NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The highest achieving and most dedicated middle school and high school students in the New Rochelle public schools were kept in the dark about a program launched by Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino to reward students with exceptionally high grades or attendance records.
After extensive research and reporting, Talk of the Sound has determined that emails sent by the County to inform the District about the program and encourage students to register were blocked by the IT Department. That department is run by Dr. Christine Coleman.
Coleman has, in the past, shown to be unfamiliar with how the District's internet filter software operates.
Astorino honored the winners of the "ACE" Challenge, Astorino Challenge in Education, at a press conference at Playland on July 3rd. All registered Westchester County students, grades 6 through 12, who achieved a final G.P.A of at least 3.8, 95% or A average, or better (depending on the school’s grading system) or perfect attendance for the entire school year were honored as ACE challenge winners. They were invited to the press event with the County Executive and given a free season pass to Playland good from the date of issue until the end of the season and includes free admission to the park and unlimited rides.
This is Astorino’s second year issuing the challenge which is administered by the Westchester County Youth Bureau. More than 300 students signed up this year but just two of the winners were New Rochelle students and neither of whom heard about the program through the District.
Contacted by Talk of the Sound, senior administrators said they too were unaware of the program and never received any emails from Westchester County.
New Rochelle High School Principal Reginald Richardson, Albert Leonard Middle School Principal John Barnes and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff all said they were unaware of the program. Isaac E. Young Middle School Principal Dr. Antony Bongo did not respond.
Korostoff was Interim Superintendent during this year's sign up period. Several guidance counselors contacted by Talk of the Sound said they too were unaware of the program.
"I did not know about the program," said Barnes. "I wish I had knew about in order to help the cause and the report card outcome."
Diane Barnes, the mother of an eligible student at Isaac Young, was extremely displeased to learn of the program from local news coverage of the Playland press event.
She fired off a letter, tinged with disappointment, to Astorino's office alerting them to a potential problem with the program.
"I’m writing to inform you that neither I nor other parents were informed of the "ACE" project - Astorino Challenge in Education," Barnes wrote. "My son and 3 others have Perfect Attendance for 3 years in a row; they received an award for such, along with being on the Honor Roll for 3 years in a row."
"It’s a shame that so many other deserving and hardworking students did not get recognized in this manner for their achievements and accomplishments," she added.
Talk of the Sound reached out to Astorino's office to understand what went wrong in communications between the County Executive's Office and school officials and staff.
After a three-week investigation, Talk of the Sound has determined that the County did send the emails to the District and that school administrators and staff did not receive those emails.
The County provided emails and email lists used to contact administrators and guidance counselors throughout Westchester County which clearly indicate the many District staff and administrators were sent the information by the County.
Coleman refused to answer questions about precisely what went wrong but it appears that internet filtering software was set in such a way as to block the emails from the County so that while the County sent them they were trapped by the software and never made their way to staff.
Internet security experts who spoke to Talk of the Sound said the likely cause is that because the email was sent to a large number of email addresses and the settings were overly restrictive on the mail server those emails were treated as "spam" and blocked. Typically, a government agency like Westchester County would be "white-listed" in an email filter.
Repeatedly asked to comment, Coleman was evasive, ignoring emails and then later referring all inquiries to Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne.
Osborne issued a statement and apologized for the delay in responding.
The City School District of New Rochelle thanks Westchester County for providing students in the county with an additional incentive to attend school daily and work hard. We celebrate the CSDNR students that were honored and regret that some qualified students may not have been encouraged to register. We look forward to partnering with the Westchester County Youth Bureau to increase participation in the ACE Challenge in the coming year.
There was no explanation as to what steps would be taken to prevent the repeat of this past year or how the District would be able to partner with the Westchester County Youth Bureau without correcting existing problems.