For the better part of 5 years Zbynek Gold has been the principal of Washington Irving Intermediate School in Tarrytown. Mr. Gold and Assistant Principal Rachel Gonzalez have been team players with faculty and parents of the 570 students that attend grades 4-6.
When school recesses in June, Mr. Gold will transition to the Bedford Hills Elementary School’s and become the Schools K-5 Principal. Ms. Gonzalez, who was not given tenure, may or may not remain in the School District as a teacher.
Future renovations scheduled for Washington Irving have reduced the school to grades 4&5, and that change, more than any other, prompted Mr. Gold to seek an administrative environment where he could have the opportunity to build relations with parents and students.
Relationship building has been an integral part of Zbynek Gold’s life going back to his first teaching assignment at an Outward Bound type of setting in Massachusetts. He and two other counselors worked with youths 15-17 years old who were wards of the State, with behavioral problems ranging from severe truancy to attempted murder. "Our goal was to build self-esteem in these young people and show them they could do things
they never thought possible," he said. The youth would accompany the counselors for 4-week cycles doing rock climbing, boating and in one instance, a 40-mile hike across the sand dunes on Cape Cod. "It was the best job I ever had," he said convincingly.
When Mr. Gold came to Washington Irving in 2002 he was no stranger to Westchester, having grown up in Eastchester and being schooled at the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Iona Grammar and Iona Prep in New Rochelle. His Catholic heritage has been strengthened over the years, and he and his wife, Lucia, are currently the Area Leaders in the Archdiocese of New York’s "Worldwide Marriage Encounters." This volunteer work speaks to the importance of relationships in his personal and professional life.
At Washington Irving, Mr. Gold found a faculty with "great spirit." What he did not find were procedures for handling routine matters, one of them being discipline. "Prior to me coming, there were 30 suspension days a school year. In my first year as principal that number dropped to 20, the next year it was 5. Currently it is 1 a year," he said. That kind of progress came about from a very clear message to students. "We let students know what our expectations were around their behavior. Fighting and the atmosphere in general changed dramatically in the School," he noted.
Another area that earned Mr. Gold recognition dealt with the coordination of curriculum. "We had to be sure that our kids received the same experience at Washington Irving," he said. That experience started in the fourth grade and was built upon in each of the subsequent years with standards increasing from grade to grade. In addition he implemented a "Character Education Program" which reinforced the behavioral and academic aspects throughout the School.
When Washington Irving changes over to a two-grade school there will be no collaboration between the principal and assistant principal as exists now. The Superintendent and School Board will announce shortly the hiring of a new Assistant Principal for Washington Irving, who in all likelihood will move up to the Sleepy Hollow Middle School along with the sixth grade class. That lack of potential for collaboration, and the fact that students would cycle in and out of Washington Irving in two years’ time, was a determining factor for Mr. Gold. "It’s hard to get kids in fourth grade and be responsible for their state test scores after a few months," he said. "In Bedford I will have them from kindergarten through the fifth grade, and their parents too," he added.
In a letter that he wrote to parents on May 4, he said, "The quality of the faculty is what makes Washington Irving truly a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence." It is unfortunate that the Superintendent of Schools and the Board of Education will have lost the likes of Mr. Gold and Ms. Gonzalez. They are a team that will be sorely missed.
In a system where changing numbers and percentages are routinely projected to measure and quantify a school’s success (or failure), are long-term indicators of quality, camaraderie, morale and interpersonal relationships destined for the storage room — out of sight, out of mind?