A History of New Rochelle Alternative High School 1970 to 2020

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — There has been an intermittent effort over the past five years to find a new home for the Alternative High School, housed since 1992 at St. Gabes School at 50 Washington Avenue.

The relocation effort stalled in 2018 with the departure of former Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration Jeff White but was revived with the arrival of Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo in November 2019.

The poorly conceived recommendation to move the Campus School from St. Gabes to the Family Life Center at Bethesda Baptist Church by administrative fiat met stiff resistance when first presented to the school board on June 23rd. Even Feijóo supporters on the School Board like former Board President Amy Moselhi — who many believe orchestrated the Bethesda recommendation in concert with her close friend David Peters, a Deacon at Bethesda — criticized Feijóo for her failure to actively engage the school community prior to making her recommendation.

The blowback over the high-handed approach to the Bethesda proposal was so severe that, two weeks later, 7 of 9 board members voted to oust Moselhi and Board Vice President Paul Warhit as board officers, replacing them respectively with Rachel Relkin and William Ianuzzi. With the Bethesda deal all but dead, Dr. Feijóo proposed moving the Alternative Campus “back” to New Rochelle High School. Two days later, late last week, the Archdiocese of New York announced the closing of Holy Family School, a facility that was overhauled by the City School District of New Rochelle in 2015 after a ceiling collapse closed Daniel Webster Elementary School for the first half of the 2015-16 school year. School officials toured the Holy Family School on Friday and will make a report to the school board on Wednesday.

The board discussion about relocating the Campus School has been hampered by an absence of institutional knowledge about the Campus School.

Many readers will be familiar with the aphorism “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” but few know the entire passage, written by philosopher George Santayana in his book “The Life of Reason”:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

On a school board where only one of nine members is in their second term in office (Relkin) and the Superintendent’s cabinet has just a single member with more than 9 months working in New Rochelle (Dr. Anthony Bongo), the school leadership finds itself, like Santayana’s “savages”, in a perpetual state of “infancy”. Not only does school leadership not know the history of the Campus School they now propose to tear from its roots, they have shown a remarkable absence of curiosity about that history.

This article, based on interviews with a dozen current and former senior-level employees and school board members, spanning 5 decades, is an attempt to provide the “retentiveness” missing from the recent board discussions on the future of the Campus School.

What is today known as the Alternative High School at St. Gabes or the “Campus School” is an amalgam of several programs which operated in New Rochelle between 1970 and 1994 then came together under one roof at St. Gabes between 1992 and 1994: the PROP Program (1977 to 1992), the Prep Program often referred to as “Sister Helen’s” (1970 to 1994), the Homebound Program (1993 to 1994), and students who struggled at New Rochelle High School for various reasons (1992).

The core of what became the Campus School was known as “PROP”, an acronym for “Positive Relations Opportunities Program.” PROP was created in 1977 as a joint effort of the New York State Office of Mental Health and the City School District of New Rochelle. A number of students in the PROP program were considered “mentally disturbed” youngsters at the time — today such students are classified with an “emotional disability”.

The district supplied the building and pedagogical staff: two to three teachers a year and one teacher’s assistant; the State supplied and paid for all support staff. PROP as a state-funded program operated in the New Rochelle schools for 6 years before being taken over fully by the district in 1983.

PROP was initially housed at the long-closed and since sold Washington School at 60 Union Avenue near Odell Place. From 1977 to 1980, PROP occupied the second floor of Washington School. A Special Education program operated on the first floor. About 25 students — all “classified students” with Individualized Education Plans— were enrolled in PROP.

The building, visible from Union Avenue behind a black metal fence, still stands today as senior housing attached to the Washington House Apartments which were built on the front lawn of the former district property in the early 1980s.

Washington School was closed as a neighborhood elementary school in the 1950s. In the 1960s, high school students in the Business program attended classes like bookkeeping, typing and stenography at Washington School.

After New Rochelle High School was heavily damaged following an arson fire on May 17, 1968, most New Rochelle High School students were dispersed to Isaac E. Young Junior High School and Junior High School to finish out the school year on a split session, sharing those spaces with middle school students.

In the Fall of 1968, temporary “trailer” classrooms were set up on McKenna Field and most students returned to the campus of New Rochelle High School. The business students continued at Washington School until the high school was fully-reopened in the 1971-1972 school year at which point they were relocated to New Rochelle High School.

In 1980, PROP relocated to the YMCA at 175 Memorial Highway, now a medical office. The program had about 30 students, all classified. The building had a gymnasium, swimming pool, squash and handball courts. The second floor was residential space where people could rent rooms. FBI agents, based out of what is now the Radisson Hotel in downtown New Rochelle, used the Y as a fitness center.

During the early 1980s, the City School District of New Rochelle — facing significant fiscal constraints, minority isolation and declining enrollment — put forward a plan to close four elementary schools: Mayflower, Roosevelt, Barnard and Stephenson. The reorganization plan was developed and executed by then-Assistant Superintendent Dr. LaRuth Gray.

