Dr. Jonathan Brice’s appointment as Chair the Task Force on Reducing Violence in the Lives of Children and Youth was announced Monday by the New Rochelle Board of Education. We spoke with Dr. Brice later that day to ask questions we think are on the minds of many New Rochelle residents.
TALK OF THE SOUND: When do you intend to start work? When do you expect to complete work? How often you will be meeting? The sort of work that will be done by the Task Force?
DR. BRICE: I expect to be in the District some time this week. I expect to make a report out on recommendations some time mid-to-late April. We are working on a pretty expedited time line. That time line is expedited because the way school systems work clearly the board will need time to review the recommendations, decide on which ones they want to implement now, which ones they may choose not to implement. And you still have to make decisions prior to the start of the new school year. So, it’s important that we do a thorough and complete job but also one that gives them an opportunity to get in front of their process
TALK OF THE SOUND: How do you intend to address the meta-issue of bring a committee together, to work together and how do you expect that to work out in terms of assembling a team and getting everybody on the same page to move forward?
DR. BRICE: I think first and foremost, it’s identifying the folks that would be on the team, identifying the charge, and the process by which we would work and then working through the collection of data, the different policies and practices, getting input from the broader community. All of those things, coming together, should enable us to have a complete body of work and yet do it in a time frame that allows us to report out by the mid-to-end of April.
TALK OF THE SOUND: What do you expect of a member of the Task Force in terms of work, time commitment?
DR. BRICE: Anybody that would be interested to be a member of the Task Force should be someone that is clearly committed to the youth of New Rochelle, committed to reading the voluminous amounts of materials, being open to hearing different points of view, and ultimately someone that has the time in their schedule because there will be meetings but there will also be times where they are working outside of those meetings in order to be prepared for the next meeting. It will certainly take a time commitment but that is also another reason why assembling a team, giving them a charge, and working pretty feverishly for a set amount of time will hopefully get us to the desired outcome which are strong recommendations about ways the New Rochelle community can support students in their schools.
I would expect we are going to have a number of meetings but I don’t want to say it will be every week but I would expect we will meet very frequently. I would also expect there will be telephone conversations, email exchanges as we go through the materials and hear from the broader community so that we can identify recommendations.
TALK OF THE SOUND: Would it be fair to say that prospective members should come prepared to work?
DR. BRICE: Absolutely. We certainly want a broad cross-section of the New Rochelle community. I think anyone who is a member of this task force recognizes the value and importance of doing some really good work for the young people of New Rochelle.
TALK OF THE SOUND: A retired New Rochelle High School Principal with extensive experience in the New Rochelle School District recently told me he believes it is extremely difficult for somebody to come from outside New Rochelle whether it be a Superintendent or New Rochelle High School Principal because New Rochelle is a complex community that requires a lot of understanding. You have not been in New Rochelle or connected to New Rochelle in any way. Do you see that as a legitimate concern and how do you intend to overcome that?
DR. BRICE: Anytime you are going to a place that you have not been, you recognize that context is important. Part of the work I will be doing over this period of time is understanding that context and being able to take the context that is New Rochelle and the things that make New Rochelle unique but also applying them against a global perspective. For example, a great high school is a great high school is a great high school. There are great high schools all over this country. The difference between a great high school in New Rochelle and a great high school some place else is that they may have an emphasis that is not quite the same. What is incumbent on me coming in to New Rochelle is to understand that context to the best of my ability and then compare what is great about the school and the school system and those areas that might be challenges and to understand what that means within the totality. I don’t want to have blinders and at the same time don’t want to underestimate the importance of context and culture and community.
TALK OF THE SOUND: Many people in New Rochelle were expecting the head of this committee would be a person from New Rochelle so how is it that you came to this position?
DR. BRICE: The Board President reached out to me. I think she got my name from the Superintendent who looked at his network and got recommendations of who they should have a conversation with and I was on the list. We had a conversation. We have been able to reach terms on what the scope of work, sharing what the task force would be and as a result I am here.
TALK OF THE SOUND: Do you have any prior experience with anyone involved in running the School District or the City?
DR. BRICE: I do not.
TALK OF THE SOUND: So, you don’t know any of the players?
DR. BRICE: No. I do not know the players. Because I am in education I know a number of people and may have attended the same schools but I don’t know the people so it gives me the ability to be independent. I have also had experience by working in a number of school systems as well as the national level so that it gives me a pretty broad perspective.
TALK OF THE SOUND: How are you going to wade through applications from a group of people you do not know to come up with a team?
DR. BRICE: It will require me to review the applications. Some of the positions are clear. For example, clearly we would want representatives from local law enforcement. We would want representatives from local child welfare agencies, we want individuals that have experience with community service agencies, we would want students represented and parents, we would certainly want to hear from teachers and administrators. Knowing there are certain positions I would be looking for it helps to make a potentially large applicant pool smaller because I am looking for several people that have this experience and several people that have that experience and that is how you build a team.
TALK OF THE SOUND: Will some organizations or agencies have an allotment of seats, for example will you rely on the police department to recommend someone from their agency?
DR. BRICE: I certainly think that is a possibility. While they may make that recommendation ultimately I need to make sure all the candidates fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. I don’t want to say everyone that is recommended by every organization would necessarily fit but that is what the application process and review process is for, to figure out “do we have the right fit?”
TALK OF THE SOUND: What will the public see in terms of open meetings, a report, an appendix with details in the back of the report?
DR. BRICE: The community should see meetings being scheduled, being held, conducted. I know that we want to hear from the broader community. And I say “we” because this is inclusive work and not something one person does but actually the entire task force. We would certainly want to see a host of community input and so we would have some opportunity for that input to be collected and ideas to be shared as well as time where it’s going to be a review of documents and policies and practices and ideas being generated from that as well. There will be a report as well as a presentation some time in mid-to-late April. As far as an appendix, the question we have to grapple with is to what extent all of the back up materials are provided. Clearly there will be some. I just don’t know to what extent every document that is collected and reviewed will be included, we would have to make that determination.
TALK OF THE SOUND: The taxpayers of New Rochelle pay a fairly large amounts of money to the people who run our school district. There are a number who make over $200,000 a year. So, why hire you? What specific skills do you possess beyond those we already pay a lot of money?
DR. BRICE: A couple. First, this is not a reflection on the New Rochelle team but when you have serious incidents, having someone that has an independent perspective that can lead us through this process is helpful, it’s beneficial. What it does is, because I am independent, increase the likelihood that the information that is found, the recommendations that are made are in the best interests of what could potentially be what the board uses to decide what they’re going to do. So, I think independence is number one. Number two, I have a unique skill set having worked in multiple school districts, in multiple states, and also at the national level that really prepares me to understand some of the issues that are likely to be found. I have been really fortunate to have a wealth if experiences, some good, some not so good, including having to deal with the death of a student on a school campus that give me a unique perspective in this work. With all those things in mind there are some good support I can bring to this work in New Rochelle.
TALK OF THE SOUND: What would you want to get across to New Rochelle residents about what you are doing?
DR. BRICE: I am coming to work with members of the New Rochelle community that are invested in making sure the youth of New Rochelle are provided with the appropriate level of support and resources so that they can be successful both academically as well as in terms of safety, in terms of psychological well-being and this is work that not just the school system but the entire New Rochelle community has to embrace because the young people of any community are not the responsibility of the school system but the responsibility of the entire community.
TALK OF THE SOUND: Thank you for your time and good luck with the Task Force.
DR. BRICE: You’re welcome.