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By Tom McDermott and Robin Jovanovich

Rye voters can look forward to a competitive City Council election this fall because both political parties have full slates.

The Republican ticket is headed by incumbent Mayor Joe Sack, Councilman Terry McCartney, both of whom are running for their second terms, Susan Watson, who recently retired after a long career in the investment business and investor relations, followed by several years working at an executive search firm, and Elizabeth Parks, a sales executive at Fortune Live Media.

The Democrats announced their ticket earlier: Josh Cohn is running for Mayor and Sara Goddard, Julie Souza, and Ben Stacks are running for the Council.

Terry McCartney wrestled with running again, because he recently joined a law firm based in northern California. “ It’s not my way to be an absentee,” he told the paper. “But I have always traveled and the more I thought about the things I want to see accomplished in Rye, many of which we’re only halfway through, the more resolved I was to stay on and see them through.”

The fact that so many residents encouraged him to run again was also a factor, he acknowledged.

What he brings to the job, for one, is negotiating experience. “I’ve ended up helping our City’s Corporation Counsel resolve multiple lawsuits,” McCartney said.

As Council liaison to the Recreation Commission and someone whose background includes a lot of coaching, he’s tried to take the lead on ensuring adequate field space. “In 2014 the Council set aside money to hire a consultant. The City had kicked around the idea of creating more fields for 15 years.”

Referring to the hot-button plan to move DPW to the State-owned open space on Boston Post Road across from Rye Country Day School and adjacent to I-95, McCartney cautioned, “It’s very early in the Disbrow plan process. The consultant’s study has yet to be presented to the Council. I think the two public meetings have been excellent. We’ve received a great deal of input from residents. Our DPW staff is terrific but they are working in poor conditions. We need more field space. From the beginning, I’ve said ‘let’s keep our options open.’”

If reelected, McCartney said he would work toward greater improvements at the train station, a parking deck to ensure that small businesses can survive, and restructuring the Fire Department.

Headed off to a meeting regarding the City’s new Master Plan, McCartney said he was very excited about the progress.

Susan Watson says she’s been a libertarian all her life. “I wasn’t a political party person until 2014, when I learned that Congressman Eliot Engel was running unopposed. I wrote my name in. Peter Larr loves to tell people that I came in second!”

Watson understands how much commitment it takes to run for public office having challenged incumbent Catherine Parker for County Board of Legislators in 2015. “I enjoyed the experience, and now that I’m retired I have the time to dedicate to the community I love and chose to move back to and spend my retirement.”

She’s already established herself for the long term, as a SPRYE volunteer and co-president of Rye Newcomers.

“Every level of government has it roles and responsibilities,” she noted, “and as a City Council member, my focus would be improving Rye’s quality of life. That includes addressing our infrastructure needs, the condition of sidewalks, the shortage of parking, and ensuring a good environment for businesses.”

Years ago, the Nobel Prize-winning father of one of her good friends gave her advice that has stood her well: “You don’t have to have all the answers, just ask all the questions.”

In preparation for her upcoming trip to Normandy, Watson is reading historian Rick Atkinson’s work on D-Day. She’ll be battle-ready for the Council campaign upon her return.

According to Mayor Joe Sack, he is running for reelection because “I love the job, and I think I’ve done a good job.” He expects part of the campaign to be about “bread and butter” issues: Union negotiations, maintaining services, maintaining downtown. “Our administration got the ball rolling on fixing the downtown area and got it over the goal line.”

Sack also expects “one-off” types of issues like Crown Castle and United Hospital redevelopment to surface. “These issues need to be addressed in a level-headed way. A mayor doesn’t have the luxury of one viewpoint.” Sack points to his team’s campaign moniker “All Rye” as indicative of a need to listen not just to the “loudest voices” but to be collaborative and to build consensus in making decisions that impact the City.

As for his team, he refers to running mate Terry McCartney as a “Super Star” and expects the combination of their experience and the fresh perspective of Watson and Parks will create a situation where they are pulling in the same direction, something he sees lacking in the current Council. Sack chalks that up to “two new Council members who were at times partisan,” referring to Democratic Council members Emily Hurd and Danielle Tagger-Epstein. “It’s been difficult at times, nettlesome. I want to make sure that we’re working together. That will not be an issue with Susan and Elizabeth. Success equals great teamwork.”

