This is to announce that on Friday, July 10, 2015 at the School Board meeting the School Board accepted Dr. Douglas' letter of resignation for purposes of retirement effective January 3, 2016. Please see below remarks and reflections from Dr. Douglas.
I want to thank the School Board for giving me the opportunity to address you regarding something that is very important to me.
Before I begin, I want to thank my family members, especially my daughter. My daughter, Semaj, was two years old when I began my journey along my path and she has been my best buddy, confidant, friend and daughter. I also want to thank God for making all things smooth.
How do we know we are on the right path in our life? The Bible tells us our way will be made smooth; friends tell us when we’re making a lot of money; Oprah tells us when we find our passion; my father told me that the secret to finding my life’s path was to think about what I love to do - what makes me happy to get up in the morning. I thought about that for a long time as I struggled to find my path in life. During this time, I was also volunteering at a center for children with disabilities. The director of the center and I became friends and she and I often spoke about this new area of teaching called “special education.”
I thought that would be something I would like to do, for many reasons. I told the director of my interest, and she counseled that being a special education teacher was not for everyone. She invited me to go into the cafeteria (it was lunch time) and feed a student, saying that if I could do that I probably had the ability to be a special-education teacher. I did not understand how feeding a student could help me to determine if I wished to be a special education teacher. However, I quickly understood what she meant when I walked into the cafeteria. I was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of students who were severely handicapped being fed lunch. This was something I was not prepared for and I was scared.
I didn’t know what to do or how to act, but I felt compelled to stay and follow through on my assignment. I sat down next to the student I was directed to, introduced myself, and told him I was going to feed him. At first it was very difficult - he was severely handicapped with cerebral palsy and eating was difficult. We had to look at each other and communicate through our eyes and head movements. Amazingly, as I looked into his eyes, I saw his curiosity about this new person, I saw his delight to be fed by someone different; gradually the sights sounds and smells went away and I was hooked.
That experience taught me some important lessons about being an educator. The first - and to me, the most important - was that all children have a right to be educated; education is a right, not a privilege.
The second lesson was that when you are on the right path, all things will be made easy and I learned to have courage even when afraid.
At that moment and on that day I dedicated myself to becoming a special education teacher. And I did, in fact I became an award-winning special education teacher.
I spent 14 years as a special education teacher. I was part of the new “breed” of teachers that fought to ensure that students with special needs were educated and received the same access to learning as their peers. I am proud to have been part of this new field in education.
While I was a very good teacher, I also had a big mouth, or as I like to frame it, I "spoke up" for the students and I used it to often call out administrators when they wanted to me do things I felt were not in the best interest of children.
One day as I was "speaking up" in a rather large meeting, the assistant superintendent of special education tapped me on my shoulder and asked me to meet with her. I just knew that she was going to fire me; instead, she told me the second most important thing that I was to hear that helped me along my life’s path. She said, “Valencia, you have much to say about our program and frankly I agree with you, so I want you to put all that passion for kids to use in a better way. I want you to help us change the things you are complaining about.”
So began my journey, my very reluctant journey to become an administrator. Dr. Dorothy Aramburo became my first mentor and she taught me how to speak up so that people would listen and how to make my vision for children actually happen. My second important mentor was Dr. Rod Paige, the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District and the United States Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush. Dr. Paige taught me to always make my decisions in the best interest of the students I serve as I understood it. He taught me that you can make decisions through compromise but that you never compromise your students’ opportunity to access learning, nor do you ever compromise on the quality of that learning. My journey from there to here is one I am very proud of.
I've learned many other lessons over these past twenty-six years, as a principal, director, assistant superintendent, and for the last ten years, superintendent. I would like to share some of them with you.
I have learned that you must have a very strong sense of ethics of right and wrong. You will be asked in many different ways to do things that may not be in the best interest of children and the leader must be able to say No! - no matter how uncomfortable it might be. I’ve learned that you must also know when to say Yes.
I have learned that you must be courageous because it takes courage to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done.
I have learned to do the right thing as I understand it, no matter what the consequences might be, but along with that is to know when and how to "pick your battles," and I have learned the only battles worth fighting are those in defense of all children and good teachers.
I have learned to have humor - without humor, you develop ulcers. I was asked recently why I only help Black and Latino families, i.e. you are Black and therefore you would only help a Black or Latino child. I laughed when I recounted the incident, not because I thought the racist remark was funny, but because I learned long ago that anger is wasted energy and there is no logical, sane answer to that sort of question, so I have learned to laugh.
I have learned to be an expert in my work so that I make decisions from deep knowledge and understanding and not because it is what everyone else is doing.
I have learned to carefully choose where I want to work, and the interview is always two-way. The Pocantico Hills School Board that hired me spent over twenty hours interviewing me over many days and weeks. They knew what they wanted in a superintendent; together we have made the changes that had to be made to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn at the highest level. Working with the School Board and community we developed the Strategic Plan along with the Guiding Principles and Essential Skills. The Board's collaborative support allowed me to make some very critical changes, such as curriculum-based teaching, Algebra for all students, and instrumental music for all students. During my tenure I ensured that all teachers were teaching as per the contract. Under my leadership, we restructured the learning environments for all students and introduced STEM and robotics.
These changes are showing success to such an extent that during my tenure we have raised test scores, implemented new curriculum in all subjects, and recently increased student population. Our teachers are better teachers, our reputation is stronger than ever, and our relationships with our partner schools are more active than ever. For example, we collaborate in professional development, particularly for mathematics and science. I have worked with these superintendents over my five years to develop a mutually supportive and informative relationship. Consequently, our partner districts are linked on our web page for parents to access information about their districts and high schools.
As part of our effort to improve communication, I have improved and modernized our web page so that it is more “user friendly” and informative. We regularly use a variety of methods to communicate with our families.
During my tenure we successfully negotiated teacher and CSEA contracts.
None of these successes were accomplished alone; the strong support of this Board has been critical. I have been blessed to work with an outstanding administrative team that is dedicated to this work: Jay Scotto-Friedman, Assistant Superintendent for Business; Stan Steele, Principal Pre-Kindergarten; Adam Brown, Supervisor of Curriculum, and currently Interim Principal; and now Mia Worbel, Director of Students Services, thank you. I want to thank Gina Downes, who has been more than I could ever have wished for in a secretary and friend. I want to thank our teachers, who are smart and caring and willing to change and do the hard work to make the changes meaningful for all of their students. I cannot say enough about the extraordinary parents I have been blessed to work with - you support all children. I was recently reminded that I am “not from here” and that is true, but you made me part of the Pocantico Hills Family and I am blessed to have experienced this. This work is not complete, but we have made great inroads into the critical changes I have discussed and more.
I will close my remarks by saying the final thing I have learned.
I have learned that I have been on the right path these past 41 years and it has been an honor to serve the children. I will tell you a secret: they, the children, have been my true employers, and it is to them I hold myself most accountable. My role has been to help prepare them for their future. I would not want to have done anything else.
You see, what my dad told me many years ago was right: Do what you love…
Consequently, I have learned the most important lesson...your parents are always right!!!
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this part of me with you.