Thursday, December 3, 2020

Nyack school superintendent to retire, board seeks new leader


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NYACK – The school board is searching for a new superintendent to manage a district with 2,875 students and a nearly $85 million budget after James Montesano announced he would retire at the end of the academic year. 

“He’s had a wonderful tenure here,” school board President Michael Mark said during a Sept. 15 board meeting.

Montesano notified the school board in late May that he would resign as superintendent of schools effective June 30, 2021.

“I will always fondly remember Nyack as a place with an unparalleled sense of community that is blessed with parents, staff and Board Members bonded by their genuine interest in children,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

The board accepted Montesano’s resignation, “for the purposes of retirement,” at its June 2 meeting.

School Leadership LLC was hired by the board to consult on the superintendent search. The district is seeking input from the community, with a survey seeking input about a superintendent hire on its website in English and Spanish.

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Montesano joined the district just before the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year. He had been superintendent in Paramus, New Jersey.

Montesano’s salary for the 2020-2021 school year was listed as $281,410 with the New York State Education Department.

The district comprises one high school, one middle school and three elementary schools and serves children from the Orangetown and Clarkstown communities of Valley Cottage, Upper Nyack, Nyack, South Nyack and Central Nyack. About 43% of district students identify as white; 26% Latinx-Hispanic; 18% Black; 6% Asian; and 5% multi-racial. About 35% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Like school districts in New York and around the nation, Nyack has had to figure out distance learning and develop a hybrid learning plan for this year.

The district has also focused on addressing equity issues, with Montesano leading the way, Mark said.

After the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and subsequent demonstrations around the nation and the world, the district put forth a statement that district schools “stand resolutely against all acts of racism.”

But the work started well before that, Mark said. A year earlier, Montesano led a districtwide equity initiative. In September, Nyack schools hired Alexandria Connally as its first director of equity, inclusion and innovation. 

“We’re deeply committed and really proud to be addressing it in a way that doesn’t just feel like window dressing,” Mark said.  

In August, the school board voted to scrap the schools’ Indian mascot completely — in 2003, sports teams halted the use of the Indian visage, though kept the name; the marching band rebranded itself the Red Storm. Mark was on the board during the attempt to scrap the Indian mascot 17 years ago. The district, he said, changed with the times. “There was more light and less heat this time,” he said.

The district continues to choose a new mascot.After a community survey, the choice is down to three: RiverHawks, Red Hawks and Spartans. The board will hear results of a student survey at the Oct. 20 school board meeting. 

Nancy Cutler writes about People & Policy. Click here for her latest stories.  Follow her on Twitter at @nancyrockland. Support local journalism; go to lohud.com/specialoffer to find out how.

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