Elizabeth Parks is seeking a seat on the Council in her first run for public office. She hails from Houston, Texas, is a graduate of the University of Texas, and moved to Rye four years ago after 20 years in New York City. Asked why she was drawn to running for office at a time when many pass on the opportunity, she said, “For me, it’s primarily about giving back. My family – husband Andrew and three young daughters who attend Osborn School – has been able to take advantage of all that Rye has to offer. It’s about community service.” Parks also credits City Councilwoman Julie Killian as inspiring her decision to run.

Parks is the Executive Director of Sales at Fortune Live Media and spent time in sales at The Wall Street Journal. She believes her background in communications will serve her well on the Council, and views communication as an area where the City could improve, “Citizens should be made aware of issues.” She has not yet made a “deep dive” into complex issues facing the Council such as Crown Castle, which is an issue she hopes the Council works on every day. “People are passionate about their lives in Rye and real estate is part of that.”

On May 26, the Rye Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit arrested Rye resident, 28-year-old Anthony Forgione, who was in possession of six glassine bags containing a substance suspected to be cocaine. The accused was charged with Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance 3rd degree with intent to sell, a Class B Felony. He was processed, arraigned, and held on $10,000 bail.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Corcoran stated, “This arrest is the result of outstanding investigative work, spanning several weeks, by our Special Investigations Unit.” The unit’s primary mission is narcotics enforcement.

By Robin Jovanovich and Tom McDermott

It was our good fortune that Dr. Eric Byrne was relieved of jury duty and had time to sit down with us last week for a lengthy and open-ended discussion on education in general, the Rye City School District in particular, the college admissions process, test scores, teacher training, and community engagement.

His “scores” were off the charts in all areas.

Dr. Byrne becomes Rye’s new Schools Superintendent at the end of the month, after serving as Assistant Superintendent of the Chappaqua School District.

“I was very deliberate in where I applied,” he said. “I was interested in a high-performing district with a united school board, a talented staff, and a community that was looking to take a giant leap into the 21st century.”

When the Rye School Board did their site visit in Chappaqua, “We saw what a collegial relationship Eric had with both students and faculty,” said Board President Katy Keohane Glassberg, who sat in on the paper’s interview.

For Dr. Byrne, spending time in the classrooms is essential, like “rounds” to a physician. “It helps you see where your needs are,” he said.

In no rush to “mess with Rye School’s off-the-charts success rate,” he said his plan in the first few months is to assess what is working and what could be working better, and engage the community in the discussion, on everything from curriculum to space design.”

Emphasizing the importance of quality teachers, Dr. Byrne said, “ We need to set up a system for them to be successful. We need to nurture them.” He added, “I think of teachers as my class.”

In the Chappaqua schools, professional development doesn’t follow the traditional model — “off-campus workshops where teachers are watching Power Point presentations and the balance dozing off.” The Chappaqua district believes in the coaching model. Every summer, they hold a writer’s camp and the students help train the teachers. “It’s embedded development, small group coaching on-site. I can’t imagine any other way.”

The incoming Superintendent’s doctoral thesis was on innovation in education, and he’s just returned from a conference in Israel to which he was invited to speak on the subject. “I don’t have a TED talk,” he said with a smile. But he does have a wealth of knowledge and ideas.

“We’ve come a long way from the days when schools were modeled after Horace Mann. Back then, the United States needed a compliant work force and to train that work force. It was content-driven system unlike today,” he observed.

He looks at technology, not as a silver bullet but as a tool. “There is no silver bullet in education. It’s what the teacher does that counts. A laptop isn’t going to teach kids to read, but the Google classroom is revolutionary. It can give feedback and a chance to revise.”

In his first year as a teacher, at Grover Cleveland High School in Queens, he was handed a textbook and a curriculum but he created a lot of his own materials. Eric Byrne always had a vision. Growing up in Staten Island, he knew as a high school student that he needed to go to college. “I knew it was the way ahead. It wasn’t the same for my parents, neither of whom was college-educated.”

