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CurryMichael Williams will join the SMS Team as Cooper House CounselorMichael Williams will be the new House Counselor for Cooper House at Scarsdale Middle School. He has big shoes to fill, replacing Marjorie Najac, a beloved counselor, who has been helping students and parents for many years.

We were excited to hear that Williams will be coming to Scarsdale from Garrison and asked him to introduce himself to the community. Here is what he shared:

Please tell us about yourself … your background, your education and previous professional experience.

I am a career changer who graduated SUNY New Paltz with a B.A. in theater back in 1996. I was a professional actor for 15 years and along the way taught acting to kids (still do!). Once my own kids were born I became interested in a career that allowed me to be home more regularly. I initially went back to school to teach ELA but then, remembering how incredibly helpful and supportive my high school guidance counselor was when I was in need, I decided to pursue being a helper. I put myself through school at night at the College of New Rochelle and graduated in 2010 with a masters degree in school counseling. Shortly thereafter, I began working at Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School in Yorktown Heights and am currently finishing my 8th year as a K-8 counselor at The Garrison School in Garrison. I have been very fortunate to be able to support the kids and families in this community and am absolutely thrilled to begin doing so at Scarsdale Middle School next fall.

We heard you were previously an actor – tell us what you did and what you enjoyed about it?

The thing I enjoyed most about being an actor was the collaboration that took place in the theater and on film sets. Relying on others and knowing what you bring to the table is an essential skill in life and I credit my acting background for making me the team player that I am today. Also, it was just a ton of fun! I got to travel to places like Morocco and got to work with many people from all walks of life.

What lead you to make a career change?

My decision was based on family. My kids were young and I was missing out on a lot of milestones while I was off shooting independent films. On top of that, as everyone knows, it is not as stable as other careers. I would have a very successful year followed by a challenging year. I began to feel a bit selfish and wanted to provide a more stable life for my kids. It was a tough decision and one that I made slowly over a number of years. I am grateful every day that I wound up doing what I am doing now. Supporting and nurturing kids is more rewarding than anything I could imagine.

Do you use any of your acting skills in working with preteens and teens?

When I was trained to be an actor the key elements of that training were to actively listen and be present in the moment. I utilize those skills daily. Empathy is also extremely important for a counselor. I believe that my acting background has been crucial when it comes to really seeing how someone is feeling, not judging those feelings, and just putting yourself inside of that person's shoes.

What will be your role at SMS? Which house will you be in?

I will be the Cooper House Counselor at SMS. I will be there to support all students academically, socially, and emotionally. I hope to be a conduit between all stake holders in the students educational lives.

What are some of the similarities and differences between your current position and the new one at SMS?

The similarities are plentiful in that I will still be in a support role to all students, families, and teachers. I will help students navigate their educational careers with the input of everyone that impacts their lives. I will be running team meetings with the Cooper House teachers just as I am running middle school meetings where I am now The biggest difference is the size. SMS is much larger than Garrison. It seems as though my K-8 caseload at my present school is about the same size as my Cooper House caseload. I love the energy of middle school students and am housed in the middle school where I work now. There will just be more of that energy!

What do you find challenging and rewarding about working with preteens?

The rewards far outweigh the challenges. I think that preteens are still really open to ideas and generally lean into life with curiosity. Sometimes that curiosity leads them to bad choices but all of those choices can turn into teachable moments if handled correctly. I think social media is very challenging for them as they are truly the first generation to have to navigate this enormous world that they carry around in their pockets. Hopefully, we can help them figure it all out together.

How do you approach anxious teens and their parents?

I like to think that I handle anxious teens and parents with a calm, listening ear. Generally, I hope to find some concrete tools that may help alleviate some of that anxiety. At times, if the issue is larger than can be handled by the school, I will refer to a professional. Different approaches work for different situations as life is messy. The common approach for any situations is genuinely caring. That goes a long way for kids and families.

What are you most excited or nervous about in your new role?

