NEW ROCHELLE, NY — As speaker after speaker, many of them prominent members of New Rochelle’s black community, rose at Tuesday’s board meeting to condemn the board’s decision to hire Dr. Laura Feijóo as the new Schools Superintendent over concerns with a lawsuit she filed against the New York City school system alleging reverse racism, none raised concerns about her credentials or qualifications.
In a post-meeting sit-down with board members including President Amy Moselhi, Vice President Paul Warhit, Rachel Relkin and Lianne Merchant, many of the most prominent African-Americans in the City pressed their concerns about the lawsuit but none, according to multiple sources who were present, disputed she has a sterling curriculum vitae.
The board released Dr. Feijóo’s resume and biography yesterday. No one of substance has disputed that she is well-qualified for the position. There is no getting around the fact that she is an experienced, highly-qualified educator who is more than capable of leading the City School District of New Rochelle.
At the same time, it is difficult to reconcile the District’s Strategic Roadmap, developed under Dr. Brian Osborne’s tenure to foster diversity among staff and administrators by prioritizing the hiring of Black and Hispanic candidates over White candidates, with Dr. Feijóo’s lawsuit which claims the New York Schools Chancellor prioritized promoting Black and Hispanic candidates over Feijoo who is White.
At the board meeting, Lianne Merchant and newcomer Valarie Williams both expressed disappointment with the Board’s decision to hire Feijóo and Amy Moselhi and Julia Muggia Ochs acknowledged the pain expressed by several speakers. At the “second meeting” Rachel Relkin expressed her regret for the pain caused to those raising concerns about the nature of the lawsuit.
All of this begs the question, how did Dr. Feijóo get on the board’s radar, what sort of due diligence was done and why did board members fail to understand the implications of her lawsuit?
The board hired Dr. Harold A. Coles, District Superintendent for Southern Westchester BOCES, to lead a Superintendent Search in the Fall of 2018. The job was posted in January with an application deadline of February 14, 2019.
Board President Jeffrey Hastie later reported that the District received 37 qualified applications. That number was narrowed to five candidates who were interviewed. Towards the end of April, Hastie sent out an email to the school community saying he had hoped to announce a new Superintendent in April but expected to make an announcement in May. Those hopes were dashed with Hastie announcing in mid-June that the board had been unable to come to an agreement with their first choice.
Talk of the Sound confirmed this timeline with newly elected Board President Amy Moselhi and asked a few questions:
TOTS: Was Dr. Feijóo part of the original pool of applicants?
MOSELHI: No she was not. The BOE was eager to get as much community input as possible. As such, we created a more “open” interview process where some administrators and some teachers were invited into the interviewing process. When we were unable to settle on a negotiated contract with our first candidate, Dr. Coles shocked us with information about five additional candidates that applied that were never interviewed. When we asked how that could be and why they pulled out, we were told it was because they were sitting superintendents and wanted to ensure confidentiality. They were willing to come and interview if it was only the BOE. She was in that second pool of applicants that Dr. Cole told us applied by the deadline but pulled out when they heard about our process.
TOTS: When did Dr. Coles first submit her for consideration?
MOSELHI: I do not know what day she submitted her application. All applications were submitted to Dr. Coles directly. We were informed she, along with 4 others, were interested and had applied but pulled out.
TOTS: What subsequent meetings took place once she was identified?
MOSELHI: We interviewed her and had a dinner interview with her, we conducted background checks and reference checks though Dr. Coles and our attorneys.
The Board was aware of the lawsuit but several board members have acknowledged they did not fully appreciate how the details of the case would be received within the minority community.
“We were aware of the lawsuit,” said Board President Amy Moselhi. “We are listening and processing the information shared by an articulate, passionate group of advocates for the African American community.”
“We hope to emerge with a plan that sets NR and all our students up for success,” she added.
Questions have been raised as to why Feijóo’s contract contains undated signatures by Feijóo and Hastie. Moselhi told Talk of the Sound that Feijoo signed on the morning of June 28th and Hastie signed prior to the school board meeting later that afternoon. There was no explanation why the signatures were not dated.