The North Salem Board of Ed debuted a new process for public commentary at its latest meeting. Here's how it went.

The North Salem Board of Education met on October 13, 2021 at 7:30PM. Some agenda items were debated among attendees, and new processes for responding to public commentary gave a different feel to the meeting. As part of their reports, administrators prepared and responded to public commentary from the previous week.

Dr. Vazquez, Director of Instruction and Human Resources for North Salem Schools, prepared a robust statement in response to public commentary made the previous week regarding whether or not schools should be teaching values. At the BOE meeting on September 29, parent Dr. Melissa Sarno accused the district of “grossly overstepping [their] bounds” and challenged the district’s Living Language document found on the North Salem schools website. In rebuttal, Dr. Vazquez explained that the purpose of the living language document is to explore what assumptions we make in the language that we choose to use with children. It isn’t about squashing individualism. He continued remarking that “differences should be seen as strengths and be maintained.” He explained that the goals of the document are to “eradicate bias” by challenging commonly held assumptions about identity. At the next Board meeting, Vazquez will have students present on what this document means to them.

Vazquez also spoke at length about New York State’s Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education framework and defended the framework, citing its decades of research. He remarked that “it should be treated as assets for the district.” Differences among people are not meant to be neglected, as was suggested in public commentary, but celebrated.  Parent Mary Molina shared her disapproval with the selection of Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street as a 9th grade novel claiming it was inappropriate due the book's portrayal of sexual abuse highlighted by the author and its portrayal of the Hispanic community. In Vazquez’ commentary, he defended the English department’s choice to include House on Mango Street as part of the 9th grade curriculum. Vazquez also explained that this was a story of redemption and “to reduce it to violence and sexual act takes away its meaning.” The BOE, in response to commentary and despite Vasquez’ argument, decided to delay the vote until the next meeting, so that they could have more time to prepare. BOE trustees Jennifer Binette and Paul Giamundo remarked that they had not read the book and were not prepared to vote at this time.

Wednesday's meeting was the last for Barbara Briganti, outgoing assistant superintendent for business administration, as she retires after 12 years of service to North Salem Schools. Briganti discussed supply problems with the school lunch program, saying that Aramark, North Salem’s food provider, is having supply chain issues. She explained that North Salem students may see last minute substitutions and implored families to “be patient with us.”

Briganti’s closing commentary thanked the BOE remarking, “this has been a wonderful district. It is nice to work with a Board that really gets along with each other.” Erik Stark, who has had a long career in Carmel with experience as both interim superintendent and assistant superintendent for business administration, replaces Briganti. Trustee Andy Brown commented, “as a taxpayer in North Salem, I am greatly appreciative of having you [Briganti] serve North Salem schools.”

Dr. Adam VanDerStuyf, Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Personnel services for North Salem Schools, discussed two significant items. The first was the October 18th start of opt-in testing for COVID-19. North Salem, in partnership with Westchester County Department of Health's (WCDOH) COVID Testing Program. The schools are aiming to test 20% of the total opt-in population. VanDerStuyf commented that with a good deal of “communication and encouragement”, they were up to 100 voluntary participants. Follow-up commentary from VanDerStuyf broke that down even further, citing 45 students and 60 adult participants with an even split between the MS/HS and PQ. Staff and students have all been asked to participate. VanDerStuyf asked those that would consider testing to please reach out to him.

VanDerStuyf also commented on Sarah Divi’s role as communications specialist for North Salem Schools. He explained that schools will have a communications audit alongside Divi’s current work. In public commentary, parent Lee Kei Ellicott expressed concern that the communications specialist was really “a social media specialist” and asked when Divi would start to improve other aspects of communication. Superintendent Freeston acknowledged in an email to The North Salem Post that Divi would begin producing an email newsletter, but did not share any specifics or timing.

Two other important announcements included one from Athletic Director Denise Kiernan, who shared news that the boys on the North Salem High School cross-country team captured the league title for the first time since 1977. John Sieverding, director of buildings, grounds, and transportation for North Salem, said that after 1,036 days, “last week on 10/4/2021, we got a letter with approval of plans” in regards to the water treatment for the MS/HS that includes the application of the carbon filters. Sieverding plans to meet with the engineering team on Monday October 18th for a kickoff meeting to plan the stages of the construction. In a follow up email to the NS Post, Sieverding explained that the purpose of the kick off meeting was to “review prerequisite documents and to review a preliminary construction schedule with the contractor.”

For a recording of the Board meeting, please view the board docs. The Board of Education will next meet on Wednesday October 27, 2021 at 7:30PM.

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