Educator’s Assignment: Lead, then Leave 

Dr. Dennis Lauro began his tenure as Acting Superintendent of Schools for Hendrick Hudson School District on Feb. 27, 2023. In addition to his day-to-day duties overseeing the entire district, with the resignation (effective June 30, 2023) of past Superintendent Joseph Hochreiter,  Lauro also is charged with helping to identify the next permanent superintendent. Lauro spent 18 years in the Pelham school district, and later was Executive Director for Southern Westchester BOCES. During Covid, he returned to Pelham as Interim Superintendent. After that, he says the opportunity at Hendrick Hudson “got my attention.”  

River Journal North (RJN) > Why were you drawn to Hendrick Hudson? 

DL > I recognized a dual problem with the current Princeton Plan model and the financial concerns due to loss of aid (closure of Indian Point).  The district was not seeing cost savings, so they needed someone to come in and give their perspective. I have committed to working to bring the place back on target.  

RJN > What do you look for in hiring a superintendent?  

DL > Someone who can pick up what I am doing and keep it going in the same direction. Then I can go into the sunset. 

RJN > Can you address rumblings from the community about cuts to staff and programming? 

DL > There have been layoffs, not cuts, due to a decrease in enrollment. They were 10 positions we do not need at the high school. Because of tenure laws and seniority, it may have a ripple effect at the middle school. I have always mentioned reducing staff because of declining enrollment, not eliminating programs. Going forward, we have not cut programs. We are in the process of restructuring programs, but that is not ready to be announced yet. That is what caused the ruckus. 

RJN > What are the major concerns for the district now, and how are you proposing to resolve these issues? Why is there so much hostility right now?

DL > Shortly after I arrived, I saw the people at the meetings started to increase [to voice concerns over the existing Princeton Plan]. I said the faster you make a decision [to keep it or change it], the faster things will calm down. It went on too long. The hostility from members of the community is starting to calm down since a decision was made to postpone the decision of Princeton Plan vs. Plan B (to be voted on at the December 2023 board meeting). Now we are trying to come up with a specific plan, with data, that the board wants to share with the public relative to PP vs. Plan B.  

RJN > Where do you stand on the potential closure of Buchanan-Verplanck (BV) Elementary due to health hazard concerns relating to nearby Indian Point?  

DL > I have a seat on the Indian Point Decommissioning Oversight Board. I visited Holtec, saw the site and met with staff there. I am totally on board with parental concern. We are receiving $500,000 for monitoring and I will be involved in choosing the group to do the monitoring. We want a baseline, particularly in BV, of what may have settled in the soil, roof, classroom, carpet, whatever. There may be some minor things to deal with, but we will have devices in place so when the decommissioning of the plant and demolishing of the domes occur, the whole community can monitor the processes. I am not in favor of relocating all the students, because it tends to send the wrong message to the community: admit something is wrong, and it condemns the property. Until I can prove otherwise, I am good with the data.  

RJN > What do you see as areas needing improvement within the District? What are your biggest obstacles in attaining your goals? 

DL > Misunderstandings. Parents are not in the building, but rumors persist. For example, there were rumors the high school’s Academy was going to be eliminated. [The Academy is a valuable program that provides a cooperative and nurturing learning environment for high school students who have not succeeded in traditional educational settings.] I received a flurry of parent emails because students went home and told parents the program was being eliminated, but the reality is that is not true at all. A few weeks ago, there was talk about restructuring, not eliminating. There has been so much mistrust of the administration and/or the board, which does not help the situation.  

Give me an opportunity to give you the data you need, but to say things based on what you experienced before is not helpful. I can tell you what is going on now. The misconception that student grades are terrible is not true, but they are lower than they have ever been. Preliminary data shows we are not performing where we should be. If we shoot low, we only achieve to that level, but you have to raise the bar. I don’t buy into large socio-economic issues. We have every support that is required and beyond. That is a positive here; we are rich in the ways to handle the situations. We have wonderful electives at the high school level. The problem is the performance. That is the concern. How do we change that?  

I expect our professionals, including the Board, to step up to the plate, take ownership, and address it. I don’t want to point fingers at the past, but this did not develop overnight. The actuality is, our district is not that different from other area districts, with exception: lower graduation rates and decreasing student performance. This developed over a long period of time. Other districts have similar demographics, but performance is up. We need to hold people accountable for getting back on target.  

Lindsey Marcus is a local mom who enjoys writing about the community. 



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