Greenwich Gossip

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hamilton Avenue: The Boondoggle Continues...

Having heard some glowing reports of the (finally!) finished (supposedly) Hamilton Avenue School, your scribe was much looking forward to the community open house yesterday evening. But what a disappointment awaited him!

Long, soulless corridors. A senseless U-shaped design that meant one has to walk around three sides of a square to get from one arm of the U to the other. Insufficient parking space. Narrow traffic lanes with high concrete curbs that allow of no misjudgment. And a final sharp drop onto St. Roch Avenue that is sure to snag your tailpipe unless you are driving a high-suspension SUV.

And that's just for starters. The media center is probably the smallest of any in Greenwich. And the air in it is stale, hot, and unbreatheable. Do you want your children to learn how to read, too, dear reader? Then make sure not to send them here.

Of course, the media center was like the North Pole compared to the art room. It was stifling. How can children learn anything in such a torrid and stuffy environment?

But the administrative areas are heremtically sealed, so presumably the administrators can do whatever it is they do (or don't do) in comfort. And the long, soulless corridors, that would make a state prison guard proud, are also nice and cool. But turn off into a classroom, and all bets are off.

The "new" Ham Ave is probably the only school in Greenwich, if not all of Connecticut, that does not have a gymnasium, or a cafeteria, or an auditorium. Instead, it has all three functions jammed together into a single space. Whose brainstorm was this? Just the labor costs alone to transform it from one function into another are mind-boggling. And how pleasant to be eating your lunch right after the sweaty morning PE class. What insanity!

Your scribe ran into Leslie Tarkington of the BET who said, breathlessly, "Isn't it wonderful?" Your scribe replied, equally breathlessly, "Wait till you get to the media center and the art room" - having just come from them, of course.

This morning he ran into Dean Goss of the RTM, who said that the Ham Ave Building Committee was "aware" of a "problem" with the ventilation system. Well, hallelujah! Their awareness that there continue to be problems with the boondoggle that ate Greenwich will surely make everything all right. Perhaps they'll even be able to persuade the Board of Health or the Town's Building Inspector, or whatever State of Connecticut oversight bodies may also have jusrisdiction, that their "awareness" means that this years-late, untold millions over budget nightmare of a train wreck is somehow actually on track. But your scribe, for one, doesn't think so.

The only positive aspect of your scribe's self-guided tour (the format for the evening) was the happy faces of the young children, who are glad (at last!) to be out of the wretched modulars in which most of them have spent the bulk of their elementary educational years. Most of them had no idea what a media center or an art room was. Well, unfortunately, perhaps they still don't.

And so, dear reader, if you want to see your tax dollars at work, be sure to visit the architectural marvel that is the "new" Hamilton Avenue School. Be sure to admire the lovely cornerstone, that gives a date of 2008 (apparently it had to be retro-engineered to accomodate the passage of time as the project lurched from pillar to post, but whoever was in charge of the redating process had his bifocals askew). And, of course, be sure to thank your local administrators and building committee members who made this great Wonder of the World possible.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sidney Freund Comes to Town - Hallelujah!

At 8 AM this morning the Board of Education held an "emergency" meeting to announce that Dr. Sidney A. Freund will be taking over as Superintendent of Schools on July 1. Actually, he will be meeting with faculty and staff members long before then, as he is clearly eager to begin his new job.

What a refreshing change he is from his two predecessors, neither of whom (despite their earned doctorates) was capable of speaking the English language. Instead of an embarrassment, Greenwich now has a true star leading our educational programs in Town. Sid, as he likes to be known (and reportedly he prefers not to be called "doctor", which right away sets him apart from his two pompously vain predecessors who insisted on the title), comes to us most recently from the Dobbs Ferry school system, where he was Superintendent for over six years. His wife, Lisa, teaches just across King Street at the Rye Brook public school. He lives in Scarsdale, which is an easy commute, and has promised that he will be with us for the long term, unlike his short-lived predecessors. Whee!

Articulate, personable, energetic, and immediately likeable - Sid is everything one could hope for in a Superintendent. Oh, and of course very bright as well, with degrees from Cornell, CCNY, and Teachers' College at Columbia. Imagine that! Our Board of Ed has finally hired a teacher to run our school system. Will wonders never cease?

In all seriousness, your scribe wants to thank Steve Anderson, in particular, who served as head of the search committee. He pointed out that the seach included internal as well as external candidates, and even one or more international candidates. Such a pity Steve was not around to lead the prior search committees as well. Except that then, of course, we might not have been looking again, and thus would have missed out on Sid.

