Sunday, Jul 14th

Antennas Installed, Student Stress, Sustainability, Special Education and more from the Board of Ed

cellmapThe new antennas were installed to address the cell phone gaps (in red) at the high school, fox meadow school and surrounding neighborhoods. Has your service improved?The December 18, 2023 Board of Education meeting included a report on Special Education but also touched on several issues that are top of mind for the community including cell service around the schools, student stress and sustainability. Here's what was discussed:

Cell Service

After his opening remarks, BOE president Ron Schulhof provided a brief overview of a recent meeting the District had with Village representatives. In addition to reviewing items such as the field study, Schulhof was happy to announce that both of the Verizon cell antennas are now up and operating. While operational, Schulhof explained that Verizon is currently working to optimize coverage and making sure the antennas are working together. He also explained that in their contract, the Village made it a requirement that Verizon reviews any remaining gaps at the high school or at Fox Meadow Elementary School. Once the final review is complete, the BOE will provide an update to the community.

Public Comments

Former Board of Education member Jonathan Lewis took to the podium and said:

“Climate change and the impacts of global warming cut across state and national boundaries, and municipal government jurisdictions. That is why global collaboration on combating the impacts of climate change, as witnessed at the recent UN meetings, are so important. Local collaboration on thinking through these issues is equally important.

That is why I would encourage the Scarsdale School District, and its leadership to engage the community and your village government partners vigorously in this important conversation - particularly the idea of a moratorium that is being discussed with heated debate in village hall.

First some perspective: The Scarsdale School District Sustainability Initiative was launched “as part of a worldwide effort to save the environment for future generations. It has three main objectives: student and adult education; environmentally aware behavior; and environmentally sound institutional practices.”

I would encourage the school district to think about how this initiative supports deeper engagement with the village on the subject of the moratorium and shared environmental threats and concerns.

For example, the village is currently undergoing an uncontrolled development boom. This boom has uncontrolled impacts on our local environment, water run-off, and flooding. It will also lead to a larger school population if the boom continues unabated. The time is right for the school district to engage in a conversation about this construction boom by educating our community about the key areas where development intersects with the value proposition of a Scarsdale education and its cost structure. The community needs to know the answers to the following questions to think through these issues:

What is the optimal student population of our school district with its current staffing and physical plant?

How does a rise above that optimal student population impact our longer-term cost structure?

How does it impact our human capital costs structure and the cost structure of our physical plant?

As the student population rises, what are the challenges to the highly personalized style of education we offer? What are the challenges to our physical plant? Importantly, what are the environmental impacts of a larger school district?

As the development boom reduces our tree canopy, and increases water run off and flooding, what are the environmental impacts of these developments on our school district grounds, playing fields, and the maintenance of our buildings?

In the scenarios where flooding worsens beyond current expectations, what are the impacts on our maintenance budgets and our ability to keep our schools open during adverse weather events? What are the impacts on safe school bus transportation on our roadways when they are flooded?

It should be clear that the school district (and its taxpayers) have important interests in the environmental policies that the village adopts, including policies that relate to development. It will be important for the school district and the village government to have joint public discussions on these topics to inform the current public debate.

The proposed moratorium, opposed by a vocal group of developers, is intended to provide our community with the breathing space to think through the best policies to ensure a Sustainable Scarsdale thrives and stands ready for the challenges of climate change. It would be interesting to think through how the Scarsdale School District Center for Innovation could engage students and the community in an important conversation on these matters. It would be in the spirit of Non Sibi, and consistent with the objectives of the Scarsdale School District Sustainability Initiative to move forward in this way. Thank you.”

Alissa Baum advocated for student well-being:

She said, “I want to start by thanking all of you - our school administrators, school board members, and teachers. I appreciate how much time and effort goes into supporting our children and helping them thrive.

I am here today, however, because I am becoming increasingly alarmed at what I perceive to be an overstatement of the effect of social media and technology on student wellness. I am concerned that the single focus on cell phone use is ignoring other major contributors to student stress. There is a good deal of research, especially looking at affluent schools like Scarsdale, that places blame on the excessive academic rigor expected of students, the lack of unstructured free time, and the lack of sleep.

So, I thought it would be helpful to pose some questions that I would like you--- as educators and policy makers--to think about, all based on real student experiences:

1. Core Classes: What is the purpose of homework in core classes? Should INITIAL learning of NOVELconcepts be learned at home? Or in the classroom?

2. Receiving and Turning in Homework Assignments: Is there any reason why students can’t get their assignments while in class? When an assignment is given after 4pm should the student be derided or penalized for completing the assignment a day late as supposedly permitted by school policy?

Is it fair, just because the technology allows, for students to have assignments due on midnight on Friday night? Or on Sunday night?

Should kids have significant homework on evenings they have afterschool AT and honors placement exams? Or the evening before college applications are due?

3. Use of email: If students are expected to respect certain norms, such as not emailing a teacher after a certain hour, shouldn’t teachers be subject to similar limitations? How many emails or google notifications should a student receive in one day?

4. Assemblies, such as for Non Sibi Day: Let me say I am grateful for these programs. This is one of the things that I believe is so special about our school, but when students miss classes for these events, should they be required to do that day’s classwork for homework? I do wonder if the students would be better served by having time to reflect on what they saw?

5. As we look at the evils of technology, can you consider how technology benefits some students, whether it is taking notes on a keyboard or taking a picture of a slide or homework assignment? There are all types of learners in our schools and, for some, their phones and computers can be an important part of their learning. Instead of focusing on phone caddies, it would be so much more productive to look at workload—an issue which you can actually control and which I believe you have the expertise to evaluate. Thank you for looking closely at what many of us believe is the real issue affecting our students’ well-being.”

Special Education Report

Another highlight of the meeting included the District’s second Education Report of the 2023-24 school year. The report, presented by Mr. Rauschenbach and Dr. McIntosh, aimed to 

1. Look at special education in the context of our overall work

2. Review foundations of special education in public schools

3. Provide historical trends in our special education population and the programmatic work over the past 10 years

4. Identify the current continuum of services and administrative resources in place at each level

5. Reaffirm our guiding principles

6. Identify the work ahead and its place in our strategic plan.”

In addition to exploring these areas in depth, the presentation laid bare the very thoughtful, comprehensive and inclusive approach the District takes to providing special education for our students.

The report emphasized how a “philosophy of celebrating diverse learners and embracing all students, not only truly benefits all students and builds educator capacity,” but promotes our District’s mission to, “sponsor each student's full development, enabling our youth to be effective and independent contributors in a democratic society and an interdependent world.”

Also made clear in the presentation is the fact that our robust Special Education program has expanded and grown in the last several years. Not only has the District been able to keep more students who are in need of services here in their local schools, but it has also adjusted to meet the growing number of students who qualify for services. As the report describes, “Our programs are successfully widening the profile of students that can be educated in their community while individual students and the District continue to have outstanding educational outcomes.” For a detailed look at the numbers please see the presentation slides here:

And while,, this success is to be applauded, Mr. Rachenbach and Dr. McIntosh noted that, “Expansion of the continuum is philosophically responsible and fiscally prudent” and laid out a detailed plan for maintaining the sort of excellence in education that our district is known for. For more on this plan or to watch the full presentation, please click here.

The Board also voted to approve several policy updates including an update to: Policy 0115 - Student Harassment & Bullying Prevention & Intervention

Watch the BOE meeting in its entirety here.