Updated December 13:Lewis Trippett broke silence Monday night. The Former Board of Education President — in office when Dr. Yanofsky’s contract renewal was being decided — delivered a startling 10-minute statement disputing Dr. Saul Yanofsky’s public positions on events leading to the superintendent’s departure.
Michelle Schoenfeld reported to WPCNR Wednesday that the “Letter of Intentions” (our term for it), Dr. Yanofsky sent to the Board of Education in the Spring of 2001, a cornerstone of Mr. Trippett’s remarks reported as follows, is not available to the public, and the school district is not obligated to release it.
A copy of the all-important letter, which according to Mr. Trippett, set the tone for last spring’s stalemate with Dr. Yanofsky, was requested by WPCNR from Michelle Schoenfeld, Clerk for the School District. Ms. Schoenfeld wrote us Wednesday, and we quote: “Board Counsel advises us that this is an intra-agency document and therefore not available under the Freedom of Information Law.”
Dr. Yanofsky in response to our request for this key document Tuesday afternoon, stood by his desire “that nothing is served by continuing on with this,” and has not to this point released his letter.
Mr. Trippett took the podium at the request of Donna McLaughlin, President of the Board of Education Monday evening. He out rightly denied Dr. Saul Yanofsky’s public statements about the events, attitudes and positions taken by the Board of Education and the Superintendent himself leading up to the decision last April not to renew Dr. Yanofsky’s contract.
Dr. Yanofsky, visibly shaken by the unexpected appearance, called the letter filled with “distortions,” and saying, “everybody now is best served by putting this behind us,” rather than answering the charges.
Yanofsky Visibly Upset.
Mr. Trippett told WPCNR at the November meeting that he might speak out, but did not.
At the Monday Board of Education meeting at the high school, he unleashed a 4 ½ Page single-spaced statement for the record that shocked the audience of some 50 persons, left from over100 persons and students there at the beginning.
Trippett’s remarks rattled Dr. Yanofsky to the extent that, when Dr. Yanofsky resumed the agenda, the papers in the Superintendent’s hands shook and his voice quivered ever so slightly as he struggled to control himself and move on with the routine appointments and business that followed.
Trippett: Reports Yanofsky “ambivalent” towards staying and critical of school district future.
Trippett, in his calm, chilling delivery, painted a picture far different than the events Dr. Yanofsky has described to this reporter, the White Plains Watch and The Journal News surrounding his firing.
Trippett said Yanofsky had been looking at other jobs:
“…well over a year before extension of his current contract was discussed, that he (Yanofsky) had begun circulating his resume on a selective basis for educational positions but not to be superintendent of another district.”
You could have heard a pin drop in the hall of the All-Purpose Room. Then it got quieter.
The former Board President charged Yanofsky with “ambivalence:”
“The letter (which WPCNR attempted to acquire from Ms. Schoenfeld), that Dr. Yanofsky sent to the Board hardly reflected a vigorous desire to continue. In the letter, Dr. Yanofsky stated that he was ‘ambivalent’ about continuing as Superintendent but was ‘willing to entertain an offer.’”
“Take your chances with someone else.”
Trippett confirmed there had been a parting of the ways on the issues of test scores, program evaluation, and public relations, not on philosophy, but on level of concern:
“I found our discussions with Dr. Yanofsky on these matters to be distressing. Rather than offer a forward-looking view as he had in the past, Dr. Yanofsky said things like, ‘I don’t need this job’ and ‘If you want to take your chances with someone else, that’s fine.’”
By this time, it was excruciatingly still. No one was moving a muscle. All were shocked. You do not hear this kind of public statement read very often. The big shock was Trippett’s next revelation:
“…the most distressing comment came in response to a question I asked. I posed a question to Dr. Yanofsky similar to a question that I had asked during the previous contract renewal discussions. I asked ‘Where do you see the district being in four years if your contract is extended.’ His response was an extraordinarily negative view of the future of the district. He said things were likely to get worse; test scores are likely to decline further and there is very little that can be done about it other than what is already being done. In short, it appeared to me that his hear was no longer in the job.”
Rejects Yanofsky’s statements on contracts and style
Trippett reported that, subsequently Yanofsky said he had misunderstood the question, which Trippett called “unconvincing.” Trippett also flatly said,
“contrary to what he has implied, during the contractual time that the Board had to notify Dr. Yanofsky whether or not it would offer him a new contract, Dr. Yanofsky never suggested that the Board should discuss an appropriate “transition” period to new leadership and never suggested a contractual time period, as he had done at the prior contractual renewal.”
(Dr. Yanofsky made these statements about “a transition period to new leadership,” to WPCNR, and he made the statement about a contractual time period to both WPCNR and White Plains Watch).
Yanofsky’s “minimizing of the Board’s Concerns”
In a paragraph directly answering a recent Yanofsky-written piece appearing in The Journal News Trippett alluded to substantial differences:
“There were indeed re-occurring substantive differences between the Board and Dr. Yanofsky. These differences were not, as he recently stated, matters of style and substance. In fact, it was Dr. Yanofsky’s persistent minimizing of the Board’s concerns and his neglect in addressing them that led to increasing frustration. But, for me, the overriding issue was Dr. Yanofsky’s stated ambivalence and his lack of a positive vision for the future.”
