Tashia Brown was appointed principal of Edgewood Elementary School at a board of education meeting April 29.
Her annual base salary of $195,500 covers a four-year probationary period beginning July 1 as she takes over the Edgewood principal’s position held for the past 30 years by Dr. Scott Houseknecht who announced in January he will retire at the end of the current school year.
Brown, 41, a resident of Elmsford, currently is the principal of Ridgeway Elementary School in White Plains, where she has served since 2010. Prior to that, she taught elementary school in Middletown, New York.
Her credentials include a B.S. in elementary education from the University of Vermont, an M.A. in education from New York University and an Ed.M. in curriculum and teaching from Columbia University. In addition, she holds New York State certifications in the areas of elementary education, school district administrator, and school district administrator and supervisor.
In an interview with the Inquirer, Brown said she is “overjoyed and overwhelmed” by the opportunity to come to Scarsdale and she is excited for “a new challenge” in a “very prestigious district.”
“Working in the highest performing school district in the nation is an honor,” she said. “I am looking forward to working with children [as they are] engaging in constructivism,” which involves “working hands on and make meaning for themselves.”
Regarding her philosophy of working with elementary children, she said, “Those years are a window onto the innocence of humanity. At this age level — 4.5 to 10 or 11 years old — there is a true innocence and authenticity that I appreciate and enjoy. It gives me hope for the future and makes me realize the enormous impact we have as educators to help them become the best people they can be … [while] learning their position in the world and about themselves and their identity.”
Brown said she admires Scarsdale as a district where education is “not solely delivered through the instructor” but also through “students working with each other and creating things through STEM and technology across the board.”
“Finding a progressive district that’s doing that is very exciting for me,” Brown said.
Superintendent Thomas Hagerman said the process for selecting the new principal involved the current principal and William Yang, the assistant principal, Edgewood faculty, parents and the PTA executive board. He said the district received 77 responses to a survey sent to parents in March about the principal search.
Hagerman said diversity, inclusion, trust and academics balanced with a nurturing and student-oriented culture were among the highly valued components of the search.
He said the district considered 45 résumés from a previous principal search conducted for Fox Meadow School plus 27 new applications, which were then narrowed down to four sets of final interviews with Edgewood parents, staff and teachers.
“Our task was to identify the person who not only exhibits the knowledge and understanding required of an inspiring school leader, but also someone uniquely suited to the characteristics of the Edgewood community,” Hagerman said. “Throughout the process… conversations were rooted in firmly held beliefs about education, including a student centered and collaborative approach to teaching and learning.”
Brown was selected, he said, for her experience as a building leader since 2006 and as an elementary principal at Ridgeway Elementary for the past 10 years, where “she has nurtured a student centered community of learners and gained the respect of parents, faculty and staff … is a hands-on collaborator and believes that trust building and partnerships are essential components of a successful school community.”
During the public comments at the school board meeting April 29, Stephen Baer of Sprague Road said Edgewood residents believe Brown will be “a fantastic principal,” but dozens of parents were dissatisfied with the process of choosing the new principal.
“I will be among the first people to welcome [Mrs. Brown] and help her be successful, and hopefully she will be there for 30 years like Dr. Houseknecht has been,” he said. “But I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I am extremely upset by the process and I know that a lot of people in the community share that feeling.”
He said he spoke on behalf of many who believe the process “was rushed, and certainly not representative of the feedback that a number of us provided in the surveys,” Baer said.
He told the Inquirer the survey, which asked about the traits for a school principal that are most important to parents, “seemed thorough,” but communication about the process of getting to a decision “was not optimal” in the view of many residents and teachers.
“I recognize that doing a search like this is not an easy process, with many stakeholders to take into account, but there is definitely room for improvement in the communication about the process,” he said.
The problem, Baer said, stems from a perception that the process was “not very transparent” and parents felt the search for the new principal “should have been done the way Fox Meadow’s was.”
When former Fox Meadow Principal Duncan Wilson resigned unexpectedly last June, the district appointed retired Bedford administrator Karen Eldon as interim principal with Melissa Feinberg coming from Great Neck Public School District to serve as assistant principal. After an extensive candidate search and recruiting effort, the school board on April 8 named Feinberg to become principal of Fox Meadow School starting July 1 and the district plans to recruit an assistant principal for that school in the coming months.
School board president Scott Silberfein said some emails to the school board from the community were based on “incorrect assumptions about the process and the timeline” and the role the parents played in the process.
According to Baer, members of the PTA and school board have since explained the district’s policy, which is not to put a candidate for principal in an interim role, because doing so would give that person an unfair advantage during a candidate search.
Despite that, a petition signed by more than 100 Edgewood residents was sent to the school board May 1 to register their complaint against the process.
“The petition won’t change anything,” Baer said, but beyond the letters and emails sent to the board, “it will document how many parents are upset by the decision making process” and will “provide a paper trail for better communication in the future.”
“We are always open to learning … how we can improve the process,” Silberfein said at the meeting. “Everything is a learning and teaching opportunity and we can continue to learn from that.”