Looking Back at December 2018 Town Hall Meeting on Superintendent Search which Resulted in Hiring Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — On December 4, 2018 the New Rochelle Board of Education hosted a Town Hall on the Superintendent Search. The one-hour event was officially billed as an “Introduction by Jeffrey Hastie, Board of Education President, and consultant, Dr. Harold A. Coles, District Superintendent, Southern Westchester BOCES” where community members in attendance were invited to submit questions and BOCES staff would record public comment.

Board Member Paul Warhit served as Moderator for what he described as a Town Hall on the Superintendent Search.

This reporter asked two questions of Dr. Coles.

(see video)

1. Would Dr. Coles consider forming a committee of people with long experience in the community, with education, with school administration to serve as an advisory group for board members as they went through the search process. In retrospect, such a citizens advisory committee was required under board policy #8260 and the failure to form such a committee is now the basis for ongoing litigation in New York State Supreme Court.

What is Dr. Coles’ batting average with Superintendent Searches; how many of them had he led and what was the success rate with “success” defined as, the people that he placed were renewed by the local board at the end of their initial contract.

Hastie and Coles took a moment to discuss responding before Hastie said there would be no response to the “batting average” question and then gave a non-responsive reply to the “committee” question.

There should have been no need to ask any questions about Dr. Coles’ background. Typically, a consultant will introduce themselves by stating their qualifications for the assignment they have been hired to complete. Coles provided no information about himself nor were any documents like a CV distributed at the meeting. So when Hastie says Cole’s background speaks for himself (sic) the people in the room would have no idea about that as the public was not provided any information on Coles’ background.

Dr. Coles later circled back to the “batting average” question and said he had led three Superintendent Searches in his career. He did not address how many of those searches resulted in the person being renewed at the end of their initial contract. This may be because one of the three included New Rochelle and the other two searches resulted in hires that were still in the initial contract period at the time so the answer would be that he had zero “successful” searches and did not want to admit to his limited record. The question was asked because Coles has extremely weak qualifications for the task. Prior to taking the position at BOCES, Coles ran a microscopically small “special” school district of about 75 students with a dozen or so teachers and prior to that had no administrative experience at all. Given the reaction to the hiring of Dr. Feijoo it is hard to imagine anyone would consider her to be a “successful” hire, at this early stage she seems highly unlikely to be renewed in 2022.

Hastie’s supposed justification for not addressing the “batting average” question was that the purpose of the meeting was not for people to ask questions about Dr. Coles qualifications or background and that there was limited time and Hasie did not want to take up time with such questions. There was limited time because Hastie chose to schedule the Town Hall 65 minutes immediately before a school board meeting rather than have an input session on a separate night as was done for the search that led to the hiring of Dr. Osborne. Having created an arbitrarily limited deadline to end the meeting, Hastie justified excluding the “batting average” question because of the short length of the meeting he had established. Despite this, a few minutes later, Coles answered the question anyway. The answer took up all of 34 seconds during which once Coles got to the point took 5 seconds to say that “honestly” he had led 3 searches in his career. Moments later Hastie asked his own question about Coles’ background: how many Superintendent Searches had occurred on his watch as BOCES Superintendent. Coles said he did not know, then added “maybe 7 or 8”. There were additional background questions ilke this, none of which were blocked by Hastie.

Hastie ignored the question about forming an advisory committee of experienced school community members, instead saying that Dr. Coles would be meeting with employees and students to take their input on creating a job description for the job posting, a non-responsive reply to the actual question. This question was asked based on the history of the board deferring to one board member throughout the entire hiring process for Richard Organisciak (Jerome Smith) and Brian Osborne (David Lacher) and the resulting “failed” superintendencies. In the case of Feijóo the board once again deferred to one board member (Hastie).

Over the course of the meeting, Hastie talked the most — with board member Amy Moselhi often chiming in — often to admonish the public for asking questions (which was the stated purpose of the meeting) rather than answering the questions Hastie and Dr. Coles had prepared for the public in advance.

A brief summary of the meeting follows with occasional time stamps thrown in as markers in the event people want to jump to that section of the full video linked below.

Coles says James Gratto is assisting in the search. James Gratto, Jr. is the Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services at Southern Westchester BOCES and the NYSED Test Security Unit Integrity Officer for Westchester. Gratto had, at this point, had been engaged with the District on the Apex grade inflation investigation for 7 months. Later the same evening, at the board meeting on December 4th, Hastie would release the T&M Report on Apex, announce the report was being turned over to NYSED’s Test Security Unit and mention Gratto by name. So, Gratto was both part of the Apex investigation and part of the Superintendent search.

Coles addresses Jeffrey Hastie as “Doctor Hastie” which was not corrected by “Mister Hastie”.

During the meeting, Hastie announces a timeline for the Superintendent Search process:

  • Job Posting live on December 21, 2018 (or Dec. 28)
  • Application Deadline – February 2019
  • Initial interviews with candidates – March 2019
  • Offer to the chosen candidate – April 2019.
  • New Superintendent start date – August 1, 2019

The Board made an offer to Feijóo in June 2019 and her start date was November 1, 2019.