Today, the focus in education has shifted to problem solving. “There are great lessons from lots of places. We can’t just be teaching content or relying on a memorization approach,” he emphasized. “We need to build student skills so that they can defend a claim and engage in dialogue.”

On the subject of AP courses, which more and more college admissions administrators discount when considering an applicant, Dr. Byrne says, “AP classes are driven by rigor. Giving students the opportunity to take higher level courses gives them the opportunity to reach higher.” He added, “More importantly, we need to ask, ‘What is rigor?’ and ‘Are AP’s a way of tracking?’”

He continued, “What college professors want that admissions aren’t giving is kids that think critically.”

Under his watch as Superintendent of Schools in the Rye City District, expect more and more students to be doing just that.

 

 

Joseph W. Polisi, an accomplished musician and scholar who has served as the president of The Julliard School since 1984, received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree at Tufts University’s commencement May 21. John Bello, a trustee of the university was on hand to escort his neighbor and his wife, Elizabeth, and to participate in his hooding.

Polisi has led Julliard to more than three decades of growth, increased collaboration with partner institutions, and global development in support of the arts. He has performed extensively as a bassoonist, both as a soloist and chamber musician. He received a Master of Arts in International Relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts in 1970.

 

Tufts University trustee John Bello, left, with fellow Rye resident Joseph Polisi

At the College of Staten Island Commencement Ceremony May 30, President Dr. William Fritz conferred honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees upon Robin and Peter Jovanovich for their unique and generous support of scholarship students in the Teacher Education Honors Academy. These scholars go on to teach Math or Science in New York City public schools.

Robin and Peter are, respectively, president and former chairman of the Alfred Harcourt Foundation, which provides need-based college scholarships to students from underserved high schools. Their efforts over the last five years have resulted in over $250,000 in Ellen Knowles Harcourt Scholarships awarded to Teacher Education Honors Academy students and an ongoing annual commitment of $135,000. This scholarship money guarantees that the recipients will graduate with no debt, which is critically important for students who are committed to a career in teaching.

“What distinguishes these scholarships is the special role Robin and Peter play,” noted Mathematics Professor Dr. Jane Coffee in her nomination. “They visit the College of Staten Island each semester and meet individually with the Harcourt Scholars. They review each student’s record, discuss their achievements and problems, and, as one Harcourt Scholar said, ‘they care about me.’ They have had a personal impact on the lives of these students.”

CSI President Dr. William Fritz, at left, and Senior VP for Academic Affairs/ Provost Dr. Gary Reichard with Robin and Peter Jovanovich

By Tom McDermott

A not so funny thing happened on the way to a third community meeting to discuss a new Disbrow Park Master Plan to improve recreational areas and DPW facilities on June 20. The meeting was rescheduled to June 27, due to Gary Sorge of Stantec Consulting being unavailable to attend, according to City Manager Marcus Serrano. But, more importantly, a civic donnybrook was breaking out between Mayor Joe Sack on the one hand and Assemblyman Steve Otis and Rye Country Day School on the other, over who would purchase a nine-acre parcel of land near the school, the City of Rye in order to possibly move DPW there (Plan C), or the school for playing fields to be shared with the City.

In a strongly worded and accusatory letter to Governor Cuomo dated June 21, Sack urged the Governor to veto a bill which was passed by the State Assembly and Senate June 15 which would allow Rye Country Day to purchase the property. The bill stipulates that the land must be used for recreational purposes and must be shared with the public through an agreement with the City. The bills were a matter of public record as they coursed their way through the legislative process, but Sack accused Otis, and by extension the school, of forging ahead despite the City having recently indicated to Otis its desire to purchase the property itself. Additionally, the Mayor stated the Council had declined to approve a home rule resolution supporting the sale to Rye Country Day. Although not publicly disclosed, the cost would be $7.44 million.

“At best, the actions of Assemblyman Otis were premature. At worst, they represented a behind-the-back attempt to steer the parcel to Rye Country Day without our knowledge and against our wishes,” Sack wrote to Cuomo.

