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Emotions Run High At Glen Cove BOE Meeting

Retirees honored, candidate for assistant superintendent position debated

The final Glen Cove Board of Education meeting of the 2011-12 school year sparked expressions of joy, passion and anger, in a meeting that began on a high, celebratory note and soon spiraled downward. While many attendees were there to show support for district retirees, the majority of the standing-room-only crowd came to raise concerns about the district’s choice for the assistant superintendent for curriculum position.

A last minute addendum was made to the agenda to vote on the hiring of the new assistant superintendent, which had been discussed in the board’s executive session prior to the meeting. After the commendations, the public was given a chance to speak on agenda items, and those who spoke were not afraid to express their opinions about which candidate should get the job.

Resident Maureen Pappachristou mentioned some of the research she had done on the superintendent’s choice for the position, stating that some of the information she had found raised “red flags.” She referred to a “qualified in-house candidate” who she believed should be promoted to the position and said to the board, “Go with the recommendation of the community.”

Resident Zefy Christopoulos also urged the board to “promote from within,” referring to Landing Elementary School Principal Dr. Michael Israel, and mentioned some of the leadership and educational qualifications possessed by this candidate; resident Carla Santella agreed that she would like to see advancement of a district employee, and resident Mrs. Bouza pleaded, “Why can’t we keep one of our own?”

Resident Michael Brenner said he has had experience with candidate searches and has been on both sides, and stated that the decision is one that must be carefully considered. “In all my years in the district, I’ve seen countless administrators come and go. It’s been a revolving door,” he said, asking the board to really look at the qualifications of the candidates before making a decision.

Superintendent Dr. Joseph A. Laria thanked the community members for stating their opinions and participating in the civil discourse. “I appreciate your passion, your commitment and your loyalty to one of Glen Cove’s fine people,” he began. “I was asked by the board to post the position externally to look for the best possible candidate, and it was done on a very level playing field. I vetted and checked out every candidate very deeply.”

The superintendent recommended Dr. Stephanie Clagnaz as his choice for assistant superintendent of curriculum. Clagnaz is currently employed as assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Hempstead Public School District.

He continued by saying the allegations on an issue the candidate was involved in were “totally bogus” stressing, “I had to make a judgment call. History will show whether I was right or wrong. I would never make a recommendation that would, in the long run, hurt children.”

Before the board voted on approving the hiring of the candidate, members were given a chance to discuss the matter. Trustee Joel Sunshine said that, in his four years of service as a board member, choosing the candidate for this position was the “most difficult decision” he has had to make. He said he planned to vote in accordance with the superintendent’s recommendation, as he felt it is best to “defer to the educational expert” on a matter such as this because he has “respect for the procedure.”

Sunshine mentioned that people had asked him individually to vote against the candidate but felt that would betray his commitment to the community who voted for him to be a representative on the board. He said that the screening committee had brought forth two candidates that they “overwhelmingly supported” and then the board went ahead with the interview process. Acknowledging the people in the room who had come out in support of the other candidate, he said, “I will not give in to the mob.”

The comment was met with outrage among the audience members, who stood up and shouted back at him; Board President Richie Maccarone took the microphone and expressed his own opinion to Sunshine, telling him not to insult the community members in such a way.

Once things had calmed down, Trustee Gail Nedbor-Gross told the public that she planned to vote “from the heart” and Maccarone said, “I, too, vote from the heart, and my idea is to promote from within.”

The item to approve the superintendent’s choice then went to vote, failing by a four to three vote – which received a round of applause. Nedbor-Gross and Maccarone, along with Trustees Barrie Dratch and David Huggins all voted against the superintendent’s recommendation, while Trustees Sunshine, Ida McQuair and Grady Farnan voted for it.

Nedbor-Gross suggested hiring the second candidate as an interim position. The board went back into executive session to discuss the matter, then returned to say they first need to discuss it with legal counsel. Huggins said they hope to have direction later this week, and put it to a vote in a special meeting that could take place on Friday.

In new business, the board approved the naming of the high school track in memory of Albert “AJ” Johnson as petitioned by district residents.

Of the late coach, Sunshine said, “He went way over the minimum requirements as a teacher and a coach.”

“He was the first person who would tell people to join together and do what’s right for the district,” said Farnan. “He was a great man.”

The meeting also marked the last for Maccarone, who is ending his three-year tenure as a board member.

“We are very grateful for the service rendered by him,” Dr. Laria said. “I always say that community service is the rent we pay for occupying space in this miracle of a place called America. Richie has paid his rent a hundred times over.”