of Covid cases in the area. This week, after she rearranged their home and schedules for virtual learning, my sister was informed that they needed to evacuate their house because of encroaching wildfires. After packing up and heading out for a few days, she is now safely back home and considers herself incredibly blessed, especially while so many others are in a far worse place.

I couldn’t help but wonder, how is my sister managing to stay so positive in such a topsy turvy world? In her words, “These times call for flexibility...and gratitude for the things that matter most”. Indeed they do. But for some of us, remaining flexible and grateful in the face of stressful situations, is easier said than done. For many, a flexible state of mind is something that may need to be cultivated and practiced. So how does one go about cultivating flexibility? Read on for a few quick suggestions to start us on the right path.

One avenue to a more flexible attitude is through incorporating mindfulness into our daily schedules. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, defines Mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” By practicing mindfulness we learn to focus on what is happening in the present moment rather than forming expectations of things to come or worrying about situations that took place in the past. In turn, mindfulness makes it easier for us to focus on, and adapt to the current state of affairs. Daily practice of mindfulness also helps to strengthen the part of our brain called the amygdala which is responsible for our Fight or Flight response. When we strengthen this area of our brains we are able to put a pause between the stimulus of a situation and our reaction to it. In other words, rather than reacting angrily when we hear bad news, mindfulness training helps us pause and choose how to respond rather than react with the Fight or Flight response our amygdalas encourage us to do. Moreover, practicing mindfulness helps us strengthen segments of our brain that allow us to choose to remain flexible and adapt to ever-changing circumstances. For more information about mindfulness and for some easy exercises to try today, please click here.

Another way to gain flexibility is to regularly challenge ourselves to see things from another perspective. Whether it is working to understand another person’s point of view or trying to understand all the varying circumstances that led up to a particular situation. For instance, when we take a moment to contemplate why a person is behaving in a certain way rather than judging their behavior or reacting to their behavior, we begin to break down our own mental barriers and preconceived notions. When we begin to open our minds and our hearts, we can more readily adapt to ever changing conditions. Even if we are still upset by a given situation, trying to understand other perspectives, can help us soften our own rigid thinking and thus create space for more flexibility.

One last suggestion to encourage flexibility is to try practicing gratitude on a daily basis. As I have written about in another article for Scarsdale10583, “ gratitude is strongly linked to mental health and life satisfaction.” But even more than that, when we look for things to be grateful for rather than focus on the negatives or the things that upset us, we begin to realize that no matter what life throws our way, there are always things to be thankful for. From giving thanks before meals to journaling about your daily blessings before bed, the great thing about this practice is that there are just so many ways to be grateful!

So as the topsy turvy world and all the uncertainty continues to whirl around us, maybe a little mindfulness, considering other perspectives, and practicing gratitude will help us to remain flexible, adaptable and to, as Mr. Garcia would say, “Just keep on truckin."

Wendy MacMillan is a former teacher and a proud mom of two children. While her background is in psychology and education, Wendy was recently trained in mindfulness at She has long been passionate about wellness, and as an active member of the Scarsdale PTA, Wendy helped to bring mindfulness to her children's elementary school. In addition, Wendy helped establish and is an acting member of the school's Wellness Committee. For more information about mindfulness check out this site: or Watch the video of Jon Kabat-Zinn explaining what mindfulness is ... or contact Wendy MacMillan at

HandsUpThe Procedure Committee invites Scarsdale residents to run for a position on the nonpartisan Citizens Nominating Committee (CNC). As one of 30 volunteers on the CNC you will interview, evaluate and select candidates running in the March 16, 2021 village-wide election on the nonpartisan slate for positions on the village board, including a new mayor and trustees.

A candidate for membership on the CNC must be a qualified voter (U.S. citizen and 18 years of age or older), and a resident of Scarsdale for at least two years. The filing deadline for two simple CNC application forms is Wednesday, September 30. The CNC election will be held by mail-in ballot (unless otherwise feasible at Village Hall on Tuesday, November 10, 2020 from 7 AM to 9 PM).

The CNC meets 5 or 6 times on weekday evenings beginning at the end of November. CNC meeting dates for 2020-2021 are: Monday, November 30, 2020 (Organization Meeting); Monday, December 7, 2020; Wednesday, December 16, 2020; Wednesday, January 6, 2021; Monday, January 11, 2021; and if necessary, Wednesday, January 20, 2021. If in person meetings are not feasible, the CNC will meet virtually on the Zoom platform instead.

For more information contact the Chair of the Procedure Committee, Sarit Kessel Fuchs, Quaker Ridge, at or Vice Chair Becky Bach, Edgewood, at The members of the 2020-2021 Procedure Committee, the nonpartisan group of Scarsdale volunteers who administer the nonpartisan election of a new group of 10 members of the CNC annually, are: Becky Bach – Vice Chair, Heedan Chung-Goh, Susan Duncan, Madelaine Eppenstein, Sarit Kessel Fuchs – Chair, Dan Gerardi, Sal Jain, Jon Leslie, Barry Meiselman, Michelle Lichtenberg, BK Munguia, Jeannie Rosenthal, Andrew Sereysky, Adie Shore, Greg Soldatenko, Peter Tesler, Gabrielle Wise, and Bob Wolloch.

