New Rochelle High School Principal, Warning of Impact on Instruction of 4.5% Staffing Cuts, Misapplies Thomas Jefferson Quote

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New Rochelle High School Principal, Warning of Impact on Instruction of 4.5% Staffing Cuts, Misapplies Thomas Jefferson Quote

April 11, 2012 - 06:14

TjeffersonNew Rochelle High School Principal Donald Conetta is warning that instruction will "undoubtedly" be affected by the 2012-13 school budget while demonstrating his own lack of erudition in the process.

In remarks in the recent high school newsletter, Conetta wrote:

We all realize we continue to experience very difficult economic times on the federal, state, local and personal level. The impact on our education budget is inevitable but no less difficult and worrisome. If you have attended or viewed recent board budget review meetings, you know there are many challenging decisions to be made which will impact our schools. New Rochelle High School along with every other school in the district has been directed to reduce staffing by 4.5% for next year. This directive in conjunction with reductions from the past two years will result in a staff reduction of approximately 50 positions over three years at NRHS.

The much beleaguered former Secretary of State, Dean Acheson once said, “the more difficult a situation is, the more challenge there is to our powers, and the more keenness there is in life.”

I hope he was right. We are doing everything possible to reduce the impact of these reductions on instruction, but I must report that programs will undoubtedly be affected this year. There will be reductions in the number of sections and offerings in elective areas and class size will increase. I can assure you that we continue to be committed to maintaining as many programs and opportunities as possible. Our programs have enabled our students to succeed at very high levels over many years. Our goal is to preserve that and build upon it.

As you know, last year New Rochelle High School conducted a certified graduation ceremony for the first time in recent history. Once again this year in order to participate in the graduation ceremony, seniors must have completed all graduation credit and regents requirements before June 21. It is imperative that students verify their status with their counselor immediately and seek appropriate advice on a course of action to complete all requirements.

In the coming months and years you will be hearing more and more about the Common Core of State Standards. I wish to provide you with an introduction to this mandate with the following from the State Education Department. The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, and the standards in Math are the culmination of an extended, broad-based effort to fulfill the charge issued by the states to create the next generation of K–12 standards in order to help ensure that all students are college and career ready in literacy and math no later than the end of high school.

The present work, led by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)and the National Governors Association (NGA), builds on the foundation laid by states in their decades-long work on crafting high-quality education standards. The Standards also draw on the most important international models as well as research and input from numerous sources, including state departments of education, scholars, assessment developers, professional organizations, educators from kindergarten through college, and parents, students, and other members of the public. In their design and content, refined through successive drafts and numerous rounds of feedback, the Standards represent a synthesis of the best elements of standards-related work to date and an important advance over that previous work. As specified by CCSSO and NGA, the Standards are (1) research and evidence based, (2) aligned with college and work expectations, (3) rigorous, and (4) internationally benchmarked. A particular standard was included in the document only when the best available evidence indicated that its mastery was essential for college and career readiness in a twenty-first-century, globally competitive society. The Standards are intended to be a living work: as new and better evidence emerges, the Standards will be revised accordingly.

As a natural outgrowth of meeting the charge to define college and career readiness, the Standards also lay out a vision of what it means to be a literate person in the twenty-first century. Indeed, the skills and understandings students are expected to demonstrate have wide applicability outside the classroom or workplace. Students who meet the Standards readily undertake the close, attentive reading that is at the heart of understanding and enjoying complex works of literature. They habitually perform the critical reading necessary to pick carefully through the staggering amount of information available today in print and digitally. They actively seek the wide, deep, and thoughtful engagement with high-quality literary and informational texts that builds knowledge, enlarges experience, and broadens worldviews. They reflexively demonstrate the cogent reasoning and use of evidence that is essential to both private deliberation and responsible citizenship in a democratic republic. In short,
students who meet the Standards develop the skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening that are the foundation for any creative and purposeful expression in language.

The implementation of the CCSS is a work in progress. There are many questions to be answered, not the least of which is the assessment piece tied to the standards. These are yet to be determined. As educators we are continually looking for ways to improve instruction and outcomes for students. However, we are also hesitant to give way to agencies far removed from our local needs.

I recently came upon a quote by Thomas Jefferson which seems appropriate, “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their direction by education.”

There is much more to come in this regard. I hope to share progress as it becomes available…Our teachers, staff and administrators are a highly qualified dedicated group of professionals focused on our mission of providing “what is best for our students.”

I encourage you to avail yourself of the opportunity to become more informed about the budget and process...I remind you that the School Board Election and Budget vote is Tuesday, May 15.

With unintended irony, Conetta quotes Jefferson on what he believes to be a quote on the importance of "education" by which he means the sort of education provided by the New Rochelle Public School system. In fact, Jefferson is referring to the sort of "education" that comes from a free press and open government, something anathema to many working in the upper reaches of the New Rochelle Public School system.

The quote is a line from a letter from Thomas Jefferson to William Charles Jarvis, written on 28 September 1820 at Jefferson's estate of Monticello in Virginia.

In a further bit of irony, the letter could not be more timely in regards to the recent U.S. Supreme Court case involving the Affordable Health Care Act or "Obamacare". President Obama has recently challenged the Supreme Court not to overturn the law on the grounds that is violates the U.S. Constitution. Obama and Jefferson are expressing opposition to Marbury v. Madison, the long-standing precedent which hold that the U.S. Supreme Court to be the sole arbiter of whether a law is constitutional.

