NEW ROCHELLE, NY — A group of two dozen or so people turned up for a recent meeting of the New Rochelle Board of Education both to defend disgraced school administrator Shadia Alvarez and to condemn this reporter for what one described as a pattern of attacking school administrators of color.
Speaking to members of this group after the meeting, I learned they had met the night before to coordinate their remarks to the school board.
Although a bit muddled at times, the main theme of these speakers from NewROAR or New Rochelle Against Racism is that former New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson and House Principal Shadia Alvarez are victims of racist slander perpetrated by Robert Cox and that in terminating Alvarez the school board is giving into pressure from Robert Cox.
In order to respond to how I understood the remarks of these speakers I first edited video from the meeting to assemble a “greatest hits” collection, then transcribed their remarks, then edited those remarks and re-worded them for clarity, then rearranged them so I could respond in an orderly manner. This was necessary because the remarks as given “live” were not always articulated in a straight line and so confusing when read in a transcript. I did my best to be faithful to the spirit of the remarks.
The entire unedited video is on the District website for comparison.
The idea that there is some sort of racist pattern to my exposing corruption and incompetence in New Rochelle schools would come as news to my targets over the past decade who have been almost entirely white. When you have no defense, as is certainly the case for Shadia Alvarez, playing the race card can be seen for what it is, a desperate attempt by a group of stooges to defend the indefensible.
What follows below is the transcript of the edited video from the New Rochelle Board of Education meeting on December 5th held at Isaac E. Young Middle School, then my edited “call and response” to my understanding of the claims they were making.
DAVID PETERS: My name is David Peters. I live at 60 Locust Avenue. And I’m also a member of NewROAR which is New Rochelle Against Racism.
Now…when I listened to your report here concerning the so-called grade scandal, what I was most often most concerned about quite frankly was the climate in which over this last year…seems to have…where we in my mind we’ve lost our way.
So my concern is whether or not you as a board to the degree to which you are able to function without being unduly influenced by information that I quite frankly, I should have heard here for the first time but for information somehow to leak out into media outlets if you will and for that information to only be housed within the particular board itself and for that to happen greatly concerns me.
What also concerns me is seemingly is this atmosphere of personal destruction which seems to be the way in which our sense of culture and our sense of community is accepting this as the way in which we should function when we should not. It is my belief and others beliefs and others who believe that it we no longer can be a school board or a community where we allow for there to be only seemingly one voice or two voices that get amplified more than others but my greatest concern is there seems to be a sense of believing that. I can not believe that we reached back to a time when Principal Richardson was here and once again created a sense of distrust and mistrust as if there was some conspiracy of making things happen that shouldn’t happen which has consistently been what’s been happening over the last year. To reach back and to describe this man in such a way and then to attach people who he knew such as Ms. Alvarez I’m not going to mention any names but you already mention that name…
JEFFREY HASTIE: No names, no names…
DAVID PETERS: …such as the principal such as the principal any of these things is a horrible thing to happen and so one of the things that I’m interested in and other people are interested in is hopefully that you will take into account how you are being influenced by this atmosphere of destruction and so from that point of view one of things that we want to begin to do is to create another atmosphere for dialog and that atmosphere will be a web site in January around New Rochelle for a Better Tomorrow.
JEFFREY HASTIE: Thank you Mr. Peters. Thank you so much. Let me just say Miss Douglas before you start talking let me just say Mr. Peters there are folks in front of you who are just as outraged as. We are trying to the best that we can, we’re trying to improve as far from an accountability and communications standpoint their community in rebuilding their trust. It does not help when information that we are working with gets leaked out to folks that have no intent to help with the process but more to hurt with the process. You know we’re hoping to change the culture within the District so folks do not feel they have to do that kind of action so we’re just going to <garbled> we’re working our best to change that culture but I appreciate your comments.
DAPHNE DOUGLAS: Good evening. Daphne Douglas.
DAPHNE DOUGLAS: I’m sorry. All of you have a challenging role given the toxic climate filled with intentions to not problem solve but to disproportionally assassinate the character of those of color even after individuals leave the District. We entrust you with the responsibility to make sound, objective decisions based on your expertise, your competence and passion to see our school District succeed which means equitable opportunities that create space for all of your youth to succeed.