The meeting begin with Dr. Coles asking a series of questions (less than 10 people responded, some several times):

Coles Question 1: District’s Greatest strengths?

  • Our kids
  • Our people
  • Our diversity
  • Chess
  • Sports
  • Counselors at the high school

Amy Moselhi interrupts.

Coles Question 2: District’s Greatest challenges?

  • No diversity of thought (Malfetano)
  • No diversity of thought (Laraine Karl)
  • Communications (Fran)
  • Taking ownership of problems, admitting you messed up (Fran)
  • Transparency – (Denise Ward)
  • Only focused on helping failing students
  • Education determined by zip code
  • Lincoln district kids on buses for 1.5 hours

Hastie interrupts, tells people to address remarks to superintendent search, Amy Moselhi interrupts, tells people to address remarks to superintendent search. Both apparently oblivious to the fact that the questions asked by Coles were both about the District not about the superintendent search.

(Time Stamp 16:45)

Coles Question 3: Characteristics/Qualities needed by a Superintendent to be successful in New Rochelle

  • Vision
  • Understand diversity, in pedagogy and curriculum (NRHS teacher)

Hastie interrupts, remarks on this question.

  • Candidate should not necessarily live in New Rochelle bu at least not live outside Westchester (Laraine Karl)

(Time Stamp 20:36)

Hastie interrupts, says board will require Superintendent to live within a certain radius.

NOTE: the official job description later specified a 15 mile radius; Feijoo lives in Long Island, more than 30 miles from New Rochelle.

  • A person not afraid to lose their job (Vince Malfetano)
  • Who are the people on the 5 committees meeting with Dr. Coles on Monday (Vince Malfetano) (Time Stamp: 22:30)
  • No person from New York City (Vince Malfetano)

Hastie interrupts, says Dr. Coles will meet Monday with union reps, administrators, teachers, students, no community groups.

  • Smart
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • CEO who looks at school as a business (Darren Feldman)
  • Person who addresses issues at school level (Peggy Godfrey)
  • Person who recognizes teachers who get results (Peggy Godfrey)
  • Doctorate
  • Vast Experience
  • Had success in large school system
  • Does not rely on standardized test scores
  • Open-minded
  • Must live in New Rochelle
  • Accountability to the Board
  • Open-minded (Peter Cantone)
  • Vision (Peter Cantone)
  • Thinks outside box
  • Knowledge of special education students
  • Raise the bar for everyone
  • Be a role model
  • Takes hold of a District like ours (Pearl Quarles)
  • Not from far away, not from Michigan for example (Pearl Quarles)
  • Knows New Rochelle (Pearl Quarles)
  • CEO
  • Not someone from outside
  • Not a stats person
  • Proactive
  • Takes responsibility for fixing mistakes

(Time Stamp: 43:38)

Cox Questions and Follow-on Discussion
(Time Stamp: 43:45 – 51:36)

Committee Question: would you (Dr. Coles) consider creating an advisory committee comprised of people with subject matter expertise who worked in our school community at a high level to assist the Board in evaluating administrative talent, old hands, around for decades, who know a lot about this community and education and administration in our school district that had a great deal of success on their watch?

Coles Batting Average: how many searches have you done, how many resulted in hire being extended after their initial contract?

Hastie interrupts, says Coles record speaks for itself, forum is not for questioning the search consultant, Dr Coles, current employees will provide feedback on job description. Coles says plan is to have a voice to give feedback to board.

  • Batting average question is fair (some other guy)

Coles Question 4: Important Goals next 3 years

Coles goes back to batting average question. Coles says he has done 3 searches over 6 years, no mention of “success”. Coles then moves on to fifth question so no one addressed the “goals” question.

Coles Question 5: What questions to ask board

Hastie and Coles talk, with the meeting almost over Hastie says they will now open up the meetings to questions from the public. No one answers Coles Questions 4 or 5.

Before the public can ask a question, Hastie interrupts to ask his own question. He has just said a few minutes earlier that there was no time to ask questions about Coles’ background then blocks the public from finally asking their own questions by asking Dr. Coles about his background then asks, how many Superintendent searches have occurred in Southern Westchester BOCES since he was hired six year ago. Coles say “I “couldn’t tell you” then says “7 or 8”.

(Time Stamp: 52:06)

Public Questions/Comments:

  • Someone who listens to the board
  • Have school and city meetings on different nights
  • Hire someone from inside who is “seasoned” (Peter Cantone)
  • Was there ever a post-mortem on failure of Osborne

Somehow this question is OK. Hastie answers, at length. Osborne’s problem, says Hastie, was his interpersonal skills because he had an inability to relate to Hastie. Also, the community. Hastie says Osborne had a “rigid adherence to a governance model that did not work for our district” (in other words, Superintendent Osborne did not defer to “Doctor Hastie” on how to run the District).

  • Microphone separates public from board (Vince Malfetano)
  • Do you have some one you want to go after to hire (Hinkey)
  • If you hire a CEO them get them support
  • Is there some “package” of what will be offered to the candidate

Hastie says there will be a package with a salary and a residency requirement.

NOTE: the official job description later specified a 15 mile radius; Feijoo lives in Long Island, more than 30 miles from New Rochelle.


(Time Stamp 65:05)