In the midst of unseasonable June heat and open packing cartons, retiring Mamaroneck Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried shared some musings on his five years in the district. Dr. Fried retires from the New York state school system effective June 30, at which point state law entitles him to receive his pension. He begins as superintendent in the Montville, New Jersey school system effective the following day.
Praise for the Mamaroneck School Community
What Dr. Fried enjoyed most at Mamaroneck was the focus on children. “It’s really been very consistent,” he said. “Kids are put first.”
Dr. Fried praised the administration and teaching staff. “They think big – they have good imaginations.” More and more, he said, “they recognize the need for collaboration and consistency” and the importance of a common curriculum.
Referring to both the paid staff and the volunteer school board members, Dr. Fried noted that he’ll miss “the professionalism that shines through, the seriousness and purpose about education. There’s no guarantee that you’ll find that everywhere.”
The “most important natural resource is the kids,” Dr. Fried explained, citing their “remarkable” intelligence and motivation. With the influence of their parents and the community, and nurturing from their teachers, Larchmont-Mamaroneck children achieve “a global perspective at a young age,” concluded Dr. Fried.
Another strength of the district, Dr. Fried said, is the involvement of the parent community, although that “has to at times be shaped and nurtured.” No matter what, though, Dr. Fried said he has “never doubted” that parents “want the best for their children, across the board in every school.”
“It’s not socioeconomic,” he said, “and sends an important message.”
The biggest surprise during his time at Mamaroneck, Dr. Fried recalled, was “the inconsistency” that he found when he arrived, from school to school and across grade levels. It was as though there were “four different school districts.”
Dr. Fried believes that much of that has been addressed, and the culture in the school district has shifted. He credits the leadership of the teachers’ association for their roles in making, and keeping, children the first priority in everything, from professional development to budgeting.
He also spoke proudly about the increased emphasis on writing in the middle school, and the corresponding favorable impact on test scores.
At the high school, he highlighted the increased focus on at-risk students at the high school, which has improved “the culture and climate” for all students. “We are moving toward more consistency in curriculum and assessment” at the high school, he noted. Although “it may be at a snail’s pace, it will continue with the new principal.” (As of June 30, however, the district has not yet hired a new principal, nor has it been successful in its attempts to hire an interim principal.)
“One of the things we have to be able to do better,” explained Dr. Fried, “is to deliver instruction in an equal or better way at a lower cost.”
How to do that? It will require innovative thinking, he said, and the cooperation of the teachers’ association. Currently, the teachers’ contract, which provides for a maximum allowable teacher-to-student ratio, limits potential innovation.
On-line learning, lecture opportunities, long-distance learning, independent studies and inter-district learning were some possible “new things” mentioned by Dr. Fried. He acknowledged that most potential innovations were changes that would impact the secondary schools. At the elementary school, he said, though, it’s hard to imagine a model of instruction much different than what we have, where a teacher delivers instruction to twenty-some students in a classroom.
Dr. Fried also indicated his belief that the district needed to continue in certain areas that have been addressed in the goals process, citing consistency and assessment practices.
The community also needs “to continue to explore what it means to live within a diverse community,” with “fairly segregated elementary schools.” Half of Mamaroneck Avenue School (MAS) is Latino, he noted. MAS is an “effective elementary school,” he explained. “If not, what to do and the urgency would be different.”
Statistically, he noted, MAS will become more diverse over time (some would say, less diverse as it becomes Latino and less white). Dr. Fried asked, “When do we exhaust the resources that allow the school to be effective?”
He also raised a philosophical question: “Is it enough that kids from diverse backgrounds meet in sixth grade – or is it too late?”
The issue is complicated, he acknowledged.
Advice and Lessons Learned
Although initiatives did not move along as fast as he would have liked, Dr. Fried believes that slow change is typical in schools. “I know the cultures of schools so well. It’s just not in the cards [to go faster]. If you want change to stick, it’s a slow process,” he said.
What advice has he given his successor, Dr. Roberts Shaps? “Not advice as much as sharing my perception,” corrected Dr. Fried.
“It’s an exceptional community and has been an exceptional privilege to work here,” Dr. Fried noted. He’s told Dr. Shaps “to expect the involvement of the board of education, parents, faculty and staff and administration.”
He summarized. “Nobody sits on their hands. Embrace that and listen well.”