Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. At our schools there was a great deal of activity, a Blood Drive at the High School, a day to wear red in all schools to honor a former teacher who died in service and to raise money for student scholarships to honor a former teacher, and a day to support public education. Last evening, our high school student performers astonished the crowd at the library performance space with their one-act productions created by student playwrights. The student writers and performers tackled themes that were challenging, moving, and humorous: the quality of relationships, pondering what makes a person “normal,” and the humor in Thanksgiving family gatherings.
However, after last year’s tragedy at Margaret Stoneman Douglas High School, Valentine’s Day has a changed meaning in schools throughout our country. It has become a day of thoughtful remembrance and reviewing our student safety planning. In Putnam Valley, we are also reflecting on the wounds that have been suffered by families in our school district in the last month. The blue heart still glows at the end of the high school driveway. Personally, I continue to learn from feelings of helplessness to find a place for hope and future resolutions. There is a universality of shared emotion in absorbing the loss of a child, a parent, a colleague. We continue to mourn with parents and friends and to construct another level of understanding. As educators and parents, we want our students to see purpose and meaning in their lives and to empower them to believe in their ability to shape their future. As we move forward, we also continue to see the importance of education in developing the minds and hearts of our students as they grow to embrace the larger world of historic and present challenges that are experienced by those who live and work with us.
During the month of February, we celebrate the birthdays of Presidents Lincoln and Washington. We also honor Black History Month. In March, our attention turns to Women’s History. Both Lincoln and Washington influenced the way we approach Black History, and given the limited roles available to women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and well into the twentieth, we can appreciate the transformation underway for both African-Americans and for women at present. We know that the origins of our nation in a compromise that included slavery has led to divisions that are unthinkable today. For those who have seen The Green Book, there is a deeper understanding of the humiliation that continued for African Americans well into the mid-twentieth century and exists all too frequently today. Those who attended the High School Music Department’s Great Works concert on Wednesday evening celebrating Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday were reminded of the tragic themes of cultural division that are reflected in West Side Story and in New York City’s history.
We teach our students about those who have made a difference, who have stood for justice with the hope that these exemplars ignite a similar passion to make the world a better place. We want our students to question, to think, to be ready to take their place as active participants in a society that recognizes the need for civic action in the voting booth and through conversations that bring people together while respecting disagreements. That awakening is more evident today, as we find our way to coming to terms with history, not just during February and March, but through our daily interactions, and our awareness of others and their lived experience. We are dedicated to providing sanctuary for students of color, of every gender or sexual orientation, those who are learning English, who have disabilities, who are vulnerable to attack for their religion or their appearance.
Our schools are essentially sanctuaries. I know that Dr. Luft, who will be our Superintendent of Schools as of 2019-20 and has been an avid collaborator with our leadership team on these goals for student success and acceptance, joins us in our commitment to ensuring that Putnam Valley schools are safe and welcoming spaces for all of our children. Schools are the commons where we practice empathy, and respect for the dignity of each member of the school community, adults and children. As we know, the power of social media has challenged our ability to sustain the infrastructure of safety that our children need. We aspire to meet the challenge and to overcome the words and deeds that threaten harm to the community we cherish. We cannot allow external forces to topple the opportunity provided by public education to build a conceptual framework to guide their life choices based on the discernment of evidence-based principles that lead to doing the right thing. We owe our children the opportunity to learn how to question and how to strengthen the principles that govern the American values we pledge to uphold each day in our schools.
Today, as if to serve as a capstone for our focus on student development as critical thinkers, we were notified of our high school’s authorization as an International Baccalaureate School. This award represents commitment by our high school principal Dr. Intrieri, administration, staff and faculty to a rigorous internationally validated curriculum assessment process and to supporting students in finding pathways to explore their highest potential in areas of strengths and interest.
The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. James Baldwin
You are invited to attend two special events at Putnam Valley High School on Wednesday and Thursday evening, February 13, 2019, and February 14, 2019.
When we discuss assessments of educational excellence, we often think about tests of cognitive ability and content knowledge. These tests are a necessary aspect of the validation of an educational program. However, the most meaningful understanding of educational goal attainment is reflected in student performance that connects learning and growth over time, integrating many disciplines and applying that knowledge to a real-world demonstration of learning and skill.
Next week, our community will have the opportunity to experience two events that represent student learning well beyond the algorithms of a standardized test.
