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Students Urge Tenure for MHS English Teacher

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.

Jennifer Rosenzweig thanked her students for their support. Photo by Eloise Schieferdecker.

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.”

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14 comments to Students Urge Tenure for MHS English Teacher

  • JKS

    It would truly be a huge loss for our high school and district to lose Jennifer Rosenzweig. The students are to be greatly commended for taking the time and effort to make such articulate, impassioned pleas for her retention. Now that Dr. Fried and Dr. Orfinger are both leaving, why not give the new principal and superintendent a chance to judge her teaching skills for themselves? Jennifer didn’t have the top honors students in her classes; she made a difference in the academic lives of students who weren’t necessarily tuned into school or already excelling in English. She is the kind of teacher we need more of, and her department chair and every other English teacher supported her tenure. Dr. Fried has nothing to lose by showing he can be receptive to the feedback of the people who experienced her teaching skills most directly–the students and their parents–and have the leadership and courage to either reverse or delay this decision.

  • BJF

    With all due respect to Dr Fried and Dr Orfinger, it is hard to understand the process re J Rosenzweig’s tenure decision. Why should outgoing people be given the final say on a decision students and parents obviously feel so strongly about and will remain in the community to deal with? What message does it give the students who are learning to advocate and fight for what they believe in, not to be heard and considered a partner in this? This situation, more than others, because of the resignations, should be handled differently.

  • mr s

    I was very lucky when I was young. I went to public schools with teachers that really cared about their students, and who knew, and did, what it took to get the most out of us. Jennifer Rosenzweig seems to be a teacher with those qualities, someone should be cherished and encouraged, not dismissed. As other have pointed out, it’s only our students and community who stand to lose by letting this ill-conceived decision go forward, not the departing principal and superintendent. We shouldn’t allow that to happen…

  • Hippie

    How thrilling it was for me to hear about our new generation of children and parents feeling so strongly in their support of Ms. Rosenzweig, that they gathered and protested her not getting tenure. Ms. Rosenzweig sounds like a “special teacher” who dared to be herself and challenge our students to “think.” What a loss it would be to have her leave our education system.

    I was a child of the 1960′s where young students felt passionately to change and improve society, while our parents sat by. The following generation seemed docile and accepting, as long as they “got their share.”

    Let us dare to dream what else this new generation can achieve; what errors can they fix, and where they can lead us. I am honored to witness this in our community. The protestors once again made this “old hippie” a happy person. :-)

  • JKS

    Thanks to Dr. Orfinger, we’ve already lost some of our best young English teachers to Bronxville and Chappaqua, If this completely misguided decision is left to stand, no doubt we will be losing yet another great teacher to a nearby district. How unfortunate for us that Mamaroneck’s continued losses seem to be Bronxville’s gains.

  • If they don't let you in the front door, try the back one

    Anon E Mous previously wrote
    April 8th, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I said yes, I said yes, I said yes,
    I prayed a thousand times yes.
    And the no that was hanging over faded.
    - Yoko Ono

    and …

    “Tenure needn’t be, ‘fish or cut bait’. A district and educator may enter a Juul agreement to extend the probationary period one year. The district waives its right to dismiss the teacher and the teacher waives his/her right to claim tenure by estoppel. The extra year offers a chance to improve performance. At the end of the fourth year, the district may grant or deny tenure just as it would after the third year. Juul agreements are creatures of case law, named after a Long Island court decision Juul v. Board of Educ. of Hempstead UFSD (76 A.D.2d 837 (2d Dep’t 1980), aff’d, 55 N.Y.2d 648 (1981)).””
    - as quoted by J. Sacks

  • Please Write to Dr. Fried

    Jennifer Rosenzweig is the type of teacher each of us hopes our children will experience at some time in their educational life. If you have been sitting on the sidelines watching this incredible story unfold, please send a note in support of Jennifer to pfried@mamkschools.org This issue is out of the Board of Ed’s hands and sits in Dr. Fried’s lap. The week closed with no new news…Please email now!

  • Criss Cross

    Let’s look at the broader issue…What are the criteria for tenure? The district has criteria and rubrics for many situations, but none to define the standards and expectations required to be granted tenure. Other districts have clearly defined standards and a tenure portfolio of one’s best efforts is created by each teacher to be presented to the Personnel Office. Mamaroneck leaves it vague so that if there are personal disagreements, personality conflicts or other subjective experiences, tenure can be denied. What is happening is unfair and makes one wonder about how Mamaroneck chooses to treat their teachers and staff.

  • Maria Antoinetta

    Sounds like the crowds have spoken and the guillotine is about to drop. The storming of the Bastille, Part II

    Maybe once Dr. Orfinger goes, then Ms. Rosenweig can reapply for tenure? Is this a possibility? Or is it a one strike, you’re out, no tolerance policy?

    Let ‘em eat cake!!!!!

  • Tom Murphy

    I don’t know this teacher but I have heard nothing but extremely positive things about her. We absolutely can’t afford to lose teachers that inspire this kind of academic curiosity and civic activism in our children. The sign of a wise man is that he is willing to reconsider his decisions, I hope Dr. Fried exhibits the wisdom I know he possesses.

  • UKN

    I think people are jumping to the sensational, student backed side without the facts.

    God forbid the principal actually makes hard decisions.

  • JKS

    UKN,
    I am not jumping to the “sensational student-backed side without the facts.” Just look at the FACT that her department chair and every English teacher (and the extremely well-respected former dept. chair) also backed her tenure, even when it became politically treacherous to do so. Just look at the FACT that we have lost 5–5!–great English teachers in that department in just 3 years. Just look at the FACT that Jennifer had excellent performance reviews for two years and then it suddenly changed in year 3. I actually didn’t hear the students speak, so I am not influenced just by them–though I think their feedback, as well as parents’ feedback SHOULD count for SOMETHING in the tenure process. I know how well-respected Jennifer is by other teachers, her students and the parents. We should be concerned that tenure became such a completely political process under Dr. Orfinger that it became divorced from actual teaching skills. We should be concerned that our Board of Ed also seems to have no power in the tenure process to represent our (taxpayers’, parents’) concerns. Yet again, our loss will no doubt be another district’s gain, but let’s just hope under the new principal we can retain and encourage great teachers and strengthen our HS and English dept. to what it should be.

  • Criss Cross

    The facts are clear. Jennifer is an inspirational teacher and has positively influenced the lives of many students. But the facts are also clear that her tenure decision is not based on merit or performance, in fact, it is not a valid decision. But the tenure process CAN become political and CAN boil down to the decision of one man because there are no criteria for tenure or the tenure process. The Board should have a say but instead important decisions are being made behind closed doors. And the students are the ones who suffer because the school is losing talented, dedicated and highly qualified teachers. The district needs to look at the tenure process, or lack thereof, so that good teachers can be retained even if they don’t always agree with Dr. Orfinger or the next prinicpal.