As your scribe said to him this morning, Sid can only take the Greenwich school system upwards from here. Greenwich's ranking has been falling sharply of late, and he is definitely the person to lead us out of the Betty Boop doldrums. (Oops - your scribe had promised himself not to sully this post with the name of Sid's predecessor. Well, perhaps he has half-kept that promise.) In Dobbs Ferry, for example, the percentage of students receiving Regents' Diplomas increased from 49% to 91% under his leadership. Standard & Poors named Dobbs Ferry as one of the "outperforming" school districts in the state, and Newsweek ranked it 49th in the country. He even took over a stalled building project and brought it to successful completion.

Can Sid Freund also walk on water? It remains to be seen. But your scribe confidently predicts that the Town of Greenwich is about to embark on a long and happy love affair with our new Superintendent of Schools. Welcome, Sid! We are lucky to have you with us, and very proud as well. We hope you will be equally proud of us.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Tony Mullen, National Teacher of the Year

Once in a while, dear reader, something happens that makes us all truly proud to be a resident of the Town of Greenwich. Arch Street teacher and former NYPD homicide detective Tony Mullen has been named the 2009 National Teacher of the Year, and addressed a group of about 100 students, colleagues, politicians, and well-wishers today at Julian Curtiss School, where the inclement weather had forced the proceedings indoors. Fresh from a black-tie gala in Washington and a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House, Tony told us that this was the event of the past week that meant the most to him, because he could share it with his students, fellow teachers, and the Greenwich community.

His low-key humor was captivating. He described the agony of waiting in the Roosevelt Room, with his Secret Service minders constantly counting down the minutes until his Oval Office meeting with the President, as though he weren't already nervous enough without their assistance. Then, just as he was ready for the big moment, they told him he was on hold for another ten minutes, as the President could not be located and was (they assumed) running late.

Actually, the President was right on schedule. He popped unexpectedly out of a side door, put his arm around Tony, and said it was nice to meet him. Leaving the Secret Service minders in their dust, the President himself escorted Tony to the Oval Office, where he acknowledged that this would be his first official Rose Garden ceremony. Not to be outdone, Tony admitted that it was his first, as well.

Tony told us that the teacher-student relationship is the most important aspect of education. Each student has his or her own backstory, and the teacher's job is to work with the students to help them "write a happy ending," to "radically transform their fractured lives." "Origin is not destiny," he reminded the students there, referring to them as "apprentice adults". Finally, as he reminded all of us, "I am the face" that represents all dedicated teachers everywhere, in every town and city across the country, and indeed across the world.

Tony himself will be spending the next year criss-crossing the country, speaking on behalf of the teaching profession. But he will be coming back to Greenwich regularly to keep tabs on his students, before he rejoins them full-time in the classroom the following year. The respect and affection his students have for him was quite evident at the ceremony; one young lady sang "To Sir, With Love" from the 1967 film of the same name. There was hardly a dry eye in the house.

Of course, we had to put up with the inane natterings of the ineffable Betty Sternberg, who seemed to regard Tony as her own personal triumph, since she had, as she reminded us more than once, been the one to pick him from the six local finalists. As usual, her natterings were more about herself than Tony, down to the choice Bettyism that epitomizes just how poorly qualified she is to have been the local Superintendent of Schools (at ruinous cost, both financial and educational) for the past three years. Today's prize blooper (just one of many, to be sure) was this:

"The students attributed him to saving their lives."

This woman is such an embarrassment! Thankfully, she has less than two months remaining in office, before she walks away with over a million dollars in salary and benefits for her multitude of disservices to the Town. Will she also be getting a pension, all the more to further our economic woes? Your scribe shudders at the possibility.

But we can't let an embarrassment like Betty ruin an otherwise wonderful occasion. Frankly, seeing Tony juxtaposed with her, it was clear to everyone in the room that he would have made a much better Superintendent than she has been. And if the Board of Education has any sense at all left in their heads, Tony's name should go on a short list of local candidates who could try to restore some sanity to the school system after the Betty Sternberg train wreck of the past three years.

How say you, gentle reader? Tony Mullen for Superintendent? Oh, sure, he probably doesn't meet the list of qualifications that the "experts" have drawn up. Which, some would say, is probably a positive thing. "He's only a teacher," one can hear the "experts" sniff. He is, however, the BEST high school teacher in America. The President says so, and more importantly, so do his students. Do you think Tony Mullen could whip the Greenwich school system back into the shape it used to be in its glory days? Your scribe, for one, doesn't have any doubt about it.

Let's hear it, folks: Tony Mullen for Superintendent of Schools!