On Wednesday evening, February 13 at 7:00 pm in our Performing Arts Center, our high school band and chorus will present a Great Works Concert honoring the 100th birthday of world-renowned composer and conductor, Leonard Bernstein. Among the many pieces you will hear, are familiar and beloved excerpts from the unforgettable West Side Story. (poster)
On Thursday evening, February 14 at 5:30 pm, in our high school library, three plays written by the students who competed and were awarded recognition for first, second and third place after judges reviewed blind copies of 16 entrants, will be performed. Fellow students have participated as the directors, actors, and tech crews for the plays:
The Automat’s Fear-Jaclyn Pedoty
A Normal Man-Bianca Garcia
To Be Thankful– Kaitlyn Carroll.
These plays are Valentine’s Day gifts to you from our remarkable students.
Please join us.
(If needed snow postponements will be advertised.)
With permission from the family, I am so sorry to tell you that one of our high school students, Elias Knapp, had a terrible accident on Friday night which resulted in a serious injury. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. All of our students will be supported by their teachers and counselors in their classes on Monday. Further, in order to provide comfort to those who need our immediate support, we invite you to the high school which will be open tomorrow, Sunday, February 3rd, from 1:00 to 3:00 PM. We will have counselors, faculty and staff. If possible, the comfort dogs will be present.
We will follow up with further information when available. We urge you to give your children the opportunity to express their feelings, as a tragic event can upset their lives. We hope that by offering opportunities for the students to gather tomorrow and during the school day on Monday, they will be better able to cope and find strength.
Due to the weather forecast for tomorrow and tomorrow evening, we are postponing Tuesday’s information session for our Facilities Advisory Committee until next Tuesday, February 5. We will meet at 6:30 pm in the High School Library.
We will be closely watching the forecast for any effect on the school day and after school activities but did not want to make a last-minute decision regarding this meeting. Thank you for understanding.
We are sending this email to make you aware of a situation that occurred on our High School/Middle School campus on Thursday evening. Upon receiving notification, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department was immediately contacted. Key staff and after-school personnel were also notified.
One of our coaches reported observing a person known to her during Thursday evening’s practice. This person had no reason to be at the practice or on school grounds. The observed individual did not interact with the coach or any students and left the campus immediately after being seen.
In consultation with the Sheriff’s Department, the district reviewed video footage and was able to track the person’s movements while on campus and identify the individual. After making contact with the individual via phone, he was asked to report to the Sheriff’s Department where he was interviewed and subsequently arrested for harassment. The individual was notified that they are prohibited from entering any school grounds.
If you have visited one of our school buildings during the day you have noticed that all visitors must enter through one main door and are required to present identification. After school hours, visitors and athletes are to only use the athletic entrances and we have a security guard on duty. We will continue to work with our security consultant and with law enforcement to review and improve our security procedures and we ask for your continued partnership in keeping our campuses safe.
The District takes the safety of all students and staff very seriously and recognizes the need to be transparent regarding incidents that may impact our school community. We will always act out of an abundance of caution to ensure our students and staff are safe.
In thinking about what I wanted to convey to our Putnam Valley community as we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. this year, I recalled the day last spring when Dr. Intrieri and I were in Memphis at an IB (International Baccalaureate) conference. During one afternoon, we visited the Civil Rights Museum a few blocks away, contained within the structure of the original Lorraine Motel where King was assassinated by a gunman who stood at a window of an apartment across the street, still visible to visitors. The museum is alive with memories and displays that recall the kind of blatant, ruthless discrimination that King was battling in 1968. There is a bus that you can enter to hear the driver sending African Americans to the back, and a lunch counter where they couldn’t sit or be served. There are photographs of demonstrations and there is a display of the actual motel room where Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his final speech. He was in Memphis to support the sanitation workers who sought a living wage and reasonable working conditions. They marched carrying signs stating, “I Am a Man,” asking to be treated with dignity after chronically dangerous working conditions and faulty machinery caused a worker to be crushed to death. King’s speech seemed to prefigure his death as he talked about having been to the “mountaintop” and having a vision of the possibilities for a truly free society, where the humanity of all was respected.
Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us of our deep flaws as a society as well as our potential for compassion and goodness. We seem to need those reminders regularly. One hundred years before King, another champion of civil rights who struggled with injustice, Frederick Douglass lived in Rochester, New York for many years. His words prefigure those of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his message resonates for educators: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Douglass advocated for education of the whole child as a critical factor in changing the culture of slavery that he experienced and sought to overturn. It is moving to note that in his final speech at the Lorraine Hotel, King referred to an incident that had occurred a decade earlier, in 1958: he had been stabbed by a woman who came out of a crowd when he was speaking. The wound was very close to his aorta; he was told that if he had sneezed, he would have died. In his final speech at the Lorraine Hotel, he mentions that when he was recovering from the stab wound he received a letter from a student at White Plains High School, who wrote: “Dear Dr. King, I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School..while it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing to you that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
King goes on to talk about all of the efforts he had led and accomplishments that had occurred, because he had not “sneezed,” including the marches in Alabama and Washington and the subsequent Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act of 1964. The young girl who wrote that letter clearly expressed sincere empathy for King and his mission, the kind of connection that establishes our humanity.
