The Rye Board of Education announced last month the hiring of Dr. Frank Alvarez to succeed Dr. Edward Shine, who will retire June 30 after 16 years of service.
By Sarah Varney
The Rye Board of Education announced last month the hiring of Dr. Frank Alvarez to succeed Dr. Edward Shine, who will retire June 30 after 16 years of service. The School Board introduced Dr. Alvarez March 27 during a reception at the Rye High School library, before approving his five-year contract.
Dr. Alvarez comes to Rye after serving nine years as Superintendent of Schools for Montclair, New Jersey. Previously, he was superintendent in the River Vale and North Caldwell, N.J. school systems. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Montclair State University and a Master of Arts and Doctorate degrees from Columbia University’s Teachers College. He lives in River Vale, N.J. with his wife and two children.
During his tenure in the Montclair system, Dr. Alvarez oversaw special education initiatives, the integration of technology into curricula, expansion of gifted/talented programs for all students, and the introduction of Mandarin language classes.
Under his leadership, the Montclair district enjoyed one of the highest college placement rates among New Jersey schools: 93%. That’s with class sizes between 28-29 students. Montclair Public Schools have 6,700 students in 11 schools. At the elementary level, class sizes are between 23 and 27. In Rye, the average class has 22 students. At Rye High, 98% of graduates go on to college.
“It’s tough to say how much class size really matters,” Dr. Alvarez said in a recent interview with The Rye Record. “Both views are right, but much of the research shows that unless the teacher does something different it may not matter. You can be sitting there with 16 kids, and if you’re doing nothing different than what you did with 25, then there’s probably no difference,” he said.
Class sizes in Montclair haven’t increased in the last nine years. “A range of 20-25 (students in a class) is ideal but I’m not sure that it’s realistic in this economy. Something has to give,” he said.
Dr. Alvarez is no stranger to the realities of school finance in today’s economic climate. New Jersey, like New York State, recently imposed a 2% tax cap on property tax levy rates. “The state is about a year behind New York in implementing the change,” said Dr. Alvarez.
The new superintendent will earn $243,600 per year with a proviso in the contract that states this amount cannot be reduced. “The superintendent’s salary shall not in any event be reduced from the previous year’s amount upon annual review and determination,” according to the contract.
New Jersey’s cap on superintendent salaries is $175,000 a year for schools with fewer than 10,000 students. Currently, the Rye City Schools Superintendent Dr. Shine earns around $280,000 per year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently floated the idea of a similar rule that would cap salaries at $175,000.
Expansion of Montclair’s special education program allowed the school district to bring 19 students back over a three-year period. The move saved approximately $5 million. It costs school districts less to educate special education students within their systems than to pay outside, sometimes private schools. There are definite advantages to having students in-district, he added. “It’s easier to manage and we have more control. It’s also much better socially for the kids.”
Possible changes to the co-teaching model for special education students have been a hot topic lately in Rye. A February report commissioned by the Rye City District by the District Management Council, a Boston-based education consultancy, suggested that changes to the co-teaching model might be beneficial.
The report, titled “Rye City School District: Special Education Opportunities Review”, focused on narrowing the performance gap on standardized New York state tests between special education students and general education students at Rye Middle School. The middle school achievement gap has increased 50% since 2007. The high school has closed the gap by 20% and the elementary school gap has remained the same. Two teachers, one focused on the special education students and one “subject expert” teacher, work together in a single classroom under the co-teaching model.
“Co-teaching is a good model,’’ Dr. Alvarez continued. “It has worked very effectively in some places. It’s important that the two teachers actually behave as equals. There’s merit to the model, but it’s very dependent on how it’s set up.”
For now, Dr. Alvarez plans to concentrate on getting a sense of the Rye schools. “I’m thrilled. The potential for how much teaching and learning I can do is greater, and I’m really looking forward to that.”