Jennifer Rosenzweig, a Mamaroneck High School English teacher who has not been recommended for tenure, had math on her side at the April 6 meeting of the Mamaroneck Board of Education.
Almost 150 people attended the meeting, many to advocate on her behalf. Close to 550 “friends” have joined a Facebook page entitled “Support Ms. Rosenzweig.” There are more than 120 signatures on a petition for her. And more than 20 speakers, most of them students, addressed the board in support of their teacher.
Ms. Rosenzweig had been told the week before spring break that she would not be recommended for tenure by the high school administration.
Within days of the news becoming public, students mobilized, circulating a petition, wearing arm bands, creating the Facebook group for supporters, and meeting with the principal, Dr. Mark Orfinger, and Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried. Dr. Fried invited the students to be heard at the April 6 board meeting.
In a surprise move, Dr. Orfinger announced his retirement only hours before the meeting began.
Board president Linnet Tse prefaced the discussion on the tenure issue by noting there could be no public comment from the district or board members on personnel issues. The district’s attorney, Emily Lucas, explained that under state law, only the superintendent could recommend a teacher for tenure. Absent that recommendation, Ms. Lucas said, the school board had no ability to award tenure.
After the meeting, Ms. Tse elaborated on what the board could do. “Our role is to ask a lot of questions and be sure that the right decision is being made for the right reasons.”
“In this case, we’ve been relentless in asking questions because of the amount of feedback,” she said. The board has received “several dozen emails” and “a few calls.”
The feedback has been uniformly in favor of granting Ms. Rosenzweig tenure, as it was at the board meeting.
Students Support Their Teacher
Parent Debbie Serra kicked off the comments, reading a letter her daughter Olivia had written in November, when she “heard through the grapevine” that Ms. Rosenzweig was being considered for tenure. Ms. Rosenzweig “motivated the quiet student to speak up” and “got the lazy student to work hard,” Olivia had written about her prior year’s experience in the teacher’s class. Ms. Serra explained that her daughter thought she would be too emotional to read the letter herself.
Many of the MHS students who spoke did become emotional, shedding tears as they shared their own stories. “I got a hundred on my [junior] English Regents,” said Wednesday Derrico, a senior, “and I don’t get hundreds.”
Students spoke about how Ms. Rosenzweig inspired them to be better students. “It’s the first year I’ve read all the books in the curriculum” said junior Avriel Diaz, attributing her willingness to try the books to her teacher’s excitement about them.
Senior Rebecca Paganini said she never thought of herself as “an academic student” and was not sure as a junior that she would continue her education after high school. Now, she said, she was “seriously considering being an English teacher.”
Many students described a teacher who was willing to take the time – time to understand Shakespeare and what was missed on a test, time to improve a writing assignment, even time to discuss course selection and to help organize college application materials. Students reported receiving help from Ms. Rosenzweig even when she was no longer their teacher, and in some cases, even when she had never been their teacher.
Others described a teacher who encouraged each student to participate in class and led active discussions. “She never told me what to think,” said sophomore Sarah Hoffner, “but she taught me how to think.”
Junior Angela Lagrossa agreed, explaining that unlike some other teachers, Ms. Rosenzweig really “actively listened” to what she had to say. She didn’t “only focus on good students with good backgrounds,” said Ms. Lagross.
Senior Sam Sawyer summed up the experiences of many of the speakers. “People who don’t come to class, they come to her class. People who don’t read the books, they read her books.”
Adults Weigh In
Several parents spoke about how their children had been positively impacted by Ms. Rosenzweig.
Richard Reid said he had been a parent in the district for twenty years but had never attended a school board meeting. He described Ms. Rosenzweig as “an obvious role model” and said his daughter had never before found English her strongest or favorite subject.
Parent Veronica Guerrero observed that “not many teachers affect teenagers the way she’s affected them.”
Although many teachers and former teachers were present, only MHS social studies teacher Kathy Donnison spoke, and she explained she would keep her remarks short in deference to the many students who wanted to speak. According to Ms. Donnison, who has worked closely with Ms. Rosenzweig “out of concern” for various students, Ms. Rosenzweig is an “iconic teacher” who has the support of the entire MHS English department.
At the conclusion of the comments, Ms. Rosenzweig approached the microphone to a round of applause. Clearly emotional, she limited her remarks to a brief expression of thanks and admiration for the speakers, especially the students.
Dr. Fried noted that ”the students make us all very, very proud.” He also stated, “this is a process that continues.”
Ann Borsellino, president of the teachers’ union, commented after the meeting on rumors that the union was not supporting Ms. Rosenzweig.
“The Union has been supportive as possible,” she said. “I have spoken to both Paul [Fried] and the Board of Education president on Jennifer’s behalf. Many teachers have also voiced their support. Last night’s public forum was an opportunity for parents and students to be heard without being overshadowed by the MTA.”