Commends Board for not yielding to “the noise of the crowd at the moment”
“I am hopeful that once people get over the surprise and disappointment that Dr. Yanofsky will be leaving at the end of this school year they will recognize that the Board had no other responsible choice but to move on to new leadership. This transition would have taken place in one, or at the most, two years anyway and, I believe, the district is better served by making the transition now, rather than having a self-described ‘ambivalent’ superintendent for one or two more years.
I believe that the Board’s decision was proper, responsible and in the best interests of the district. In time, I believe that the community of White Plains will be pleased that it has a Board that is not satisfied with the way things are and wants to move towards improvement in the future, even if that means bearing with some unfair and unjust criticisms such as have been made over the past two months. I commend the Board for not yielding to the noise of the crowd at the moment and, instead, looking out for the needs of the future.”
Removal of Yanofsky “Provides Opportunity…revitalization…”
The selection of a new superintendent provides opportunity for all to participate in the re-vitalization of our district and positioning it for the future. While all change is difficult, it also provides opportunity for improvement. Although I am not on the Board anymore, I support the Board and stand ready to help the Board in any way possible in this important transition to new leadership.”
As Mr. Trippett finished his surprise statement, introduced as “a communication” to the public by Donna McLaughlin, the warm feeling of the previous Scholar Athlete Recognition Awards had been sucked out of the room.
Yanofsky reacts tersely
Red-faced and appearing in shock, Dr. Yanofsky described Trippett’s remarks as “distorted” and “inaccurate,” and that any further comment he would make “would not be the most useful outcome.” He attempted to set the record straight on what he meant by his “ambivalent” remark, saying it was his attitude “related to interaction between me and the Board and their level of interaction with other school administrators (in the District) who come before them. There was a variety of miscommunication. Everybody is now best served by putting this behind us.”
Evening started out on a high note
After the recognition of White Plains High School autumn sports teams who as teams have maintained a grade point average of 90 or better, the Trippett speech had turned an evening of achievement recognition into a somber occasion, apparently sealing Dr. Yanofsky’s departure for good. Donna McLaughlin, President of the Board of Education, when she closed the meeting one hour later, pleaded with the parents still in attendance, after enduring three scathing comments from a teacher and two parents, accusing the Board of ignoring parent concerns and expressing doubts about attracting good candidates for superintendent said there was no return: “We’ve made our decision…For the sake of the children, please move on.”
Football team qualifies as a Scholar Athlete Team for the first time
Highlight of the scholar athlete presentations was the announcement by Athletic Director Mario Scarano this was the first year the White Plains football team had qualified as a scholar athlete team. As each coach presented their scholars who perform on the books as well as putting top notch performances “in the books,” we met some of White Plains “Finest:” the Women’s and Men’s Cross Country teams, the women’s Field Hockey and Tennis teams, the women’s Swimming and Diving team.
Mr. Scarano said six of the 8 fall White Plains sports teams averaged over 90 to qualify as official Scholar Athlete Teams. The only two that did not, Scarano said average 88.3 (Men’s Soccer), and 88.77 (Women’s Volleyball).
Principal Colavito delivers a report on the High School Construction
Principal William Colavito was called upon to comment on the progress of the high school improvements. Mr. Colavito announced that the Library Media Center had been opened and is now being used extensively by students. He reported the second floor of the science wing had been opened and the first floor he expected to be open in January after the holiday break.
The Principal reported that the new administration offices had been moved into, and despite some phone trouble was functioning.
The two performing centers are nearing completion, he said. The auditorium is having sound and lighting work finished and is expected to be complete be mid February (two months). The Little Theater and Television Studio for the Theatre Unlimited group is targeted for February 1.
Colavito finished his report advising that North House would be vacated in January, so that work could begin on refurbishing that sector. He said ongoing work on art rooms and other sections would be worked around student schedules.
Colavito Resignation accepted.
Dr. Saul Yanofsky read a glowing tribute to Principal Colavito, crediting him with turning the high school around in his 6 ½ years as Principal of White Plains High School. After the glowing tribute, Principal Colavito, rather from shyness or sadness, spoke for less than one minute and sat down. In fact, when Michelle Berman, speaking during Open Forum expressed hope that the Colavito departure, in which he joins Dr. Constance Iervolino and Yanofsky, was not the beginning of a trend, Principal Colavito was seen clapping.
Three Awarded Tenure
Three teachers were approved for tenure, and their administrators spoke of their dedication and concern for students, rekindling for a few moments that White Plains was still standing tall in dedicated educators. The teachers are: Susan Brumer, Social Studies Teacher at White Plains High School; Dennis Polanco, English Teacher at the high school; and Dennis Scullion, English Teacher at the Highlands. The supervisors introducing them detailed their enormous popularity with students and dedication to school activities and abilities to create outstanding, popular learning environments within their classrooms. They received warm applause.
Yanofsky on departure: “I was surprised, too.”
For a meeting that lasted just two hours, it seemed longer than the 7 hour Common Council meeting last August. People were drained. People left as if leaving a funeral, cordial, polite, nurturing.
Dr. Yanofsky remarked to this reporter, “You always pick good meetings to cover.”
I replied, “Well, I was surprised.”
Yanofsky, smiling said, “I was surprised, too.”