Pleasantville Middle School joined a prestigious group of schools last week as it was named a National and State School to Watch.
The program is sponsored by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform and focuses on school improvement and recognition. It is one of seven middle schools in the state and the only one in Westchester to be named this year.
Since the program was launched 10 years ago, there have been just 25 middle schools in the state out of 300 nationally that have been recognized as Schools to Watch.
Mary Beth Casey, director of the New York Schools to Watch program, praised Pleasantville for its model education program.
“This prestigious designation recognizes your continued commitment to enhancing your school program and practices,” Casey said.
The announcement was made at last week’s board of education meeting, where one of the district’s planning and advisory committees (PAC) also presented its findings on the middle school.
“Congratulations to [principal] Vivian Ossowski,” Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter said. “This is a rigorous application process. There was a team of people who stayed in our middle school from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and that interviewed students, teachers and community members. Great job everybody.”
Board President Lois Winkler said the award means that Pleasantville Middle School is a school to emulate.
“You want to be like this and take this as an example to live up to,” Winkler said. “It’s wonderful. I’m really thrilled.”
However, not everyone was singing the middle school’s praises last week. Jeffrey Goldberg, a frequent critic of the district and a member of the high school PAC, argued that the middle school has failed in its mission.
“I’ve heard this over and over again,” Goldberg said. “I heard teachers in the high school who came before the committee and said the kids are not ready and not prepared for math and other basic things. I’ve heard horror story after horror story.”
Goldberg said that some parents have told him that Ossowski and Vice Principal Susan Weill do not communication, though he could offer no proof other than hearsay.
“If that is true, we have a scandal,” Goldberg said. “This is a disgrace. I tend to believe the people that tell me these stories. I don’t believe Pleasantville Middle School is preparing kids for high school appropriately. I don’t think the coursework is rigorous enough.”
While no member of the board responded to Goldberg’s allegations, teacher’s union president Lorraine Kearney, a high school biology teacher, refuted Goldberg’s assertions that students are unprepared.
“We were speaking about students who come to the high school who need remedial work,” said Kearney, who also serves on the same committee. “You find that no matter what high school you go to. It’s not in reference to Pleasantville Middle School.”
Pleasantville Middle School guidance counselor Barbara Brandenberg also defended the school.
“It’s impossible to take everything you hear and take it as the ultimate truth,” Brandenberg said. “The parents I dealt with may not be happy the way things turned out, but we have given our all. I take offense when people say ‘I heard.’ If anyone has doubts, come in and watch our school in operation. Come see a day in our life.”