SANDRA BERNABEI: My name is Sandy Bernabei and I’m representing, I’m a member of a national network of racial equity professionals and many of them are here tonight
We’ve been watching and we see the struggles that you’ve had all year but we’re also really, really concerned about what we’re seeing we believe that there are professionals among your staff that are being targeted and misrepresented and so I’m here with a package of letters for you to leave with you but a statement to read.
We call on the New Rochelle Board of Education to act with collective wisdom and strength of integrity to interrupt reactive decision making by public opinion. This action must happen against the current backdrop of false news and a culture where honesty is compromised and often not valued which has fueled in this case the reckless writings of a local blogger and then has been cited by newspapers and television as authentic information.
It was appalling to see the extent of such harm through slander when people interviewed by News12 called for a New Rochelle Principal’s resignation based upon incomplete and inaccurate reporting.
The slander of professional educators by this blogger and a pattern of attacks against students at this high school particularly their academic achievements is always suspect because the targets are almost always people of color.
The children are watching and we must not continue to perpetuate a view of their school as a failure. We are negatively impacting them and their self-esteem never mind their sense of respect for the adults entrusted to care for them
We call on the New Rochelle Board of Education and the City of New Rochelle to use their collective wisdom to not react to the blogger but rather stand behind your own determination by investigation but also a fair process.
I know I am not supposed to say this but we are are here support Shadia Alvarez.
JEFFREY HASTIE: No names. No names. No names.
BRUCE SOLOWAY: Good evening. My name is Bruce Soloway. My wife Lourdes and I have lived at 76 Vaughn Avenue for almost 29 years. Our daughter are proud and successful graduates of the New Rochelle public school system. When our children were in school most of their teachers and virtually all of their school’s educational leaders were white.
BRUCE SOLOWAY: New Rochelle has made significant progress since our children were in school. There are now many more teachers and leaders of color in our school system, not enough but a good start.
BRUCE SOLOWAY: This progress was hard won and must never be allowed to be undone whether through simple neglect or through organized efforts by some who consciously or unconsciously be uncomfortable with diversity in leadership.
BRUCE SOLOWAY: When professionals need to have their employment terminated this must be done with the utmost care, fairness and respect but the project of making New Rochelle schools fully representative of our community must never be allowed to be rolled back.
SHANE OSINLOYE: My name is Shane Osinloye. I am a member of NewROAR.
SHANE OSINLOYE: I believe in government accountability and sometimes in national government and state government and politics leaks are a necessary thing because the leaders were not intending on being responsible or conveying information at all but since the public is aware that you intended on reporting on everything that was going on in the District that makes the recent leaks in these circumstances very irresponsible and I hope that those leaks will be as heavily investigated as everything else that happens in New Rochelle.
MYRIAM DECIME: Hi.Myriam Decime. Mount Joy Place.
MYRIAM DECIME: The sad thing is that we have talent in house, Mr. Starvaggi. You have a house principal that’s leaving that we’re doing nothing to try to keep, you have another one that we’re pushing out as a sacrificial lamb for data in a program that your calling cheating and stuff but if we’re investigating we should be investigating how we change grades all across the board. We change grades for AP classes all the time. We give kids incompletes so we can change the grades later so if we want to start questioning how we are changing grades and we really want to have a thorough investigation let’s see how we see change grades across the board. That that’s something we have, we have great talent here but we’re not even keeping them and we talk about how we’re going to get them like with the Superintendent and we have talent here and we are actually pushing the out.
MY REPLIES TO NEWROAR
DAVID PETERS: It greatly concerns me that a confidential report under the complete control of the school board would be leaked to Robert Cox.
I cannot and do not control who leaks documents to me, often I do not know who did the leaking and do not care so long as the information is accurate.
DAVID PETERS: I wonder if you are able to function as a board without being unduly influenced by the leak of the T&M Report to, and publication by, Robert Cox?
Why would my publishing a report on a Monday that the board published on Tuesday raise such concern?