Maggie in the gardenMaggie FavrettiThis letter was written by formere SHS teacher Maggie Favretti:

Help With Emergency Education
You didn't ask for my advice, but if you have 3 or 4 minutes, I might be able to offer some guidance from my resilient communities and "crisis education" learning and work.

I began my teaching career in Scarsdale in 1985. In 87 I went to VT, and returned in 1995. I retired in 2018, after one of the most positive professional and community experiences I could have imagined. A big part of that experience is the very teachers who spoke the other night in an unprecedented and powerful way. Reading the summary of their comments made me weep.

When people used to ask me why "everyone" wanted to teach in Scarsdale, I never hesitated to answer, and in one word. Trust. Parents entrusted their children to me, and I trusted the community to sustain an ecosystem of support for the teachers, the school, and for other people's children. I am grieving right now, along with my former colleagues, parents, and lifelong friends.

Since before I retired, I have been studying and working in "emergency education," or, resilient education in times of crisis. Resilient communities are resilient because of trust. That trust drives people to turn toward each other in disaster, and to stay focused on gathering expertise from all ages and sectors to develop consensus solutions. In her book, A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit describes how oftentimes disasters activate our better natures, driving us toward each other in neighborly compassion. Resilience is relational.

After working with superintendents, principals, teachers and families from school districts that have experienced all kinds of crises from tornados to landslides to fires, floods, suicides, water/air poisoning, hurricanes, earthquakes, starvation, extreme heat and COVID, I can say with certainty that you have the hardest and most essential job of all. Leadership plays a critical role in sustaining trust and unity. This trust in turn sustains you and makes it possible to succeed. The job of the leader in crisis is to ensure safety, facilitate consensus, bring people together with open listening, and build clarity of purpose. To protect the consensus by inspiring participation in a transparent process. To avoid giving in to the crush of urgency. To stay focused on the consensus (in this case) you spent the summer building, by working with the Restart Committees to address the remaining unmet needs and making the consensus plan be the best it could possibly be. Without this, trust is lost, and so is direction. If you lose both, trust and direction, you drown along with the community in urgency, fear and frustration, loss and pain.

Here are some recommendations, begging your forgiveness if you are already following these protocols:

1. Throw out the recent parent survey. That "binding decision" language is born from (your very natural) inclination to manage the situation, but raises anxiety in a time of crisis. This is particularly the case with well-meaning people who want to do what you ask but don't have enough information to begin to understand the implications of the options. Many parents opted for "in person" because they thought it would be easier for the district if they changed their minds to virtual at the last minute or once they understood the level of risk, but they have little appetite for endangering the teachers. After the remarks the other night, they are in a panic because they value the trusting relationship they have/had with teachers. Ossining asked for parental choice but also assured people they would be able to change their minds as the situation unfolded, and also asked parents to contribute ideas for addressing concerns about virtual and hybrid instruction. Things seem calmer there.

2. Be clear about what the District is realistically able to do with regard to "best practices" in safety. Enter that information into your risk matrix, with clear eyes about HVAC systems, available PPE, available funding, staffing realities and new needs (hall monitors?), adolescent psychology and behavior.

3. Listen to what teachers know and support them. They ARE the school. First, they need to know you take their safety and mental health seriously. Second, they need to be supported to do their job (which they love doing!) as well as they can under the circumstances. Online and in person instruction cannot take place simultaneously. And both socially distanced and virtual are novel methodologies for teachers and require significantly more time to plan. As you know, students take their cues about resilience and anxiety from their teachers as well as from their parents.

4. Be clear with parents about what the Restart Committee's plan is/was, as well as the current plan(s), and run them both (all?) through a standard decision matrix to determine both how well each meets the priorities of the community/District constituencies.

5. Establish clear and realistic (not aspirational) likelihoods and matrices about risk. To discern risk tolerance, consider predictable situations, in table-top exercises (if you haven't already). For example, some students will be vectors. Not all students will wear masks or social distance properly. Some teachers may be vectors. What will happen when...table-top exercises (simulations) also help to uncover what additional staff or expenses might be needed to keep people safe, and participation should be open to the public.

6. Stay focused on making the safest plan also the best and most equitable, as the safety of everyone should be the top priority. If the safest plan is to have students stay home, then we should spend the next weeks addressing the issues for the students and families for whom that creates hardship.

The anxiety around the "binding" parent survey, and the last-minute changes plunging the teachers and the community into an even deeper world of uncertainty and risk are compounding the already challenging mental health situation. This is a time when teachers and parents BOTH need compassion and clarity, and so do you. Choose the path safest for everyone and focus on keeping people together to create an equitable and inclusive implementation plan.

With deep regard,
Maggie Favretti

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