I am really excited to get to know my new students, families, and school community. It really seems like an incredibly special place and I am so grateful to be invited to be a part of it. As far as nerves go, I recently had the chance to visit SMS and meet the incoming 6th grade who will be my students in Cooper House next fall. They were nervous just as I was. I told them something I heard a long time ago and it has always helped me to navigate nerves and that is that it is okay to be nervous - it's just proof that you care.

What do you do in your free time? What are your interests outside of work?

I enjoy my family time above anything else. My daughter, Mia, just turned 15 and is finishing her freshman year. My son, Dean, is about to be 13 this summer and finishing the seventh grade. My wife, Toni, and I love to be present for all of the fun things that my kids involve themselves in; theater, baseball, softball, singing, etc. On top of that I like to fly fish, play guitar, and I love baseball.

Fenimore 1A View of the Rear from 1923Tensions ran high at Scarsdale Village Hall on Tuesday, June 5th at a hearing on the decision to permit demolition of a home at 6 Fenimore Road. The house, built in 1921, was designed by the architect Andrew J. Thomas, who is well known for work for the Rockefellers, for the design of Forest Park in Ohio and of the first garden apartments in New York. Thomas also built the adjacent property at 8 Fenimore Rd, once owned by comedian Al Jolsen.

The house, a cottage and greenhouse were designed by Thomas and built in 1924 for his own use. A rear addition was made in 1947. In 1950, the greenhouse was demolished and replaced with a detached garage. Thomas initially owned and lived on the property, but it was later sold to the Manny family who owned it from 1937 through 2017, when it was sold to TAK developers, who plan to tear down the existing buildings, subdivide the 1.3 acre lot and construct two new houses.

On November 21st, the Committee for Historical Preservation (CHP) ruled that the house should be preserved because there was sufficient evidence to determine historical importance. In order for a building to be considered worthy of preservation it must meet one of the four criteria dictated in the village code. The committee believed it met the third criteria, which states “That the building is the work of a master and embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction that possess high artistic values”. The owners of the property have chosen to appeal this decision, and a hearing was held to determine if the property met the third or any other criteria.

The property owners hired multiple lawyers to bring forth their case, and the village brought in Architecture Professor Andrew S. Dolkhart of Columbia Universtiy who is an expert in architectural history to study 6 Fenimore Road and offer an opinion on its merits for preservation. In the report he sent to the village, he argued that the property should be saved because it meets both the first and third criteria for preservation in Scarsdale. The first criteria states that “That the building is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to broad patterns of Village, regional, state or national history.” Dolkhart believes the first criteria is met because “the house is an important example of the suburban architecture of the 1920s that is the key development in Scarsdale’s history as a residential community, and it was the home of a very prominent architect”. He also believes the third criteria is met because 6 Fenimore “was designed by Andrew J. Thomas, a well-respected and very talented architect who was definitely a master designer. The building is also an excellent example of French Norman architecture, with high artistic values, including the use of materials, massing, and detail on the main house and outbuilding and in the adjoining landscape”.Fenimore 2The Front of the House Today

The lawyers representing the property owners hired Dr. George Thomas (unrelated to Andrew Thomas), an architectural expert, to dispute the claim that the property met the third or any other criteria for preservation. Dr. Thomas is a partner at Civic Visions LP, a Philadelphia based firm that does drafting, architectural design, and more. He also has taught architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and co-founded the University of Pennsylvania Historical Preservation Program. Dr. Thomas began by attacking the legacy of Andrew Thomas seeking to dispel the notion that Thomas was a master. He noted that Thomas was not traditionally educated, and lacked the necessary design skills to be considered a master. He proceeded to make even more damning assumptions, stating that the graduate students who worked for him probably designed the house anyway, while at the same admitting to having no basis to support that claim. He claimed that Andrew’s architectural specialty was the building of garden apartments, not suburban homes, concluding that this house was not the work of a master. It should be noted, however, that Andrew Thomas also developed residential homes in Forest Hill, Ohio, 81 of which are on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Dr. George Thomas proceeded to attack the second part of the third criteria for becoming a landmark: the embodiment of a distinctive characteristic of a type of construction that possess high artistic value. Dr. Thomas called the house a “impoverished version of Norman Revival” and claimed it lacked necessary details including a rounded or towered entrance or turret. He called the house a hodge podge of styles and asserted it lacked the necessary detail to be considered distinctive. Dr. Thomas also noted that the house was left out of the 2012 Reconnaissance Level Cultural Resource Survey, written in part by Dolkhart, which looked at buildings or areas of cultural/historical significance in Scarsdale. The report can be viewed by clicking here.