In the letter to Jarvis, Jefferson argues it is a "very dangerous doctrine" to believe that judges are the "ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions". Jefferson states that the U.S. Constitution does not envision giving such power to unelected judges, appointed for life terms, and that to do may subvert the U.S. Constitution by taking awat power from elected officials. Jefferson contends that "when the legislative or executive functionaries act unconstitutionally, they are responsible to the people in their elective capacity."

In other words, the corrective envisioned in the U.S. Constitution is that if the President or Congress acts unconstitutionally the people will "vote the bums out". The only problem is that they may not be able to make that judgement to do so unless they are informed of the unconstitutional act.

Jefferson is not saying that the proper response to threat of despotism is to send kids to school. He is saying that the solution is to make sure the public is informed of the decisions, laws and conduct of public officials so voters can use their own discretion in whether to retain a particular elected official in office.

The irony of a senior official in the New Rochelle school system citing this particular quote is that Jefferson is talking about the precise opposite of what has occurred in New Rochelle over the past few decades when New Rochelle went from the Mayor appointing school board members to electing school board members. School board elections are a good idea; the monolithic nature of how the school board has traditionally operated and the pathological desire to suppress information and criticism is not.

The letter follows with the quote cited by Don Conetta in bold:

To William Charles Jarvis.
Monticello, September 28, 1820.

I thank you, Sir, for the copy of your Republican which you have been so kind as to send me, and I should have acknowledged it sooner but that I am just returned home after a long absence. I have not vet had time to read it seriously, but in looking over it cursorily I see much in it to approve, and shall be glad if it shall lead our youth to the practice of thinking on such subjects and for themselves. That it will have this tendency may be expected, and for that reason I feel an urgency to note what I deem an error in it, the more requiring notice as your opinion is strengthened by that of many others.

You seem, in pages 84 and 148, to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps. Their maxim is “boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem,” and their power the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control.

The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves. If the legislature fails to pass laws for a census, for paying the judges and other officers of government, for establishing a militia, for naturalization as prescribed by the Constitution, or if they fail to meet in congress, the judges cannot issue their mandamus to them ; if the President fails to supply the place of a judge, to appoint other civil or military officers, to issue requisite commissions, the judges cannot force him. They can issue their mandamus or distringas to no executive or legislative officer to enforce the fulfilment of their official duties, any more than the President or legislature may issue orders to the judges or their officers.

Betrayed by English example, and unaware, as it should seem, of the control of our Constitution in this particular, they have at times overstepped their limit by undertaking to command executive officers in the discharge of their executive duties ; but the Constitution, in keeping three departments distinct and independent, restrains the authority of the judges to judiciary organs, as it does the executive and legislative to executive and legislative organs. The judges certainly have more frequent occasion to act on constitutional questions, because the laws of meum and tuum and of criminal action, forming the great mass of the system of law, constitute their particular department. When the legislative or executive functionaries act unconstitutionally, they are responsible to the people in their elective capacity. The exemption of the judges from that is quite dangerous enough. I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves ; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.

Pardon me, Sir, for this difference of opinion. My personal interest in such questions is entirely extinct, but not my wishes for the longest possible continuance of our government on its pure principles ; if the three powers maintain their mutual independence on each other it may last long, but not so if either can assume the authorities of the other. I ask your candid re-consideration of this subject, and am sufficiently sure you will form a candid conclusion. Accept the assurance of my great respect.

The line preceding the quote is about the exemption of Supreme Court justices from having to stand for election. The quote itself is an explanation as to why those justices should not be made the "depository of the ultimate powers of society", that the only safe depository is "the people" which have the power to "exercise their control" at the ballot box.

This sort of misuse of a quotation is what happens when the uneducated attempt to sound educated by Googling for quotes with which to impress equally uninformed readers as their faux-intellectual prowess. This is a common practice among school officials.

The result is often the sort of foolishness on display here.

There are 2 Comments

Martin Sanchez's picture

Thank you for your constitutional narrative, but I wanted to follow-up on a note you highlight when referring to senior school officials - "pathological desire to suppress information". I say this because, I was previously a fan of the NRHS student newspaper the Herald. Up until the 2010 graduating class, it was an effective tool by which young journalist enthusiast at NRHS could write and opine on a variety of subejcts - some controversial, some fun, but in the end good efforts at being creative writers. Then the journalism teacher was fired because of some vendetta between the English Dept Head and the teacher (he was previously a Rolling Stone writer). I enjoyed the student writings in 2009, 2010 and then it stopped. It is well known that student writings were subjected to the censorship of Mr. Conetta and and the English dept Head. This obviously annoyed young students who could not understandt the Joseph McCarthy-type of running their world. I've previously asked the NRHS Admnistration why the Hearld was taken offline, literally (it use to be posted on the NRHS webpage). To date, and it's been a year, no response from Mr. Conetta or Mr. Costiglio (their information officer). So much for freedom of the press at NRHS. Doesn't it irritate you when school officals never get back to you? And when they do, it seems that the answer was plagiarized from some google site.

another great job Bob. Thank you.