Ask school board to reverse decision
By Jeff Simms
For some Beacon parents, the unexpected transfer of a Sargent Elementary School physical education teacher has evoked memories of one year ago, when 27 teachers were transferred throughout the district just before school started.
While it is normal to see staff movement each summer as new hires are made and posts open for various reasons, the transfer of Maryanne Ceriello to J.V. Forrestal — after spending most of her 20-plus year career at Sargent — seemed suspicious, parents say.
“This move feels similar to the 27 teacher transfers in one way: it’s not in the best interests of the kids,” Sargent parent Lori Merhige said. “Great teachers help build strong programs, and transfers driven by politics completely disregard the essential work these great teachers do.”
In August 2015, more than two dozen Beacon teachers were transferred, with many parents speculating that the moves were retaliatory.
Merhige said Wednesday that she and other Sargent parents believe the district “still has work to do” as far as “putting kids before politics.”
Ceriello “was always there after hours, working to make things better,” Merhige said. “She really was a dedicated member of the Sargent community, and this is a big loss for us.”
A day before the Aug. 29 school board meeting, a group of Sargent parents created a petition at ipetitions.com protesting Ceriello’s transfer. More than 250 people had added their names by Sept. 1, of which nearly 70 left comments, including Ceriello’s husband, Ken, who posted on Aug. 31 that his wife had “put her heart and soul into Sargent” and not complained when transferred twice in the past to Rombout Middle School. But, he wrote, “three years from retirement to move her is a joke. I am sure the school board cares about money, not students. They took the easy way out here and they are punishing the best P.E. teacher they have …. This is [the] third time she has had to go someplace to fix a problem.”
Ceriello, who began working at Sargent in 1995, spent the 2014-15 school year at Rombout.
A number of parents — as well as Ceriello herself — also appeared at the school board meeting, urging the board to reverse the transfer.
“This news has been a devastating blow to the Sargent community,” said Anna Sullivan, who addressed the board with six other parents standing behind her. “Her dedication and commitment to our students is superlative, and she is deeply embedded in the fabric of Sargent life.”
Speaking a few minutes later, Ceriello said that she had hoped to finish her career at the school.
“I love all of our children like they’re my own,” she told the board. “It feels so good to know that the Sargent community feels this way about me. I really feel at home; I really feel like it would be wonderful to stay at Sargent — not just as a business proposition but for all of the people I love.”
The board discussed Ceriello’s transfer in an executive session following the meeting but did not take action, president Anthony White said.
“The board acknowledges that Maryanne Ceriello is a very good physical education teacher,” White told The Current on Wednesday,” and we feel that she’s brought a lot to the district. We’re anticipating that she’s going to continue to contribute to the district.”
The interviews of candidates for two open spots on the Beacon school board will now be conducted in public. Lacking any official guidelines from the New York State School Boards Association, board members have wrestled with how to fill the seats vacated this summer by Jose Munoz and Frank Garnot.
After several discussions, they agreed two weeks ago to invite candidates to participate in a forum and make a statement at a board meeting. The seven members of the board would then interview candidates privately before voting on the appointments.
However, board member Antony Tseng introduced a motion at the Aug. 29 meeting to remove the “private” component of the procedure, citing a 2001 opinion by the New York Department of State Committee on Open Government that recommends public board appointments be made in public, not executive, session. His motion passed unanimously.
The application for the vacant board seats is posted at beaconk12.org. The deadline is 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7.