Wasting no time, Otis fired back with his own letter and accompanying documents stating Sack was “Putting forth demonstrably inaccurate information to the public or other levels of government.” Otis reviewed the long history of Rye’s trying to protect the parcel from becoming a Thruway maintenance yard or other such commercial site. He also reminded Sack of the Mayor’s previous endorsement of the sharing plan with Rye Country Day and stated that “at no time was a home rule resolution requested of the City.”

“The legislation actually provides the City veto power over conveyance of the parcel to the school because it requires execution of a shred agreement,” Otis stated. Asked by the paper today why it mattered that Rye Country Day and Otis proceeded, based upon that veto power, Sack questioned “Why do we need the law?” He also said no decision had been made by the City as yet regarding moving DPW from Disbrow. “The City might decide to buy it for a DPW site; it might buy it for playing fields itself; and it might renew talks with Rye Country Day to share it.”

Otis provided a copy of his June 1 letter to the Mayor and City Council reviewing his efforts over a couple of years to forge a plan for the Thruway Authority to sell the parcel to either the City or the school. “In the fall of 2016, the Mayor...requested that the terms of the sale be changed: the City wanted the state to sell the property to the school.” He also provided a Confidential May 26 letter to Sack and the Council that provided a draft of the proposed legislation for their review and comments. “Our plan is to introduce the bill within the next week,” Otis stated in that letter.

What did Rye Country Day have to say about all of this? A June 5 letter from the school’s Board of Trustees President Andrea Sullivan to the Mayor and Council made available to the paper expressed opposition to the idea of moving DPW to the site, estimating additional development costs of $20 million for the site (track, field, parking, possible fieldhouse). She stated in the same letter that Otis had already introduced the legislation. “If the DPW plan moves forward, you can anticipate opposition from the school and many residents,” she wrote. In a June 13 letter to “Former RCDS Parents Who Live in Rye,” Headmaster Scott Nelson wrote about “several serious concerns regarding a DPW move to the site,” including Safety, Traffic, and Cost. Nelson urged the Rye Country Day community to express their views to the City Council, which is set to discuss the Disbrow plans at its July 12 meeting.

As of June 21, this was how the situation stood: The Mayor believes he and the City were blindsided by Assemblyman Otis forging ahead with the bill. Otis is feeling the City is under-appreciating his efforts and is incredulous that the City somehow did not know he was introducing legislation for the school to buy the property and share it with the City. He called for an apology to the community from Sack. Rye Country Day is feeling jilted by its one time partner for whom it was willing to provide all the capital needed for the purchase and seems to be gearing up for a possible fight.

While this storm raged, residents may have been forgotten that Stantec Consulting also presented Disbrow Plans A and B, both of which improve recreational fields, safety, and DPW facilities within the existing boundaries of the park. Those plans, and Plan C to move DPW, are available for comment on the City’s website, ryeny.gov, until June 25.

State Senator George Latimer and Assemblyman Steve Otis are pleased to announce state construction grant awards for the New Rochelle and Rye City library systems. The grants are part of a $19 million capital fund appropriation for public library construction in the 2016 state budget.

The Rye Free Reading Room has been awarded $31,129 to create a quiet study space, while the New Rochelle Public Library will receive $78,804 to install a new HVAC system in its main building and a $28,804 grant to replace the interior windows of the Huguenot Children’s Library.

Otis, who serves on the Assembly Libraries and Education Technology Committee, stated: “These grants will help modernize and enhance our library spaces, making them more efficient, functional, and enjoyable for residents. State assistance for these important projects eases the burden on local property taxpayers to make these improvements.”

Latimer added, “For many years, libraries have served as a cornerstone in our communities. We have a responsibility to our communities — parents and children as well as the libraries, staff, and dozens of volunteers who support them — to ensure that the facilities are top-notch and best serve all those who utilize them.”

Rye Free Reading Room Director Chris Shoemaker said, “The new quiet study spaces will give teens and tutors a place to learn, and small business owners places to work and grow. We’re grateful for our legislators’ longtime support of libraries and the construction grant program.”

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