Rye City Schools

Dr. Frank Alvarez has been on the job for a year. This month, before the start of the new school year, we had a chance to sit down with him and talk about what’s worked and where there is still work to be done in the Rye City School District.

Published August 22, 2013 5:00 AM
7 min read


alvarez-thumbDr. Frank Alvarez has been on the job for a year. This month, before the start of the new school year, we had a chance to sit down with him and talk about what’s worked and where there is still work to be done in the Rye City School District.

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Across the School Superintendent’s Desk


DR.-ALVAREZDr. Frank Alvarez has been on the job for a year. This month, before the start of the new school year, we had a chance to sit down with him and talk about what’s worked and where there is still work to be done in the Rye City School District.

What’s working well?

“Instruction, curriculum,” Dr. Alvarez said. “We have a strong system that’s been well managed over a long period of time.” He added that he’s witnessed a high level of enthusiasm by staff to engage in new thinking. And he’s pleased by the level of support from parents — from raising money to supporting initiatives.

Implementing the Common Core Curriculum has taken up most of the Superintendent’s first year. “It’s been a difficult year because the intensity around evaluation has shifted with Common Core.”

But a healthy level of dialogue is not a bad thing, he noted.

“The challenges have been getting everyone up to standard and fitting it in the budget,” said Alvarez. “We lost 27 full-time staffers and realigned the schedule to meet that reduction.” The District only hired two new full-time teachers for the 2013-14 school year.

In the coming year, he will take a close look at literacy in kindergarten and first grade. “We had a consultant come in and we’ve already done some teacher training. To ensure early intervention, we’ll have more professional development in the coming year,” explained Alvarez.

Sustainability is also much on his mind. “With the new teacher’s contract negotiation there was less acrimony, more good feeling. How do you sustain that good feeling with mandates?”  

“We had RTA members at our table with Board members. That goes a long way in creating a spirit of trust and cooperation — we also have to create a lot of advocacy on the part of our elected officials.”

With 80 percent of the annual budget going to salaries and benefits, the Administration has to look long and wide to find efficiencies to keep school tax increases to a minimum. To that end, the Administration has reduced intervention services and cut the number of sections in Osborn Grade 4 from six to five. “It meant increasing the number of students in a classroom from 17 to 22.”

Rather than hire assistant principals at Osborn and Midland Elementary schools, wouldn’t it have been better to hire a few more excellent teachers in classes and subjects where better instruction is needed, we asked the Superintendent.

“New mandates drove our decision,” he replied. “We had staff developer positions and instead we have assistant principals who are certified to provide coaching and continue to oversee curriculum.”

The District didn’t hire an assistant principal for Milton because its student population is in the 400s, not the 500s like Midland or the 600s like Osborn. “Five hundred becomes a turning point.”

RYE-HIGH-IMG 1439The State released the Common Core general results the week of our interview with Superintendent Alvarez. While the results haven’t been shared with parents, he was willing to talk in a general way about Rye’s results.

“Initially, it was surprising we had more students scoring at the 1 and 2 Level than we expected,” said Alvarez. “It’s a new benchmark, a new normal. We’re right in the pack with our peer group. We’ll be focusing on moving those 1 and 2 kids up this year.”

Alvarez said he and the School Board would talk about those results at their upcoming retreat. Parents will receive a full report in October.

“I’m not thrilled with the emphasis on testing, but what it’s asking students to do in classrooms is a good thing. We need to do better on a consistent basis,” said Alvarez.

Many parents of Special Ed students are upset that their children will now be receiving more instruction out of the classroom setting, despite the fact that studies show that one-on-one teaching works better. “We’re not making a full-scale change,” he explained. “We’re trying it out at the Middle School and in one or two classes at the High School. For students who don’t have severe disabilities, we believe they’ll see more benefit spending time with a content specialist.” He added, “We’re not taking anything away from Special Ed students.”

