Edgewood Elementary School will welcome a new principal when Dr. Scott Houseknecht retires in July after 30 years as the school’s leader.
The community will have a chance to meet Tashia Brown at the school fair on Saturday and then to welcome her when she comes aboard from White Plains’ Ridgeway School in July.
The school district has a robust search system for school personnel, but the announcement of Brown’s appointment came as a surprise to many who are not familiar with the process. Students were interviewed, parents responded to a survey, and PTA leaders, Edgewood school faculty and staff served on a search committee. But ultimately, filling a top job is an HR decision made by the administrative cabinet comprised of the superintendent, assistant superintendents and the directors of student services and technology.
In this case, parents apparently wanted more voice in the decision.
It’s not that they object to the decision — clearly Brown is highly qualified, student-centered, collaborative, with a proven record as a school leader and principal for more than a dozen years — and the community has said they will embrace Brown once she is on board. But many residents said they felt the Edgewood community should have been considered more deeply in the decision.
At the school board meeting April 29, in emails and by means of a petition, Edgewood parents expressed frustration. They felt the decision, which could impact the school for decades, was made too quickly; they asked why an interim principal was not appointed to provide time for the community to be more thoroughly involved. They also wanted to know why another candidate, Assistant Principal William Yang, who’s already known and appreciated by the community, didn’t get the job.
At the April 29 school board meeting, Superintendent Thomas Hagerman explained the leadership profile that was developed, the search process that followed and who was involved in interviewing the finalists. He said the job listing — posted the first week of March through March 20 — drew 27 new applicants whose resumes were considered in addition to 45 resumes from qualified applicants who vied for the principal’s job at Fox Meadow Elementary School last year. The search committee then considered four of those candidates in Round 1, three of the four made the cut to Round 2, and two were selected for “finalist day” interviews with 25 administrators, nine parents, six support staff and 12 teachers.
The week after Dr. Hagerman spoke, Assistant Superintendent Drew Patrick responded to dozens of questions at an Edgewood PTA meeting on May 9. The hiring process, he said, is not a formula and there was a host of priorities that drove the cabinet’s decision.
We appreciate the administration’s efforts to reach out to parents and to address their concerns. But we agree with those who feel the strong preference for someone the community knows and loves should have been given more weight. The community is heavily vested in and affected by these decisions and they should be listened to. School administrators must realize Scarsdale has a very vocal parent community, and going forward they should take steps to communicate earlier and more clearly about the process, while being more sensitive to the community’s point of view. In their remarks, both Dr. Hagerman and Dr. Patrick said the district welcomes feedback and is working to improve all areas of human resources. The give-and-take with the community, Hagerman said, is a “major way that we continue to learn and grow as an institution.”
Meanwhile, the lesson for parents — even empty nesters — is to not be discouraged. Get involved in the process from the beginning and stay informed along the way and don’t assume things will go your way (a lot of parents in Edgewood figured Yang would get the job). Sometimes it is a struggle, but Scarsdale has a robust quality of life because many people are involved and care about what happens here. The community is made stronger by engagement, and it’s important for everyone to be engaged in local affairs.