NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- A review of the 75 school personnel listed on the New Rochelle school district web site under the title of "Teaching Assistant" shows that 27% of the names are either not in the New York State Education Department Certification Lookup Database or the records contain some sort of significant discrepancy.
Two people listed as Teaching Assistants show their licenses have expired, one recently and one back in 1996.
The NYSED Certification Lookup Database, as of February 24th, 2012 indicates that John Guastaferro (ALMS) and Yvette Page (IEYMS) were working with expired licenses.
Further, there does not appear to be a Teaching Assistant license listed in the NYSED Certification Lookup Database for Stephan Stewart (ALMS), Lisa Mancuso (ALMS), Yolanda Blanco (Barnard), Anita Ciafardini (Barnard), Anna Palacios (Davis), Ximena Navarro (IEYMS), Christine Thomas (Jefferson), Naima Jones (NRHS), Linda Landrine (NRHS), Kip Fierro (NRHS), Lisa Tucker (NRHS), and Rosemary Seiser (Webster).
Lisa Mancuso recently announced her intention to retire from the district at the end of the current school year.
The primary purpose of putting SED Certification Lookup databases online is so that the public, in the case parents, can independently confirm that the people teaching their children are duly licensed professionals. As a result, the district has an affirmative obligation to match the names and titles on the district web site with the names and titles in the SED Certification Lookup database.
In undertaking our review, Talk of the Sound gathered the names of all personnel from the 11 building-level web sites where their title was listed as "Teaching Assistant" and entered the names in the NYSED Certification Lookup Database.
In cases, where there was not a match, several additional steps were taken to verify the name. For example, a non-common last name or first name might be run by itself and then a match for "New Rochelle" sought.
There could be a variety of reasons for a name not appearing in the NYSED database: a change of name, a misspelling either on the district web site or in the NYSED database, or that the person was certified prior to 1983 when teacher certification records were first computerized in 1983, or some other error.
Teaching Assistants where no record could be found were notified by email and asked to provide any additional information that might help identify them in the NYSED Certification Lookup Database. Several Teaching Assistants did so and their names were removed from a "flagged" list of Teaching Assistants.
The two Teaching Assistants with expired licenses were informed they had been flagged. Neither responded to repeated request for comment or explanation.
In addition, Talk of the Sound notified senior administration officials including Reza Kolahifar, Assistant to the Superintendent for Human Resources, as well as board members and union leadership.
All Teaching Assistants that were found to be in the database were notified by email that their name had been run and that there was no problem indicated with their license.
There are 75 Teaching Assistants listed on the school district web site.
55 of the Teaching Assistants were in the NYSED Certification Lookup Database where there was a match on the name and school district. 4 of the Teaching Assistants were in the database but listed under a different school district. 1 person listed as a Teaching Assistant informed Talk of the Sound they were actually a Teacher's Aide.
15 records had significant issues: 12 names were either in the database but listed as "No Records Found" or were not in the database at all. 1 is incorrectly listed as a Teaching Assistant. 2 of the names were for licenses that had expired.
The New Rochelle Board of Education did not respond directly to requests for comment but, at a meeting of the New Rochelle Board of Education on February 26th, Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak issued the following statement:
This addresses the issue, the manufactured issue, of Teaching Assistants not being certified.
Every Teaching Assistant in the New Rochelle City school district has been verified to have met all the necessary requirements for certification in New York State. In some cases, the State Education Department has inaccurate records of social security numbers or misspellings of names that would lead to a person not appearing on the web site of certification therefore the issue of Teaching Assistants for this community rests in the personnel office [eventually?] as everyone is certified.
Talk of the Sound did not "manufacture" an issue. We ran the names of the Teaching Assistants in the NYSED Certification Lookup Database, reported our findings to the administration, including Mr. Kolahifar in the the personnel office, and requested an explanation. Our requests were ignored by the administration and the board prior to the statement by Mr. Organisciak.
Mr. Organisciak was correct that there could be many reasons why a person is not in the NYSED Certification Lookup Database. Neither he nor anyone else in the administration has offered any such reasons for the 15 people referenced above.
In November 2011, Mr. Kolahifar, shortly after he took office, made a presentation to the board explaining his plan for cleaning up an antiquated system of tracking certifications of school personnel.
The presentation came in the wake of the Nadine Pacheco incident when Talk of the Sound first reported that Ms. Pacheco had served for years as Assistant Principal at Trinity Elementary School without the required administrative license. It is a violation of New York State law to pay someone in a position requiring a certification for which that person is not certified.
Despite Mr. Kolahifar's stated intention to return a year later to provide an update, Mr. Kolahifar did not make an update presentation to the board in the fall of 2012. Board President Chrisanne Petrone confirmed last month to Talk of the Sound that the board has no current plans for Mr. Kolahifar to provide an update on his November 2011 presentation.