Alvarez is pleased to report that after the serious bullying incident that occurred at the end of the 2012 school year, he has received no reports of bullying in his first year. “There’s been a cultural shift, and the community understands that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated.”

One of his goals this year is to sit in on more classrooms. Of course, he’ll also be overseeing the implementation of the new K-5 Science 21, the new electives in Grades 6-12, and the emergency management plan continues to be fine tuned.

But he’s looking forward to his second year on the job.

— Robin Jovanovich and Tom McDermott


applesWelcome, New Teachers

Robert Villanova joins Rye Middle School as a Guidance Counselor. He worked at the Middle School as a Guidance Counselor leave replacement in 2009, but most recently served as a School Counselor in the Mahopac Central School District, where he counseled students in all grades and additionally coached baseball. Mr. Villanova also previously worked at Scarsdale, Briarcliff, and Arlington high schools. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Iona College and a Master of Science degree from Fordham University.

Joanna Brooks joins Osborn Elementary School as a leave replacement teacher. She previously taught fourth grade at Wampus Elementary School in Armonk, where she has worked since 2007. Prior to that, she taught first grade at Harrison Avenue Elementary School in Harrison. Ms. Brooks earned her Bachelor of Science degree from SUNY Geneseo and her Master’s degree from Fordham University.


Two All-Star Teachers

Every year, the Rye City School District bestows the Teacher of the Year award on one extraordinary staff member, but this year the award was given to two members, Dr. Iris Arest and Ms. Karen Kozan.
Ms. Kozan has taught at Milton Elementary for 15 years, primarily as a kindergarten teacher known for establishing a “positive foundation” for her students.

teacher arestDescribed by her fellow staff members as a friend, supporter, and mentor, Ms. Kozan has collaborated with many of her colleagues as well as special education students, staff, and ELL families. She has been innovative and creative in developing different ways to teach curriculum, integrate new tools, and meet various learning styles. Many of her students remember her use of song and dance to teach important concepts.

Ms. Kozan served as Faculty Club President and is currently a Union Representative. She has supported many initiatives at Milton, including the K-5 Buddy Program, the annual UNICEF drive which she organizes, and the NYSUT-sponsored food drive that she also leads. She works closely with the PTO’s Philanthropic Committee in engaging the school community in charitable events.

When presenting the award, Dr. Alvarez said, “Several years back, Milton classes were relocated to portables at Midland during a construction project. Ms. Kozan was one of the teachers assigned to the new setting, and she embraced the change. She was calm and enthusiastic in providing a nurturing, comfortable learning environment for students during this time.”

teacher kozanDr. Arest, School Psychologist at Rye High School, is responsible for the coordination of testing, evaluations, counseling, observations, CSE meetings, and student reviews. Additionally, she provides guidance and support to students and parents alike, making sure families’ needs are met.

She’s widely described as someone who does not give up. Current and former staff members have noted Dr. Arest’s quick willingness to troubleshoot problems. She takes the time to go the extra mile, accessible at off-hours as someone her students can always turn to. Her contributions have been felt throughout the District.

As Dr. Alvarez stated at the awards ceremony, “It is clear that Dr. Arest is a valuable mentor to her colleagues and a source of support and encouragement. She has given a great deal of her life to Rye High School and loves what she does, and we are proud to give back to her with this honor.” 


What’s New at Rye City Schools

The Rye City School District is introducing several new programs, courses, and electives in September. The High School will offer Financial Algebra as an elective class that combines algebraic approaches to financial topics, and teaching strategies applied to real-life situations. The High School will also introduce Mandarin IV as the next level of the Mandarin language opportunities, and Robotics and Engineering as an elective, which provides the foundation for future initiatives in engineering.

The Middle School will offer the Biz Wiz as a sixth-grade exploratory course, teaching students about business and entrepreneurship. The Canvas and Timber elective will allow students to experience and investigate artistic and architectural history.
The elementary schools are implementing the Science 21 curriculum, a comprehensive standards-based science program for the 21st-century learner.


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