At the Katonah-Lewisboro School District Board of Education reorganizational meeting July 9, both Marjorie Schiff and Julia Hadlock were unanimously reelected to their positions as president and vice president of the board, respectively, maintaining the leadership status quo.
The only changes were the additions of Catharine Oestreicher, who was sworn in to her first three-year term as a board trustee, and Sawyer Reed, who was sworn in as the student trustee for the year.
Andrew Selesnick was again sworn in as superintendent of schools, and Alice Cronin, Mary Ford and Danelle Placella were sworn in as assistant superintendents for human resources and instruction, curriculum and instruction, and business, respectively.
With no presentations scheduled, the bulk of the meeting consisted of announcements from Mr. Selesnick and comments in public forum. District Clerk Kimberly Monzon read all the submitted comments, which were either sent in ahead of time or via a Q&A interface during the virtual meeting.
Mr. Selesnick recounted the directive received from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to submit plans by July 31 for a possible reopening in the fall. He mentioned the tensions the district is facing between different desires and interests, related to both reopening and distance learning. He also noted administrators recently held a productive three-day retreat, during which they spent a full day discussing topics of equity and racial justice, and met with Natalie Zwerger, director of the Center for Strategic Solutions at New York University. Mr. Selesnick said she would help with the formation of a districtwide equity team, about which there will be more information later in the summer.
The 11 comments read into the record almost exclusively focused on the district plans for equity initiatives; one dealt with distance learning and plans for the fall. The initiatives had been spurred by input from residents and alumni, including members of the group John Jay United for Racial Justice, included revamping the curriculum to better represent the lives and history of people of color and other diverse groups, and making efforts to be more inclusive in hiring practices.
All of the comments on equity were from John Jay alumni, and several recounted incidents of prejudice they had encountered in the district. Trustee William Rifkin said he found the messages powerful, and said he was upset to hear about some of the experiences of students who were either LGBTQ or people of color.
Trustee Terrence Cheng said he was grateful to have so many engaged alumni, and looked forward to finalization of the board’s plans. “The same stuff from 30 years ago still happens,” he said, “and it hurts me because it means I, as a person of color, did absolutely nothing to prevent the same thing from happening to those who came after me.”
Mr. Cheng said he hoped the district’s plans would be really ambitious, and that it would “do something big.” Trustee Rory Burke noted those who commented were eloquent, and said he welcomed the fact they congratulated the district for efforts already undertaken, as well as making suggestions for the future.
Ms. Schiff said she appreciated alumni returning to share their experiences. “Everyone here at the table is committed to continuous improvement of the Katonah-Lewisboro School District,” she said.
Trustee Julia Hadlock noted that it took a lot of courage from the administration to change the mascot, which had been an issue in the district for 40 years. She said she was grateful to the administration for having open, honest and transparent conversations about diversity and other issues that are challenging. Last week, the administration announced its decision to make “Wolves” the new John Jay mascot.
Sawyer Reed revealed that one of Campus Congress’ main priorities for next year is to commission a mural of the new wolf, provided students are able to return to school. He said the mural would help to make a swift transition to the new mascot and unite the community.