GovernmentThe Northern Westchester Examiner

Hendrick Hudson Board Votes to Implement Princeton Plan, Receives Pushback From Parents

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By Rick Pezzullo and Martin Wilbur
Hendrick Hudson School
Protestors who gathered outside Hendrick Hudson High School protested the Princeton Plan, stating the process to implement it was rushed and will impact the district. (photo by Martin Wilbur)

The Hendrick Hudson Board of Education laid the groundwork for the controversial Princeton Plan to be implemented at the elementary level for the 2022-2023 school year.

During an often-contentious meeting where one trustee called her colleagues “cowardly,” the board voted 5-2 to realign the district’s three elementary schools as K-1, 2-3, and 4-5 buildings rather than the K-5 arrangement currently in place.

“This new alignment will sustainably address variable student enrollment in each grade level across the district. It will also afford greater flexibility and specificity of educational experiences for all of our students, whether they are general education students, special education students, or advanced learners,” board President Carol Abraham stated in a letter to the community after the meeting.

“We understand that this is a very big change for our district,” she continued. “This decision was not an easy one for the board trustees to make, and it is an emotional decision for many parents in the district. There have been heated arguments on both sides. The board strongly believes this is the right decision for our students and our taxpayers. We hope that our Sailor community will be able to come together and put our differences aside to make this transition a successful one for our children.”

In recent weeks, Superintendent of Schools Joseph Hochreiter and other district officials have held a series of community forums to inform parents and residents of what the Princeton Plan entails.

Since Entergy announced in January 2017 that it would be departing from the nuclear facility in Buchanan, Hendrick Hudson officials have been exploring ways to make up the $25 million it will be losing annually from Indian Point. For years, Indian Point has been supplying funding for almost one-third of the district’s operating budget.

If implemented, Hochreiter said switching to the Princeton Plan could save the district an estimated $2 million annually and result in a 4.5% property tax avoidance. One of the downsides is 14 staff positions in kindergarten through fifth grade would be eliminated.

Before the Board of Education’s decision, about 30 to 40 parents protested implementation of the Princeton Plan on Apr. 7 on Route 9A in front of Hendrick Hudson High School. They argued that the process was rushed with inadequate input and important details missing.

Meanwhile, children will face constant upheaval by having to transition between buildings every two years at a time after having had severe disruptions because of COVID-19. Some families would also have three children each in different school buildings.

Parent Edward Alcocer, who currently has a seven- and nine-year-old at Furnace Woods Elementary School with another child entering kindergarten in the fall, said the plan is simply to save a relatively modest amount of money.

“There are no proven educational benefits to this plan; it’s simply dollars, and the dollars aren’t that much,” Alcocer said. “The dollars are $1.5 to $2 million in savings, and that’s on the backs of laying off teachers. So we’re going to get less teachers, we’re going to save minimally on taxes, education benefits are nil or negative and there’s no opportunity to have a vote.”

Dana Goyer, a member of the stakeholders committee and membership chair of the Frank G. Lindsey Elementary School PTA, said many parents felt the process was rushed, even though they were told they would have a full year to do the work. The committee began meeting about five months ago and there hadn’t been completed analysis on savings and transportation costs.

She said the public would have had much more confidence in the decision had the analysis been completed.

“We didn’t receive the proper support or the proper leadership to do what we were asked to do, which is really analyze,” Goyer said. “We went through it very quickly. We didn’t have a chance to look over the material because it was presented to the board and we didn’t have the financial analysis, discussions about the impact.”

Christine Archacki, another member of the stakeholder’s group and co-president of the Frank G. Lindsey Elementary School PTA, said the amount of savings realized kept shifting and the district is looking to add other programs that will offset the costs. Archacki also wondered whether the district is trying to eliminate the inequity between the three elementary schools by coming up with this plan.

“We don’t feel (the board) is getting the full picture, which is a big part of the problem,” Archacki said. “If they could see the future and know what it’s going to look like, and then they can vote, then obviously it would be perfect. I don’t know that they’re being given the full picture.”

Another parent, Nicole Dinis, who has two children at Furnace Woods, said parents aren’t even aware of the transition plan or which schools will serve which grades.

“It’s just a little disconcerting as parents,” Dinis said. “We don’t know what’s happening and it could be within a year’s time.”

School trustees Laurie Ryan and Mary-Pat Briggi vehemently argued the community deserved more transparency and more information from the district.

Ryan made a motion to table the vote and send out an informational mailer to all 14,000 registered voters in the district, but her effort failed by a 5-2 vote, with only Briggi siding with her.

“Our community members do not know about this,” Ryan stressed. “This is too big of an issue to throw our community into an upheaval when we’re not doing this next year. It is changing the entire district.”

“Right now, there is a lot of unknowns,” Briggi said. “I haven’t seen any data that (switching to the Princeton Plan) could provide better results or outcomes and at the end of the day that is our goal—to get better outcomes.”

During its review of the Princeton Plan, Hendrick Hudson reached out to Somers, Ossining and Tarrytown to learn how those districts have fared with the same learning model.

Trustees Cory Notrica and Bill Oricchio maintained the Princeton Plan had been sufficiently studied.

“I see no need to kick the can down the road and cause further pain,” Oricchio said.

“We were all elected to make decisions and it’s not an easy decision,” Notrica remarked. “There is no silver bullet that will make everyone feel better.”

Briggi couldn’t withhold her disappointment, labeling the five trustees who supported the change “cowardly,” adding, “I’m so ashamed. Such a disgrace.”

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