From River Journal, It Starts at The Top

In any corporation of worth, employees are seen as unique resources and their skills and dedication are what sets one business apart from another. With special people one business is competitive and thrives, while another flags and loses the competitive edge.

imagesCEOs worth their weight in inflated salary and bonuses realize they are only as good as their employees. The same can be said in education, more specifically in the Union Free School District of the Tarrytowns. Skilled, dedicated and devoted teachers have repeatedly made quantitative and qualitative differences throughout the system and particularly in the lives of their students. Administrators on every rung of the ladder would be well-advised to embrace that truth.

A group of approximately 50 tenured teachers and staff at Washington Irving recently read a letter to School Superintendent Howard Smith, Assistant Superintendent Barbarann Tantillo and the Board of Education. The first sentence began with, We, the faculty and staff of the Washington Irving School, are here this evening to pay homage to our esteemed assistant principal, Ms. Rachel Gonzalez. For those not familiar with Rachel Gonzalez, she is the "real deal."

The 1997 New York City Teacher of the Year at the City’s prestigious Bilingual and Bi-cultural Mini School for the gifted and talented, Rachel has permanent certification from the state in grades K-6 in addition to being certified in bi-lingual education. Leaving the certifications behind, things only get better.

Her colleagues at Washington Irving wrote, Ms. Gonzalez continually aligns her actions to the standards of excellence. She propels us to hone our skills as educators, promoting social and academic ideals in our daily pedagogical activities as effective professionals and caregivers of the children in our community.

Before becoming the Assistant Principal at WI she taught 4th grade at the school for four years. She has been an Assistant Principal for the past three. Her own words best describe her. "I serve children and I strive for equity for all of them. They are my family and I’m so grateful to be able to give back to them my experience of education." The ubiquitous Rachel Gonzalez, as teacher and assistant principal, has embraced every aspect of the Washington Irving Intermediate School. She can be seen with students in the lunchroom, interacting with custodians, riding school busses while attending to sick children, at every after-school and evening function and always with the same demeanor of integrity and caring.

With regard to her abilities as an administrator, the WI faculty and staff read the following to Mr. Smith, Ms. Tantillo and the Board of Education, Ms. Gonzalez is an extraordinary administrator, an exceptional motivator and an inspirational role model. Her love for the profession, her knowledge of instruction, her effective communication, her continuous support of her teachers, her phenomenal mentoring skills, her genuine persona and finesse guide her steps daily. If that didn’t crystallize the essence of this special educator and administrator, there was more. She is an exemplary leader in the School and community. It is our experience that Ms. Gonzalez embodies the essence of a true leader. She stands among us as one of the most passionate, dedicated and committed individuals in our building.

For the past three years Assistant Principal Rachel Gonzalez has served "at the pleasure of the Board of Education," according to Superintendent Smith. She was scheduled for tenure consideration this June. A tenured teacher no longer serves at "someone’s pleasure" but enters into a universal standard process dictated by law. In other words, barring some flagrant violation, a teacher or administrator has job security.

Tenure was not offered to Rachel Gonzalez. Mr. Smith would not say why. He would say that he and the Board of Education were enjoined by law about saying anything. As a result Ms. Gonzalez has resigned as the Washington Irving School’s Assistant Principal effective at the end of the school year in June. The shock waves felt through WI and into the community have been profound. In a school system where 62% of the students are minorities, many with educational limitations needing extensive resources, and where the deity of data has revealed lower scores on mandated tests in the elementary grades, why not tenure a woman who has worked her entire professional life in raising the bar for everyone?

On March 4, the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns ran an ad in the New York Times that read, "Our nationally recognized school district, located in Southern Westchester, is a growing district with an ethnically diverse population." The position for Assistant Principal (Grades 4-6) listed the successful candidate as having experience with NYS standards, performance indicators, and using data analysis for school improvement. Experience in differentiated instruction and technology integration was also listed. Excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to collaborate with staff and parents along with outstanding oral and written communication skills rounded out the stellar individual whom Mr. Smith, Ms. Tantillo and the Board of Education are seeking.

To many, that candidate already exists in Rachel Gonzalez.

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About the Author: Robert Bonvento