Bronxville Non-Partisan Committee (NPC) Annual Open Meeting with Bronxville School Board Members
Location: Yeager Room, Bronxville Library
NPC Members Present: Lindy Devereux (President), Valerie Otto (Co-Chair), Jessica Turko (Secretary), Larry Bettino (Treasurer), Katie McGrath, Lee Huang, Susan Meaney, Jeff Hine, Lianne de Serres, Helen Knapp, Rich Gegenwarth. Ms. Turko acted as secretary for the meeting.
Bronxville School Board Members Present: Thomas Curran, Jennifer Russo, Mike Finley, Jon Atkeson
Call to Order: 7:35 PM by Lindy Devereux
Ms. Devereux introduced the Board members present and explained that the purpose of the annual open meeting was for community members to have the opportunity to ask questions directly to members of the School Board. Ms. Devereux introduced the NPC, briefly discussed the NPC’s role in the Bronxville community, and encouraged attendees of the meeting to become involved with the NPC.
Mr. Atkeson thanked the NPC for its work in the community and highlighted recent topics the Board has been working on in conjunction with the school administration: the capital improvements project, negotiation of the teachers’ contract, and working with superintendent Dr. Roy Montesano, who is beginning his second year as superintendent of the Bronxville School. Mr. Atkeson mentioned review of the Guidance Department, implementation of the Bronxville Promise, and integration into the school community of all types of students, with diverse interests and talents (sports, arts, music, etc.) as a few specific priorities the Board is addressing this year.
Ms. Devereux then turned the floor to the audience for the question and answer portion of the meeting. Lively discussion ensued.
An NPC member asked what Bronxville does well versus other high performing schools in the area, and where we can improve. Mr. Atkeson mentioned the school’s small size and having the entire district contained in one building as a strength, because elementary, middle and high school teachers and faculty can collaborate. A challenge is providing a wide-ranging course curriculum in a small school. Mr. Curran mentioned that students do not get “lost” in our small community, as happens often in larger schools. Mr. Finley mentioned that the small size can be a challenge as well, and mentioned the bond referendum as a way the school can adapt and change the way it teaches. Ms. Russo mentioned the administration’s creativity in offering options to students, even in a smaller school with a smaller faculty, such as online courses, student surveys to determine popular courses and areas of interest, and other creative projects, as ways to try out new disciplines in a small school.
Mr. Atkeson mentioned communication by the administration with the community as an area which is improving, and which Dr. Montesano is particularly striving to improve.
A community member asked about diversity of thought in the school community (e.g., politically liberal versus conservative faculty viewpoints). Is there a challenge in keeping diversity of thought among the faculty? The Board members were not aware of any issues or friction related to this issue.
A community member asked how curriculum decisions are made, from principals, the superintendent, others? Mr. Atkeson answered, all of those. The school has a head of curriculum for K-12, Dr. Mara Koetke. She has worked to tie disciplinary areas together, and to develop and implement the Bronxville Promise. One example is the recent revamping of math curriculum, to better align with other schools’ standards. A follow-up question asked by the community member was why some art time was replaced with coding for kindergarten. The Board did not discuss that specific decision but emphasized Dr. Koetke’s work to hone and strengthen the curriculum.
A former NPC member asked projections for the student population. Board members responded that the largest grade is currently eighth grade with 150 students. School size is trending downward slightly from a peak a few years ago.
A former NPC member asked about the budget in light of the student population going down, and how we can save money as enrollment declines, and mentioned teacher contracts as one possibility. Mr. Atkeson said per pupil spending is in line with other Westchester schools. Mr. Curran recommends attending the school budgeting meetings. Salaries and especially benefits for retired teachers are increasing, and can pose challenges to sustainability budget-wise. The Board has worked with the teachers’ association on health care benefits, especially for retirees. This is an area where the budget is not sustainable unless adapted to current realities on healthcare. Mr. Finley also mentioned some benefits are dictated at the state level and not within the district’s control.
An NPC member asked who negotiates the budget. Mr. Curran said the Board has been very assertive in negotiations. However, the Board alone does not determine budget decisions; the administration also submits a list of requests, and negotiations proceed from there.
A community member asked what percentage of faculty salaries is for administration versus teachers. The Board noted that the administration is a small number of people. The Board does not know the percentage of faculty salaries for the administration offhand.
A community member asked about the revamping of math versus science for high school students. How much STEM is offered? Have students, for example, entered the Intel competition? Another community member voiced an opinion that the STEM program in elementary school needs improvement and was concerned about reduction in homework and STEM preparation in elementary school. It was stressed by community members that placing more emphasis on STEM could allow students to win more scholarships.
Mr. Atkeson welcomed the feedback and asked community members to bring this feedback directly to the administration, at the next Board meeting. He stated that the science program has been restructured to add engineering. BroncoTV is a class now instead of a club. The bond will result in a new engineering lab. Community feedback was that the math curriculum is sometimes out of step with the science curriculum, using freshmen physics as one example. AP Physics was also cited as an example of STEM issues by community members (it is no longer offered).
The Board discussed the Challenge Success program. A big takeaway from the program was that stress levels are sometimes exceedingly high among students. Students feel tremendous pressure to engage in all activities offered, whether AP classes or co-curricular clubs. There is sensitivity not to overstress students. Mr. Curran discussed stress levels in students. The school is striving to provide students with better tools to deal with stress.
An NPC member asked about teacher expectations. How are teachers held accountable, especially high school teachers? Different teachers use very different methodologies, even within same subject matter. Mr. Atkeson stressed that even tenured teachers are observed periodically by the administration. Mr. Curran stressed that “tenured” does not mean “not held accountable”. The head of curriculum, Dr. Koetke, tracks what the teachers are teaching and ensures some consistency. Teaching styles, however, will differ. The Board explained that tenure decisions have changed and the tenure evaluation has become more rigorous. The Board now reviews all tenure candidates for middle and high school to evaluate them.
An NPC member asked about the flooding remediation. How do remediation expenses get treated in the budget? The Board explained there is no effect on the budget, because these expenses are covered by our insurance policy. The decision to install two pumps initially was made with budget (not the current budget) in mind. Three more pumps will be installed in January. The NPC member asked, how was the decision made to budget for flood remediation? The Board discussed that FEMA covered part of remediation expenses. The School held discussions with the Village; however, these discussions were prior to current Board members’ time serving on the Board. The Board stated that there was an excellent explanation of what happened with the most recent flood in September which is available on the school website (video is available from the last school board meeting).
A community member asked whether the recent flood changes our insurance premium. The Board stated that it has not yet been resolved. Pump companies and insurance companies must sort this out.
A community member asked if the Board thinks our school is considered excellent for special needs. Mr. Curran stated that people flock to our school for its special needs program, including students coming in from other towns. A follow-up questions was asked, who is in charge of the special needs curriculum? Dr. Rachel Kelly runs it. Mr. Atkeson stated that while individuals may have varying experiences, overall the program is excellent. Other districts pay a premium to send their students here. The Board has never received feedback of any issues regarding the special needs program. The Board reminded community members that feedback can and should be brought to Dr. Montesano, who is very accessible.
The question and answer session ended.
In closing, each Board member briefly discussed why they served on the Board. All remarked on how rewarding the experience has been.
Ms. Devereux thanked the Board members for their time and insights, and the community members for their presence and their engagement.
Meeting Adjourned: 8:40 PM.