Fenimore 4The Original Floor Plan from 1923Dr. Thomas also responded to the claim that the house can be preserved under the first criteria. He noted that the house was merely a reflection of suburbanization, and ruling for preservation under this criteria would set a dangerous precedent of allowing any house built in that era to be deemed a historical place.

After Dr. Thomas spoke, Terry Rice, an attorney retained by the village, noted that the term “master” is not defined by the village, and asserted that it could be interpreted loosely as someone who is skilled in a particular area. Professor Dolkhart then gave a brief rebuttal to the issues raised by Geroge Thomas.

Dolkhart stated that lacking formal education cannot be interpreted as a detriment to becoming a master as many great architects of the time didn’t receive formal training. According to Dolkhart, since Andrew Thomas built the house for himself, it reflected his personal vision of architecture, and contained architectural details from different time periods to add a level of sophistication and nuance to the house. The house also represented his experimentation of multiple suburban design techniques, as its construction took place during a pivotal time period for the development of Scarsdale as a suburb. Dolkhart also noted that the house was likely left out of the Scarsdale 2012 Cultural Reconnaissance Survey, produced by his firm, because it was listed as being located in Hartsdale.

Another attorney representing the owners of the property spoke in an attempt to dispel the notion that Andrew Thomas is a master. He argued that the national historic preservation law, upon which the Scarsdale’s guidelines are based, states that in order to for something to be “the work of a master,” the work must take into account the standard style of the architect. Since Thomas was best known for his garden apartments, this assumption would invalidate the rationale for preservation under the third criteria. But Mayor Hochvert pointed out, the Scarsdale code is not identical to the national code, and that assumption cannot be made. Furthermore, under a general definition, a master must be generally recognized in a field, not in the regard to a specific work, so if an architect who typically worked in one style masterfully crafted a house that embodied a different architectural style, it still merits consideration for historic preservation.Fenimore 3A Detail on the Door

One community member was outraged by the owner’s attempt to destroy the historic house. Lika Levi of urged the village to preserve this houses, stating “You have to institute a moratorium and put an end to this mindless destruction. It is the indigenous Isis and yet, Board after Board nothing is being done. Scarsdale is losing its character, its very identity, heritage, its everything. A town without these character houses, without the leafy trees is not Scarsdale any more. I do not want to hear of any more hearings or CHP meetings. Nothing deserves to be demolished.”.

The Village Trustees gave both sides three weeks to submit any additional information to the board. Their reports must be submitted simultaneously. Two to three weeks after their submission, the board will come to a final decision on the fate of 6 Fenimore Road.

img1713 Scarsdale’s baseball and lacrosse teams both suffered devastating losses this week, marking the end of a good season for both teams. The baseball team had an 8-10 record and the lacrosse team went 10-8 during the regular season, meaning both teams secured a spot in the playoffs. However, both seasons ended with the baseball team's loss to Suffern and the Lacrosse team's loss to Lakeland. 

On Monday, the 13-seeded Scarsdale Raiders Baseball team had their first playoff game against the 4-seeded Suffern Mounties. The game, twice postponed due to weather, was played at Suffern High School with starting pitchers Jack Callahan (‘18) for Scarsdale and Texas Tech baseball commit Jack Scanlon (‘18) for Suffern. In the first inning, the Raiders stranded Michael Green (‘18) and Joe Weintraub (‘18) on base after a double and walk, respectively. In the bottom of the first, Callahan retired the side, heading into a scoreless second inning.