Dr. Gray is a prominent educator who was honored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Alliance for Arts Education as an outstanding educator contributing to and supporting the arts in education. She has written numerous papers and is on the faculty at New York University. Her daughter Dierdra Clark is President of the New Rochelle Public Library Board of Trustees.

Gray began her career in education as a teacher in the New Rochelle City School District. She was appointed Chairperson of the Language Arts Department, then a Principal, then Director of Instruction and finally Assistant Superintendent. She left New Rochelle to become Superintendent of the Abbott Union Free District before retiring in 1989.

She has published a number of histories of the public school system in New Rochelle: “Aspirations and Achievements of Italian and Black American Youths in the New Rochelle Public Schools” (1983), “The Twin Problems of Declining Enrollment and Fiscal Constraints; A Dissemination Model for Community-­Based Decision­-Making for the Experience of the City School District of New Rochelle” (1994). In 2019, she independently published a book on desegregation in New Rochelle Schools entitled What about Barnard?: Phase II Reorganization of the City of New Rochelle School District (1978-1983)

With the district re-organization plan complete, PROP moved in 1983 to the now-closed Mayflower School. At the time, the property was still owned by the district. PROP shared the building with Iona College students and had full gym access. The program still had about 30 students, still all were classified students. In 1985, Iona College bought the Mayflower School and PROP was forced to relocate.

PROP relocated to Barnard School in 1985, taking up half of the second floor, sharing it with a Montessori School. PROP took up 4 classrooms and had full gym access. All PROP students were classified. The first floor was occupied by BOCES and a pre-K program. PROP served about 25 students with 5 teachers, two teaching assistants, one psychologist and a part-time social worker — eventually taking up 6 classrooms and a cafeteria area.

The Prep Program which predated PROP by several years, operated in parallel to PROP.

The Prep program was housed at the Remington Boys and Girls Club from around 1970 to 1994. Known as “Sister Helen’s”, the program included several part-time teachers and about 15 students, ages 14 to 21, mostly non-classified students kids who were considered “fragile” or needed tutoring or had been suspended or some combination of the three.

The Prep program was an off-shoot of Educage, a program first developed at the White Plains’ Cage Teen Center in the late 1960’s to help students who had struggled in high school but still wanted to earn a high school diploma. The alternative high school program in White Plains was founded by Cage Director Leslie Fernandez, a former teacher and guidance counselor. Sister Helen McLaughlin of the Order of the Holy Child of Jesus, a certified public school teacher, worked with Fernandez in White Plains and established a similar program in New Rochelle.

When Sister Helen retired in 1994, the Prep program was closed. Several of Sister Helen’s students were enrolled in the Campus School.

About this time, a new program called “Homebound” was created under Ann Marcelino, a special education teacher, Homebound was housed in a separate room at St Gabes. F.U.S.E., the school union, challenged the legality of the program; the program was closed and Marcelino was transferred to Isaac E. Young Middle School.

Due to elementary school space needs, programs housed at Barnard  School needed to be relocated.  Moving the program from Barnard to St. Gabe’s was part of a larger organization plan to deal with increasing enrollment in the elementary schools, especially William B. Ward Elementary School.

The entire Ward half-day Kindergarten program was moved to Barnard in 1992 for a year while construction took place at Ward. Harriet Glick, a Kindergarten teacher at Ward, became the teacher-in-charge at Barnard and eventually their Program Director and later Principal of the Barnard Early Childhood Center.

A team tasked by Superintendent Linda Kelly and led by Assistant Superintendent for Business and Administration Dick Schilling engaged in a collaborative effort within the school community — not a simple administrative decision — before selecting the closed St. Gabe’s School as the best available space.

In describing the space at St.Gabe’s to Mrs. Yvette Goorevitch Director of Special and Alternative Education as “campus like,” she said let that be the name–the Campus School. Goorevitch coined the name “Campus School” because of the nature of the new location for the program.

At the time of the move to St. Gabes there was no requirement to get approval from the New York State Education Department. The building was in “move-in condition”. A Certificate of Occupancy was issued by the State Education Department at the time.

The new location at 50 Washington Avenue was a bit of a homecoming, on the other side of Union Avenue directly across the street from the Washington School, the original home of the PROP Program.

The PROP Program name was dropped in favor of the Campus School. The Alternative High School at St. Gabes or Campus School opened in September 1992 and has remained there continuously for the past 27 years and 10 months.

This additional educational space at St. Gabes allowed for the development of new and additional instructional program for New Rochelle High School students both general education and special education who required a smaller, more nurturing environment to be successful.  The larger space allowed the Campus School to expand its student population to also include general education students from New Rochelle High School who would likely benefit from a more personalized school setting. The Campus School grew to 55 students.

Since the Campus School was primarily a High School offering, it was supervised by the New Rochelle High School Principal, Don Baughman. Mr. Fridovich social worker at Campus was teacher in charge and eventually named Program Administrator.  Since the program now included both general and special education students, it was decided that it would properly be supervised by the High School Principal.  Once Fridovich received his administrative certification, he became the Program Director, but the program has always been supervised by the High School Principal since its relocation to St. Gabe’s.