DAVID PETERS: I am concerned that our community has accepted functioning in an atmosphere of personal destruction created by Robert Cox. The school board is being influenced by the atmosphere of destruction created by Robert Cox.
I reported on Shadia Alvarez based on government reports (Office of Special Investigations, Special Commissioner of Investigations, Ernst & Young audit and the T&M Report), Board Resolutions and her own public statements. The reports are damning in and of themselves not because I reported the findings contained in them. Shadia Alvarez destroyed herself through her own, well-documented malfeasance.
DAVID PETERS: The school board, and our community, cannot allow the voice of Robert Cox to be amplified more than others.
It is sad but not atypical to see groups like NewROAR endorse censorship. They are a fundamentally un-democratic group whose idea of a “dialogue” is shouting “racist” at anyone who does not buy into their conspiracy theories of racists under every rock and hiding behind every tree. Theirs is the tactic of the thug and the bully – moving around in packs, resorting to name-calling and threats and intimidation.
DAVID PETERS: Over the past year, Robert Cox has created a sense of distrust and mistrust in our schools, most recently by suggesting Reggie Richardson orchestrated some conspiracy involving Shadia Alvarez and others.
Reggie Richardson hired people with documented histories of malfeasance and put them in positions of power in our high school. These people he hired would not pass a background check to be a UPS package sorter yet he put them on the payroll. He knew exactly who he was hiring, he knew about their nefarious behavior in the New York City Schools. Richardson went through the New York City Leadership Academy with Shadia Alvarez and Kavita Gupta in 2009–10 and he hired both of them soon after he was appointed to the board of the NYCLA. That is not a conspiracy theory that is plain old cronyism.
DAVID PETERS: NewROAR is launching a web site in January called New Rochelle for a Better Tomorrow to counter the influence of Robert Cox on the school board.
The solution to speech you do not like is more speech so best of luck.
JEFFREY HASTIE: We are very angry that Robert Cox stole our thunder by obtaining a copy of the T&M Report and publishing it before we did. What he did served to undermine our effort to portray ourselves as improving accountability and communications. Robert Cox wants to undermine our efforts to present ourselves as working to rebuild trust with the community.
No one from the school board or NewROAR will explain why my publishing the T&M Report a day early is such a big deal to them — unless there was no intention to release the full report. There is nothing in the report that I published or reported upon publishing it that was not disclosed 24 hours later. So, why all the weeping and gnashing of teeth? It is not my job to prop up a dysfunctional school board and assist them in presenting a false narrative that this current school board is better at transparency and openness than past school boards. As the top consumer of that product, I see no difference between this board and past boards.
JEFFREY HASTIE: Robert Cox does not enable us so we can present ourself as transparent and open.
For the obvious reason that this board is not transparent and open.
JEFFREY HASTIE: We are working to deter employees and board members from leaking documents and information to Cox.
DAPHNE DOUGLAS: Robert Cox has created a toxic climate in the New Rochelle School District by assassinating the character of Black and Hispanic employees, in particular Reggie Richardson. The board should ignore Robert Cox and not fire Shadia Alvarez.
Our reporting is based on reality. You can not assassinate the character of people without character. The OSI and SCI reports on Shadia Alvarez and Kavita Gupta speak for themselves.
SANDRA BERNABEI: The New Rochelle Board of Education should not base its decisions on the influence of Robert Cox, a person who has misrepresented and targeted and your staff.
Just words. No examples. Pure baloney.
SANDRA BERNABEI: Robert Cox has recklessly published fake news without regards to honesty.
She sounds like Donald Trump! With regards to Shadia Alvarez, our reporting is based on reports of government investigations which were obtained under Freedom of Information requests and which I published for anyone to read.
SANDRA BERNABEI: Cox is inappropriately cited by newspapers and television as an authentic information source to slander Shadia Alvarez. News12 relied on Cox’s information to prompt people interviewed by Rebecca Solomon to call for the resignation of Shadia Alvarez based on incomplete and inaccurate reporting.