The third inning, started by two Suffern walks, led to 3 mountie runs to make the score 3-0. Once again, the Raiders stranded two runners on base in the top of the forth and Callahan’s double play helped the Raiders escape runners on first and third with no outs without allowing a run. The next two innings was a pitching duel as both teams could not bring in baserunners. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Suffern struck again with three more runs and brought in Wyatt Palmer to close the game.IMG 1715Michael Green ('18)

In the top of the seventh inning, the Raiders could not muster a run. Scarsdale stranded runners on base in five of the seven innings and lacked the timely hitting needed to knock Scanlon out of the game. The game concluded the Scarsdale Raiders’ season. However, many of the players will be playing in the Scarsdale Annual Memorial Day Tournament.

lacrosse 2Tuesday May 23rd, the Scarsdale Varsity Lacrosse team faced off against Lakeland. The team went into their quarterfinal game with heads held high, as they had solidified their rank as the number two seed in the Class A tournament last week. Seth Thornton, who will play lacrosse at Syracuse University next year, scored three goals, Oliver Krohn scored two goals and one assist, Andrew Bernstein had two goals, Jason Lipsay scored one goal, Jackson Bornstein scored one goal, and Jack Brosgol had two assists. Even though the Raiders fought hard, the were defeated by Lakeland 10-9, which unfortunately ended the Raiders successful season.

The team was fortunate enough to have 16 dedicated seniors this year who demonstrated their leadership throughout the entire season. Next year a squad of new players will take the field. Lacrosse photos by Jon Thaler. See more here.

lacrosse 1

questionmark(This is the opinion of site founder Joanne WallensteinWe spoke to several people who are keen observers of the Scarsdale non-partisan process to get their feedback on the most recent School Board election. As many of you know, in the May 15 election, two candidates were selected by the democratically elected School Board Nominating Committee to run on the ballot for Scarsdale School Board.

However, current school board member Pam Fuehrer, who had served one three-year term, was not selected by the SBNC to run for a second term. She opted to run independently, garnered the support of many current and former members of the Board and the PTA’s and defeated one of the candidates chosen by the SBNC.

The election was controversial for many reasons and we thought it deserved further exploration.

What is on people’s minds? Here are some of the questions:

-Barring cases of gross misconduct, should the SBNC automatically grant an incumbent candidate the nomination for a second term on the Board if the incumbent wants to run?

-Traditionally the community has supported the non-partisan system and the candidates chosen by the non-partisan process. Has the community lost faith in this process?

-The current voting process dictates that candidates run for specific seats on the Board. For example the committee nominated Alison Singer to run for the seat held by Pam Fuehrer and Woodrow Crouch to run for the seat held by Art Rublin. Believing that she had a better chance of defeating Crouch than Singer, Fuehrer chose to run against Crouch for the seat held by Rublin rather than running for the seat she currently holds. This assured Singer of a position on the board (as she ran uncontested) and challenged Crouch. Some are calling for the procedure to be changed to eliminate the process of running for specific seats, and instead giving the seats to those who get the most votes.

- Is it the role of the School Board Nominating Committee to act as a political party and support their chosen candidates with a political campaign? Since the independent candidates launch campaigns, are the SBNC candidates at a disadvantage?

Very few people were willing to be quoted, but we did hear some interesting thoughts.

Former school board member Jackie Irwin supported Fuehrer. Commenting on the issue of incumbency, Irwin said, “Since I can only recall one other time when the SBNC declined to re-nominate a sitting trustee for a second term, it is difficult to say that this is new trend. From my own experience on the SBNC and as a reference for prospective nominees, I sense that in any given year there are committee members who are critical of an incumbent. The majority of committee members, however, come to appreciate the fact that school board members and Village Trustees abide by our de facto two-term limit and in the end vote to re-nominate the incumbent. The outcome this year was a head-scratcher for many of us. Our mutual concern galvanized us to support a challenge to the slate. The results speak for themselves.”