We are still seeking to address the need for “building strong children,” and know that much is still lacking in the will and support required to provide equitable opportunities for all children. After 100 years, the champion for the “dream” was Martin Luther King, Jr. The struggle continues, as we continue to look for ways to fulfill the dream of “strong children,” with equal opportunity and “justice for all.”
As we begin the next phase of our facilities project we will be convening an advisory committee that will meet periodically throughout the construction phase. We are inviting all staff and community members who may be interested in serving on the committee to attend an information session on Tuesday, January 29 at 6:30 in the High School Library. Our architect and construction manager will be present to share additional details on the project along with an anticipated timeline.
I am sharing Dr. Intrieri’s staff message with the entire PV staff today. We have much to celebrate with our students. The success that we recognize is an outcome of the K-12 educational experience in Putnam Valley and a dedicated and passionate staff. At the exceptional and rigorous band concert last evening, Mr. Odell noted how well-prepared students were due to the efforts of the music department beginning at the elementary school. The athletic awards certainly speak to a strong program in the community and in the school. The artwork in the ASPIRE competition speaks to continued District support for the arts in our schools.
I do want to make special mention of the remarkable achievement of Dora Rippon who has been named as a semi-finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, considered one of the most prestigious awards for high school students. This national competition was founded in 1942. This year, 2000 students nationwide submitted their projects, and 300 students were selected as semi-finalists. Of that group, 29 were from the Hudson Valley. Only 1 student was selected from Putnam County: Putnam Valley’s Dora Rippon. Dora’s topic is “Determining the minimum mass of a habitable planet by studying atmospheric oxygen escape.” Clearly, her work represents a powerful investigation that can impact our future. Mr. Zupan has implemented a program that connects students to the wider world and future success. However, the desire to study science begins at our earliest grades with teachers who have been committed to Science 21 and the science fair at the elementary school. In fact, this year, senior Sarah Broas, who has been honored at an international conference for her science research, will be involving the younger students as a mentor in regional competitions at their grade level. All of these students spotlight the aspirations of our Putnam Valley school community. Certainly, every teacher and staff member has participated in these remarkable achievements. We take great pride in these accomplishments. I also want to congratulate Dr. Intrieri in attaining her doctorate. She provides inspiration for achievement to our school community.
Superintendent of Schools
From Dr. Intrieri to PVHS staff:
2019 is kicking off with some amazing PVHS accomplishments and celebrations. Yesterday, we celebrated senior Kaitlin Cohen and the Art Department with the A.S.P.I.R.E recognition. Tonight, we had a wonderful display of artwork from Studio Art and Creative Crafts students. The creativity and skill were impressive!
We also had an amazing Winter Instrumental Concert tonight conducted by Ryan Odell. The students showed such incredible talent and maturity and sounded great! They performed a lovely song in honor of Mark that was very touching and the Social Studies Department would have loved the WW1 medley of music and William Tell piece!
Today, it was also announced that senior Dora Rippon is one of the semi-finalists in the National Science Talent Search. She is one of only 300 students nationwide!
Another great honor, seniors Darnell Shillingford and John Listwan were named to the All-State Football team.
We have amazing kids at PVHS. They are able to achieve these notable honors and accomplishments through the hard work of their teachers!! Congratulations to Jen Armbruster, Lisa Furlong, Ryan Odell, Jerry Zupan and Ryan Elsasser for your incredible work with these students to help them reach their potential! Thank you to the entire faculty and staff for working hard every day to push kids to do and be their very best. You all have so much to be proud of!
A short while ago one of the buses owned by our transportation provider was involved in an accident near our elementary school. No students were on the bus. The driver was trying to avoid a deer. No other vehicles were involved.
As you know, Dr. Wills has announced her retirement as Superintendent of Schools from the Putnam Valley Central School District, effective June 30, 2019. The Putnam Valley Board of Education is working with Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES District Superintendent Dr. James Ryan to assist them in finding the successor to Dr. Wills.
As a first step, the PNW BOCES search team will meet with staff and community members to ascertain perspectives on the strengths and challenges of our district. Please consider attending to share your thoughts with the search team:
For Putnam Valley Staff:
Monday, January 7, 2019, 3:45 pm
Putnam Valley Elementary School
Elementary Staff Room
171 Oscawana Lake Road
Putnam Valley, NY 10579
For Community Members:
Monday, January 7, 2019, 7:00 pm
Putnam Valley High School Library
146 Peekskill Hollow Road
Putnam Valley, NY 10579
Board of Education
Putnam Valley Central School District