This is utter nonsense. I deal with many people at many news organizations. I wish they would cite me as their source when they report on stories I broke but they rarely do. In this particular case, my report on the SCI Investigation that found Shadia Alvarez left behind $114,000 in unpaid invoices after she was removed from the Collegiate school in the Bronx, News12 did not cite Talk of the Sound as a source on their recent Shadia Alvarez story. They did credit Talk of the Sound for a photo. Rebecca Solomon did contact me but she reached out to SCI on her own to obtain the investigation report. Like me, she reported the information contained in the investigative report. It is this information that she used to interview two women at the Stop & Shop on Palmer Avenue. In short, Ms. Bernabei is talking out of her hat.
SANDRA BERNABEI: Robert Cox has not only slandered professional educators working in New Rochelle and attacked students for their academic achievements but he is racist because he is white and the subjects of his reporting are Black and Hispanic.
If someone thinks they were “slandered” they can sue. I think she means “libeled” which is defamation through the printed word as opposed to “slander” which is defamation through the spoken word. I have not attacked anyone — adults or students— and my reporting is not animated by race or ethnicity. That said, as there is no basis to defend Shadia Alvarez, the NewROAR crowd and their friends fall back on the usual tropes by shouting “racist” at anyone who does not fall in line. That may work with some. I have been doing this a long time and have been called many names and received many threats. So, this kind of garbage does not work with me. In fact, the exact opposite. I drink THEIR milk shake.
SANDRA BERNABEI: Cox has perpetuated a view of New Rochelle High School as a failure which is negatively impacting students self-esteem and their respect for administrators, especially Reggie Richardson and Shadia Alvarez.
Reggie Richardson and Shadia Alvarez are deserving of one thing – contempt. The high school falls or stands on it own. If it is failing it is failing due to a lack of leadership from self-dealing administrators. I don’t run the school. If NewROAR does not like how the high school is run they should take their concerns to the people who run it.
The New Rochelle Board of Education and the City of New Rochelle should ignore Robert Cox and should not fire Shadia Alvarez.
Who the board ignores is not my concern. I serve the interests of my readers. Not the board. Not members of NewROAR.
We oppose Robert Cox and support Shadia Alvarez.
Fine. Even Charles Manson got a lawyer.
BRUCE SOLOWAY: There is an organized efforts led by Robert Cox, a person who is consciously or unconsciously racist, to reverse the trend of more Black and Hispanic teachers and administrators in the New Rochelle school system. The school board must not allow this racist agenda to succeed.
In reality, I have supported and worked to advance these efforts long before anyone from NewROAR even thought to attend a school board meeting. Where were these people in 2010 when this effort began with Mark McLean, Dorothy Oliver and myself?
SHANE OSINLOYE: Leaks are necessary when the government is not being responsible or conveying information but since the school board intended to release the T&M Report anyway, the leaking of the report was very irresponsible.
There is no reason to believe the school board would have released the report without redactions except that a copy was leaked to me and I published it. They had the report for more than a month and did not publish it. Why not? Jeffrey Hastie was clearly upset that I published the report and even accused me of wanting to harm the District. By what tortured logic does this make sense? Is there any claim that I altered the report? No. Any claim that I inaccurately reported the findings of the report? No. Any claim that I disclosed confidential information? No. Given this, what is it that is “irresponsble” about my publishing a document that everyone agrees is a public record? They are just pouting because, having dithered for weeks, they were scooped on their own report.
SHANE OSINLOYE: The leaks should be heavily investigated.
Not really my concern but good luck with that!
SHANE OSINLOYE: Everything that happens in New Rochelle is heavily investigated.
Does this even warrant a response? Absurd on its face. As I explained even the T&M Report he is reacting to was not a “heavy” investigation. It was incomplete in many ways.
MYRIAM DECIME: Shadia Alvarez a sacrificial lamb. She is being fired because she allegedly cheated by changing data in the Apex program which benefits Black and Hispanic students but no one is investigating other forms of cheating in the high school because it benefits White students. We should be investigating how we change grades all across the board. We change grades for AP classes all the time. AP classes are mostly White students. We give White kids incompletes so we can change the grades later.
I agree that Shadia Alvarez did not act alone. I would support expanding the investigation into AP classes or pursuing any other allegation of grade-fixing.
So, that’s about it for now.