Two former school board members, Rita Golden and Barbara Jaffe also supported Pam Fuehrer’s bid for re-election. They explained their thinking in a letter to Scarsdale10583 and said that their support of an independent candidate did not mean they did not support the non-partisan process. They wrote, “We, along with many other former school board trustees, supported Fuehrer in the recent election because of our concern that there is a steep learning curve involved in becoming an effective board member, and felt strongly that Pam’s experience and knowledge was essential at this time.”

“We fully support a non-partisan SBNC that is committed to selecting board members who are not single-issue candidates, do not vote as a bloc, and consider the merits of each decision on an individual basis. As with any democratic public or political institution, the SBNC may not always function perfectly, but it is, in our opinion, the best system to select the most qualified candidates to lead our school district.”

“In the future, we hope that more people will be willing to run for a seat on the SBNC and that those elected will understand that experience and first-hand knowledge are very important criteria in determining their final selection. We want to encourage volunteerism in our community and not let the fear of being rejected for a second term discourage those willing to run for a School or Village Board seat.”

A Greenacres neighbor offered the following in defense of the non-partisan process:

“To me, even more than saving the community from contentious and partisan campaigns, the value of the non-partisan system is saving the qualified nominees from contentious and partisan campaigns. Specifically, there are many highly qualified individuals who are happy to serve but would not run if they had to spend their energy and money fighting against their neighbors. Importantly, the value of the non-partisan system is also that qualified individuals do not have to decide in advance how they feel about specific issues and campaign on those prematurely-formed views based on incomplete information. Rather, they can keep an open mind, listen to the community (including residents, the administration, teachers, groups that study the issues, other board members, etc.), gather detailed information, and then more fully analyze the situation to do what is in the best interest of Scarsdale as a whole.”

A former member of the School Board Nominating Committee called for an examination of the election process to determine how to change it so that candidates do not run for specific seats. She favored a process whereby those with the most votes win. She also questioned the decision by former and current members of the Board of Education not to support the candidates nominated by the SBNC, when they had all served after being nominated by the SBNC. She said, “They only support the non-partisan process when they like the candidates chosen? … How can a current member of the Board of Education sign a full-page ad in the Inquirer in support of a candidate when the process is supposed to be non-partisan?”

On the recent process of candidates running independently, one observer noted:

“Some would argue it’s a good thing to give voters a choice, but others (traditional supporters of the nonpartisan system) would argue it defeats the purpose of having a nonpartisan system.”

On incumbents being re-nominated she said, "Each nominating committee is charged with selecting an individual that the committee members determine is "qualified" to serve. Note that neither resolution modifies that - i.e. not most or best qualified, simply qualified.” She added, “No one should take for granted that he/she will be re-nominated just because he/she is an incumbent and has not committed any crime. You have to serve with distinction during your first term and make the effort to present your credentials and your interest in continuing to serve. Every elected official, whether on the county, state or federal level, has that responsibility; it should not be different on the local level just because we have a nonpartisan nominating system.”

About the need to campaign, she said, “I do think it is necessary that when there is a contested election, there is a mechanism in place for a nonpartisan party committee to mobilize to support the candidacy of the SBNC candidates as is done on the village side. I think this election illustrated that the SBNC candidates were left to fend for themselves to run a campaign.”

I had conversations with several others who assumed that the SBNC committee members themselves were focused on a single issue or were blaming the incumbent for the actions of the School Board. Since the proceedings are confidential we will never know what was said in the room, and I was puzzled that these critics spoke so confidently about what they assumed had occurred. I also noted that many who backed Fuehrer based on her service had not attended a board meeting in the past three years, so I wondered what information they were using to form their views.

In an April 13 letter from SBNC Chair Elizabeth Guggenheimer, who herself is a former School Board President, defended the process and the nominees. She said,

“Pursuant to rules of procedure, committee members conducted due diligence by contacting dozens of people outside of SBNC familiar with the applicants, presented confidential due diligence reports, shared relevant factual information and experiences, focused on the many positive attributes of this year’s candidate pool, and listened to one another carefully.

