Superintendent of North Salem School, Dr. Freeston’s Contract Extended Until 2023
As the North Salem Central School District winds down for the 2020-2021 school year, the Board of Education (BoE) makes decisions on who will steer the ship for the next two years. On June 16, in a 5 to 2 roll call vote, the BoE authorized the addendum for Dr. Freeston to remain as superintendent of North Salem schools through the 2022-2023 school year.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only 12 community members were allowed in the room and there was overflow, with parents also gathering outside. Many of the public’s comments were directed at the BoE for failing to inform the public that they planned to extend Dr. Freeston’s comment. Parents asked for the Board to solicit the input of the community when making such serious changes/extensions to personnel. Persistent threads of discord in community feedback included poorly addressed water issues, a lack of communication and response to emails, and murky transparency about process. In a follow up email, Board President, Deb D’Agostino said “We appreciate the feedback provided. People that follow our board meetings know that the topics which were raised are on the board's ongoing agenda. We will continue to work to resolve them.”
During the meeting, Dr. Freeston explained that he was not originally going to request an extension on his contract, which would have expired at the close of this next school year (2022), but Dr. Freeston asked for an extension for one year. In follow up commentary he explained the second year of that extension would be focused on a search for a new superintendent. He responded to community commentary by saying that he has a different perspective on their opinions, but he would work to improve.
Dr. Freeston justified his request to extend by claiming that it wasn’t the right time for a change in leadership. He continued by saying “we have lots of transitions ahead.” The identified transitions were in areas of “education, leadership, and in governance.” In an email response to The North Salem Post following the meeting, Dr. Freeston expanded on that by hinting at a reorganization that would be disclosed at the July 1 BoE meeting. At the time of printing this article, Dr. Freeston, had not elaborated on the reorganization and what specific transitions there would be. D’Agostino explained that the Board was not ready to make specific personnel announcements, but they are working to fill vacancies and all would be disclosed as is typical at the July reorganization meeting.
During the roll call vote, Board members Andrew Pelosi and Jennifer Binette voted no to extending Freeston’s contract. Binnette’s commentary included that despite “the trains running on time”, there was good leadership all around and we were simply “extending the inevitable.” Pelosi included similar commentary that reflected on Dr. Freeston’s “amazing work” but that he sought a change in leadership within the next year rather than the next two years. In a follow up email, Pelosi believed there would be time next year to identify new leadership to be ready for 22-23, rather than extending Dr. Freeston. He noted that others on the Board disagreed and that is their position and he would respect that.
Board member Paul Giamundo spoke about his yes vote. He put a disclaimer on his yes vote by saying “we want satisfied customers” and that he was a yes vote as long as the Board was a little more “forthright” in our observing and oversight. Board President Deb D’Agostino’s yes vote was due to a need to remain “laser focused” on the needs of the students and not shift attention to a search for a new superintendent. Andy Brown declared in comparison to other superintendents, Dr. Freeston is “a fabulous package.” He elaborated by commenting on the continual passing of the school budget over the past several years, which he said “is testament to the satisfaction with how tax dollars are spent.” Lastly, Board member Brandy Keenan used a quote by former President Ronald Reagan to expand on her yes vote saying good leadership is one that “gets people to do the greatest things” and closed by saying “Ken ultimately is here for the students.”