Campus School students request to attend there for a variety reasons but generally out of a desire to have the least amount of contact with the high school as possible: victims of aggressive bullying or harassment from gangs, openly gay and lesbian students, victims of child abuse, functionally illiterate students, those with criminal records, high-IQ students with debilitating mental issues such as severe depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety, pregnant students and those otherwise traumatized by school who can exhibit anger, rage and fear.

A year later some students from Sister Helen’s now-closed Prep Program also matriculated into the Campus School.

The Campus School was initially housed in 7 rooms but over time as the program grew to a peak of 88 students, 4 rooms were added including 2 rooms contributed by the Archdiocese.

The person originally hired to run the Campus School soon quit and a social worker from Children’s Village was brought on board.

Joel Fridovich did not have an administrative certificate so was not legally permitted to run the school. Fridovich eventually obtained his administrative certification and was promoted to Director of the Campus School at St. Gabes. Fridovich continued to report to the New Rochelle High School Principal not the Director of Special and Alternative Education from Conetta through to Reggie Richardson to Joseph Starvaggi. Fridovich retired in 2019 and was replaced by Andrea Schwach as Director. Schwach was a teacher at New Rochelle High School but earned her Initial Building Leader Certificate in 2012. Starvaggi retired in 2020 and was replaced by Steve Goldberg.

The origin of the Campus School emanates from a variety of programs cobbled together over the past 50 years — none of which originated at New Rochelle High School, but rather from programs intended to support youngsters with different levels of mental health needs, special education needs, and behavioral needs. Because the Campus School is an amalgam of programs, not a single program formally separated from New Rochelle High School, it is different than the Alternative High Schools in Mount Vernon and White Plains.

While the Campus School program was initially staffed with appropriately certified teachers overtime some teachers were not in compliance with certification regulations and electives did not meet minimum requirements.

Students who needed specific courses to meet State requirements were afforded the opportunity to do so at New Rochelle High School since the Campus School itself has always been viewed as a New Rochelle High School program.

The numerous relocations of PROP and its expansion to include a cohort of general education students was part of broader school district plan intended to respond to enrollment increases and declines at various points in time, and a desire to create expanded and enriched program opportunities for students.

A NOTE TO POTENTIAL SOURCES: this article is based primarily on interviews with more than a dozen current and former CSDNR employees and school board members asked to recount events which span 5 decades, it is to be anticipated that there may be more to add. If you have additional information, comments or suggested edits with which we can update and improve this article we would very much like to hear from you at robertcox@talkofthesound.com

RELATED: As I researched this article I collected a list of resources which I appended to the article. I intend to add to that list over time. If you know of other such material please let me know.

New Rochelle Recalls Landmark Bias Ruling

49th Anniversary of Lincoln School Desegregation Passes Unnoticed, Advent of 50th Anniversary Dawns: Jan. 24, 1961

Lincoln School Desegregation Today (8 Part Series on school desegregation in New Rochelle presented in anticipation of the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Court’s Landmark Decision in Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Education)

50th Anniversary of Lincoln School Desegregation Case Comes And Goes without a Whisper in New Rochelle

New York State Senate Resolution J532: Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the historical New Rochelle schools desegregation suit, the “Little Rock of the North”

The New Rochelle High School Fire of 1968

Where Other Schools Failed, This One Works

Dr. LaRuth Hackney Gray Biography (New York University)

Ruling Awaited On School Reorganization (Mayflower, Roosevelt, Barnard and Stephenson)

An Action Plan for Equity in New York State Education Administration,New York State Congress of School Administrator Organizations Publications (1994); “The Twin Problems of Declining Enrollment and Fiscal Constraints; A Dissemination Model for Community-­Based Decision­-Making for the Experience of the City School District of New Rochelle”

Monograph, City School District of New Rochelle, New York (1983); “Aspirations and Achievements of Italian and Black American Youths in the New Rochelle Public Schools. ERIC Document (1978)

What about Barnard?: Phase II Reorganization of the City of New Rochelle School District (1978-1983)

Presentation on Campus School April 2019 by Joel Fridovich

Division and Diversity: Community Transition in Postwar America, 1945-1970. New Rochelle, New York. A Case Study. Columbia University. 2001 (Dr. Gail Guttman) (requires Google Drive)

(available on loan from New Rochelle Public Library and Scarsdale Public Library)

New Rochelle BOE Discussion on Relocation of Campus School Part I: Acrimony and Blame Shifting

2 thoughts on “A History of New Rochelle Alternative High School 1970 to 2020”

  1. https://www.ada.gov/1991standards/adastd94-archive.pdf

    It begs the question how long Saint Gabe’s operated in non-compliance for ADA and other facility oriented regulations (i.e., fire safety, AHERA)

    After watching the District zoom where they tabled the Campus School questions until July 15 it is clear they are setting up the “campaign” to present St. Gabe’s as unacceptable (despite the past two plus decades of use) and the alternatives as Bethesda, NRHS (begging more questions like – is the campus school off-campus for a reason?) unless Holy Family becomes a serious consideration.

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