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New beginnings

The PT Council community calendars have just been freshly pinned up on bulletin boards, the beach towels aren’t quite dry, and it’s not yet Labor Day, but in this unusual year, Scarsdale is back to school. The short, sweet summer is virtually over — except for the uncomfortably hot summer weather for the first week of school, more suitable for the beach than the classroom.

While school starts in August in other parts of the country, here the long holiday weekend in September has been the traditional marker to the end of summer and the start of school. This Labor Day weekend won’t be the usual last burst of carefree activity, with assignments and homework already on the minds of students.

With many of us just returning from vacation and scrambling to get school supplies and switch gears to school mode, we haven’t had the opportunity to savor the feeling of anticipation at this time of year, of new beginnings and fresh starts.

Scarsdale has 181.5 days of school this year — a little wiggle room above the mandated 180 to take into account snow days. It was a difficult year to craft the school calendar around religious holidays and vacation breaks.

Amid the rush to begin school, we received the Aug. 24 letter from new assistant superintendent for business Stuart Mattey seeking community members to volunteer by Sept. 2 for very important committees that will plan the district's current and prospective major capital construction programs. Prospective volunteers were asked to send résumés and write a letter stating their interest and competence by that date. The Scarsdale Board of Education would review responses and appoint committees at its first meeting of the school year on Sept. 9.

That’s quite a tight deadline for qualified community members to thoughtfully consider applying for slots on two separate construction committees.

Three community members with expertise in construction will be chosen to join a construction committee comprised of district representatives, consultants and school board members who will meet a few times in the fall of 2015 to plan projects funded by the school bond approved by voters in December 2014.

And 10 to 12 community representatives are sought for a districtwide facilities steering committee that will plan for a prospective bond project for 2018. This committee will be made up of residents from throughout the district, school board members, district administrators, teachers and students, who will examine facility needs and recommend priorities for the work. The committee will hold monthly public meetings through June 2016.

We realize that Mattey had to hit the ground running, beginning as he did in July, but it’s hard to believe 10 days’ notice will produce the best possible candidates, even in this invested community eager to provide input on important projects. We hope the board would give its stakeholders more time to consider the call to serve, and to gather thoughts as well as résumés. The stewardship of Scarsdale schools deserves more than a rush to appoint committees a week after school starts.

As BOE president Lee Maude said at the districtwide convocation Aug. 31, “We are a public school district built on excellence and rigor.” She reminded the audience that it has taken our district more than a century to construct its noble self. As we plan for changes or improvements in the years ahead, we need to carefully recruit and select those who will have a voice in planning our future projects. 

Opening day also reminds us of the underlying foundation of our district: our teachers. Scarsdale Teachers Association president David Wixted noted at the convocation that Scarsdale teachers do not usually experience low job satisfaction and high levels of workplace stress, which are becoming more commonplace among teachers elsewhere. In Scarsdale, he said, teachers can find “ennobling work serving young people, helping them grow,” and find opportunities to grow themselves. How wonderful for our students that they have engaged teachers that enrich their lives every day.

When reporting Inquirer stories about Scarsdalians who go on to have interesting careers or do noteworthy projects, we find that the subjects are often keen to mention a Scarsdale teacher who inspired them or guided them on the path they took in life. A teacher’s special imprint on a young student is, indeed, a profound gift.

We wish students, teachers, school administrators and parents a happy, productive, new school year ahead.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of The Scarsdale Inquirer. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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