School board president says ‘no change’ made to public comment policy; multiple cultural competence proposals outlined


School board president Jessica DeDomenico addressed recent discussion surrounding the board policy on public comment at Wednesday’s board of education meeting.

“Given that community engagement is and always has been a priority for the board, it’s important to address any misunderstanding and the concerns raised,” DeDomenico said. “To be clear, the board’s public expression policy does not prescribe how to have public comment, but instead it encourages a public comment period. There has been no change to our board’s policy.”

The board’s policy of not responding to public questions was recently debated during the board election.

DeDomenico said the public comment period is optional for school boards to include and allows the board to formulate a well informed response to the community.

“It has been our board’s practice to listen to public comment but not to respond to comments and questions in real time,” she said. “This practice is very common among boards in Westchester and has been described by our attorney as best practice for school boards.”

Residents may get answers to questions by attending board meetings, calling or emailing the board or attending school PTA meetings, among other means.

The cultural competence committee (formerly diversity) reported to the board on the recommendations developed by its subcommittees during the school year. The complete report from the committee is available here.

The student equity leader empowerment subcommittee presented to the board recommendations to integrate the fifth grade class before middle school, as well as to continue the Black Empowerment Club, A.C.E. Club, Student Ambassador Program and Gender Sexuality Alliance groups at the secondary level. The subcommittee called for the implementation of equity leaders and mentor programs across the schools to assist in transitions. The group also sought climate surveys, assemblies and a push to increase student enrollment in high-level courses.

Say Jacobs, an eighth grader, said that they have heard transphobic and homophobic slurs for years, they have to walk three flights of stairs for access to the gender neutral bathrooms and that students don’t learn about LGBTQ+ people in the current curriculum. “What we’ve done here so far is absolutely amazing, and it is crucial to continue on this path to create school that is equitable, safe and accepting,” said Jacobs.

Liam Ginsburg, an eighth grader at the middle school, spoke about the student ambassador program, in which students from each grade meet monthly in order to make changes in the school community. “The main thing I feel that is important, as an ambassador myself, is being a role model in the school,” said Ginsburg. “Treating others like we would want ourselves treated, acting kindly, inclusive and fair.”

“I think that as a Pelham community we can really work to aspire to support our teachers to have the difficult conversations that naturally do come into our classrooms and to educate our students on how to listen to one another in a respectful way, even if they have different views,” said DeDomenico.

Representatives of the Hutchinson, Colonial and Prospect Hill PTAs, as well as numerous community members, read statements in support of a diversity, equity and inclusion policy.

“I think quite often families like mine, families who are raising black children in this community, do not always vocalize what they are experiencing,” said Janice Powers, a co-founder of Bridges of Pelham and a candidate in the school board election in May. “It’s not just the simple task of moving into a great suburb, putting your child into a great school, thinking everything is going to work out wonderfully, cause it does not all the time. I think the fact that you guys are willing to dig deep and address these real issues creates a promise and a hope for my future student in this school district, and I thank you for that.”

“To be competent is to possess the ability, knowledge and skill to do something successfully,” said Chance Mullen, mayor of the Village of Pelham. “Before my son graduates into a multicultural world that is full of both beauty and pitfalls, I want him to have the ability, knowledge and skills to live in that world successfully. The work you’re doing is a very big step in the right direction.”

The other subcommittees of the cultural competency committee presented draft recommendations for the board. The equity policy and hiring practices subcommittee said there is a need to diversify hiring resources and participate in more diverse candidate recruitment fairs, as well as ensuring there is an increase in minority representation on search committees. The group called for mandated bias training for those doing the hiring.

The subcommittee for curriculum and professional learning recommended the district develop a curriculum review rubric to apply to all grades and schools. The community and family engagement subcommittee plans to share its updates by adding a page to the district website and creating a scheduled communication plan, a forum and community groups.

The data analysis subcommittee sought a unification in strategic planning to implement district goals across the schools, as well as an enhancement of the district’s capacity to collect and analyze data.

“As a school and as a community it is most important to embrace, admire, touch upon and listen to student voices and help achieve their goals and their needs,” said sixth grader Kathleen Ginsburg, who is a part of the A.C.E. Club at the middle school and spoke with members of the student equity leader empowerment subcommittee.

James Hricay, assistant superintendent for business, said the work at the new Hutchinson School continues, and the district is looking for the move between buildings to be over the summer. Renovations at the high school and Prospect Hill School are still underway.

The district nurses were recognized at the meeting for their hard work and dedication throughout the year by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Cheryl Champ, DeDomenico and Julia Chung, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services. Champ also presented trustees Eileen Miller and Jess Young with awards and gifts, as the two were defeated by trustees-elect Dr. Michael Owen-Michaane and Ian Rowe, who take office in July.