Discussions and deliberations regarding candidates are confidential in order to encourage people to apply, protect the privacy of candidates and references, allow for candid discussion among SBNC members, and select nominees based on their qualifications.

The committee discussed fully and candidly the qualifications of all proposed candidates before there was any vote, and it voted by secret ballot to fill each vacancy. This year’s SBNC members devoted an estimated 1,600 total hours (an average of 50 hours per person) to their charge. The process was serious and deliberate, with respect for differing opinions.”

So though the Chair believed that the committee had acted responsibly and ethically, many outside the room drew their own conclusions.

Does the non-partisan process serve the community well? If you have thoughts about the election and the non-partisan system, please share them in the comments section below.

(This is the opinion of site founder Joanne Wallenstein) The campaign for Scarsdale School Board is over and the votes have been counted. On Tuesday, an independent candidate for school board triumphed over a nominee selected by the Scarsdale School Board Nominating Committee (SBNC). After the SBNC deliberations, an incumbent who served a first term on the school board was not selected by the SBNC, but triumphed in her independent run. What can we say about the results of this week’s election and what does the vote say about our process for selecting and electing candidates?

A few observations:

As anyone who is reading this article knows, the intent of the non-partisan system is a democratically elected committee of nominators charged with vetting candidates for school board and selecting those that they believe are most qualified to serve. Once selected, these candidates run uncontested and save the community from contentious and partisan campaigns.

However, in recent times, our elections have become more, not less partisan. Candidates who are not selected by the School Board Nominating Committee (SBNC) have been emboldened to run independently, and those who customarily back the non-partisan system lend their support to favored independent candidates. In this recent election we saw community leaders, former and present members of the Board of Education and PTA leaders, abandon their commitment to the non-partisan system in favor of an incumbent who was not selected by the SBNC.

From all accounts it appears that the SBNC did a thorough job of vetting, interviewing and selecting candidates, yet the wider community felt no obligation to support the slate. A popular former Board President led the campaign to re-elect an incumbent who was not re-nominated, and many jumped on the bandwagon on her recommendation.

Some said they voted based on recommendations from friends and information garnered from cocktail party conversation or chose the incumbent, which enabled the "true insiders" to re-elect their candidate in order to maintain the old guard. As a result, all the work and due diligence performed by the nominating committee, who were elected by the community, was undermined. Though some criticize the nominating committees for being “insiders,” the committees consist of representatives from all of Scarsdale voted in by their neighbors. They seek to find the right candidates with an open mind.

From my five years of service on the SBNC, I can attest to the fact that the 30-member committee follows the non-partisan resolution carefully, reaching out to find candidates, gathering input from peers, discussing and debating the needs and composition of the board and acting in the best interest of the community at large. This year a former Board of Education President chaired the proceedings, adding even more integrity to the work of the SBNC.

Furthermore, the independent candidate ran a full-fledged campaign, using advertising, social media and her network of PTA colleagues to garner support. She targeted the more vulnerable of the two SBNC candidates and left him with no choice but to launch a campaign on his own. Members of the School Board Nominating Committee did not believe it was their role to campaign or back the selected candidates, leaving the nominees to run their own campaigns.

To be blunt, the non-partisans were hit with a partisan election campaign and had no mechanism, organization or budget to defend their nominees.

Where does this leave us?

In the future, candidates who come before the SBNC should be aware that if selected by the committee, they may have to run their own campaigns. Will this deter residents from running? Perhaps!

Those who sit on the School Board Nominating Committee may also be called on to campaign for their selected slate. Again, will that deter residents from running for the committee? Perhaps!

Clearly the non-partisan process has been tested again. It was intended to prevent divisive and contentious campaigns, but today the non-partisans are just one political party. If this decades old system is to remain effective, it will need to adapt and use 21st century campaign tactics to defend itself.

Without any mechanism to bring out the popular vote, the non-partisan slate will be trumped by partisans over and over again.

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