Board of education appoints Farid Johnson as Siwanoy principal


The Pelham Board of Education Tuesday appointed the new Siwanoy School principal, Farid Johnson, and discussed changes to the elementary schedule structure for the fall.

Farid Johnson is currently the principal of Stony Point Elementary School in North Rockland, and previously served as an assistant principal in Hastings-on-Hudson and New York City. Johnson has also worked as a special education teacher. In an email, Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ said, “Throughout the screening process, Mr. Johnson emerged as an impressive candidate from a robust and talented field. His skill set, demeanor, and ability to communicate were evident throughout the process.” Johnson grew up in Westchester, and will be replacing current principal Susan Gilbert in July. On Tuesday, Champ described Johnson as, “charismatic, energetic, passionate…his love of children is evident in everything he does.”

Farid Johnson was appointed Siwanoy School principal.

“I am beyond excited to be joining the Pelham educational team and community,” said Johnson on Tuesday. Johnson said that Pelham is, “such a great district that I really do want to be a part of. From the outside you hear a lot about the value of this community, the value that they put on building relationships…there’s a lot of value on greatness in Pelham.”

Champ said that the district is working on ways to introduce Johnson to the community, similarly to how they are working on getting Mark Berkowitz, the newly appointed high school principal, involved in Pelham.

According to Champ, distance learning has exposed the district’s weaknesses resulting from the lack of technology present in the elementary schools and their curriculum. To reconcile this gap in resources, the district will be repurposing some positions at the elementary level in the fall. With a music teacher leaving at the end of the year, Champ says that the district is planning to repurpose that position by hiring an instructional technology teacher, while having two music teachers teach across all four elementary schools. This would be similar to how librarian Anne Sullivan teaches at the four schools. Champ says the role of an instructional technology teacher would be “working on digital literacy, digital citizenship and improving our student use with the tools of technology to support their learning and teachers’ instructional objectives…to capitalize on the new technology skills that we’ve learned in this time.” The teacher would provide technology education for all students K-5 at all four schools, and students in all grades will now be able to attend library classes whereas currently the youngest grades do not.

There will also be restructuring around how the FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools) class is scheduled for grades 2-5. Currently, students meet with their FLES teachers for 30 minutes every other day as an overlay to their regular classes; students are pulled out of their classes to meet for FLES. In the fall FLES will be scheduled as a regular special, meeting for 45 minutes on two cycle days a week, so students will no longer be missing class time in other areas. Additionally, 4th and 5th grade chorus class will be moved to before school, similarly to band and orchestra. As a result, chorus will become an optional class for students to take. Champ assured that students will still be able to take any combination of band, orchestra and chorus if they choose to do so. This move comes as a further effort to “try to make better use of staff and to really preserve the integrity of the learning time for students,” says Champ.

Due to a number of retirements within the district and reallocation of staff, both Colonial and Siwanoy schools will be receiving their own dedicated intervention teachers. Currently two teachers have coordinated schedules so that they each work half and half at the schools. Champ says that at Prospect Hill and Hutchinson schools, where each school has their own intervention teacher, having a single dedicated specialist “opens up a world of new flexibility when it comes to providing tiered supports for students.”

Champ said that all changes are able to be made within the constraints of the district’s current staffing.

High school Principal Jeannine Clark and middle school Principal Lynn Sabia shared updates on the district’s decisions regarding the fourth quarter and final course grades. Students will not be taking any final exams, and will be able to decide at the end of the fourth quarter if they want to receive a number grade for the quarter, which would be factored into their final grade, or to take a pass/fail option which would not be factored in. Middle school students receive letter grades as opposed to number grades with the exception of algebra 1, earth science and foreign language, which are number grades which appear on their high school transcripts. At the end of the year students and their families will also be able to revisit third quarter grades and decide if they want to receive a pass/fail. Sabia explained that the calculation of final grades has also been altered, as certain course grades are reliant on midterms, semester grades, full year grades and finals. Students and parents received an email on April 30 detailing the full breakdown of final grades for different types of courses and grading scenarios.

According to Clark, these modifications allow the district to “meet the needs of a variety of circumstances (and) a variety of learners to the best of our ability.” One final grade will appear on student transcripts, not quarters or a pass/fail distinction. When high school students apply to colleges, colleges will be able to see student final grades as well as a profile which details the different grading options that were given to students during this time.

The audit committee met on Tuesday with the district’s internal auditor to talk about applying the district’s updated procedures as well as the annual risk assessment. According to Assistant Superintendent for Business James Hricay, the meetings were “both very productive,” and the committee will be bringing the reports and recommended corrective action plans for approval from the board soon, and then to the state.

Hricay shared that the construction work at Hutchinson school is “moving along at a nice pace,” and will be moving into the next phase of steel work shortly. The detail work at Glover Field is in the process of being completed, and Hricay projects that the work will be finished in the next few weeks. The roofing and masonry work at the middle and high school annex is able to move forward earlier than originally projected due to the extended school closure, and the start date for the interior work at the middle and high school has been moved to next summer in order to adhere to social distancing orders.

The board also voted to appoint a new high school counselor, Andrea Pellicane, high school math teacher, Amit Quackenbush, and special education teacher, Kara Weiss.

The next board meeting is scheduled for May 12 at 8:15 p.m., and will be held through a remote video platform.