(Editor's note: This is the text of an address Mr. Schiller made to the Lake Placid Central School District Board of Education at the board's meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 3.)
Good evening. My name is Robert Schiller, for those of you who don't know me. I served as the building principal of the Lake Placid Middle/High School for 13 years and retired in June 2001. I am currently an adjunct professor working in college field studies at SUNY Plattsburgh and have held this position for the past 10 years. I have spent the past 45 years as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal, interim principal and college field studies supervisor. My wife, Cheryl, is a retired teacher who served the Lake Placid Central School District as an elementary teacher for 13 years. I have two daughters, one of whom is a teacher in the Waterloo School District. You might say that I am heavily invested in the wonderful and amazing business of educating young people.
Although it has been 10 years since I attended a board meeting as principal, I have always remained in contact with teachers, administrators, board members and students of this school district. There will always be very fond memories of my tenure here. I remain friends with many teachers, administrators, parents and students whom I had the good fortune of working with when I was principal, and during the past 10 years as college field supervisor. I have always been humbled by the talent, the enthusiasm, the dedication and the professionalism of the teachers of this district. I continue to observe their tremendous effort to give the students they serve their very best, often above and beyond the call of duty. I will always remember their service with admiration and appreciation.
Tonight, I find myself troubled and ashamed of the egregious behavior of the superintendent of the Lake Placid Central School District. The demeaning language used to describe the professionals of the elementary school is alarming. It goes well beyond the words used in February 2011. It describes a biased belief system that is offensive to women. The inferences that can be derived from his admitted statements are multiple. They are contrary to the principles and values that our young people are learning. They are contrary to the PBIS mission that was invoked this fall. They are contrary to the mutual respect necessary in our schools. They silence communication. They suggest that decision making is arbitrary, vindictive and biased. They erode the confidence of both students and staff in their leadership. They stifle rapport. They eliminate trust. They halt progress.
It is an understatement to say that the place the district finds itself in is a toxic one. What has evolved over the past year-and-a-half is an erosion of a school district that was solidly built by so many exceptional professionals - too many to name, but many are here tonight. Evidence of this erosion can be seen and heard in many places: the many commentaries written in the media (16 during the past 10 days in the Adirondack Enterprise and Lake Placid News alone - my compliments to Miss Politi on her poignant Guest Commentary); the dramatically increased attendance of community members, teachers, students and parents at board meetings; the substance and tone of the dialogue by many of those attending the meetings; vandalism incidents recently occurring at the middle/high school; students leaving school to protest the conduct of the superintendent.
This massive community response is not an accident, not a mistake, nor is it a misinterpretation. It is a referendum of "no confidence." It is not a group of "select community members who have chosen to focus on a narrow issue involving the use of some inappropriate language by the superintendent of schools in a private conversation with the high school principal," as stated in a Guest Commentary by school board President Phil Baumbach. Do the people in this room look like a "select group" to you? Is referring to the teachers of the elementary school as "bitches" a "narrow issue"? Is insulting this community's sophistication by stating that it is not ready for a female high school principal a "narrow issue"? Are the many staff and program reduction decisions that were made and now appear to be reversed, thus reducing the initial savings dramatically, "a narrow issue"? Are the several independent contractors that have been and currently are being retained by the school district, at substantial expense, "a narrow issue"? Is the class-action lawsuit that is being filed against the superintendent and the district, at taxpayer expense, "a narrow issue"? Is a demoralized teaching staff that is disconnected from its leadership "a narrow issue"? Are students who "question the accuracy of our administration to make decisions on our behalf" a "narrow issue"?
So, where does this leave us? Where do we go from here? An apology, sent via email and accepted by the board president, is not a solution. It is an appeasement. The community has spoken, it continues to speak, and it is calling for the termination of Dr. Richards as superintendent of the Lake Placid School Distract. The message is clear. It cannot be more clear. There is no other solution. Dr. Richards has lost the credibility, respect and confidence of his constituents, all of his constituents: teachers, administrators, parents, taxpayers and most importantly students. The board has an important job, and I truly respect and appreciate your dedication and service. These are difficult times for this school and community. To correct the wayward course the district has taken will require prompt and forceful action. This community, surrounding communities and even some in Albany are watching to see how this situation will be resolved. Prolonged, it will only deteriorate further and the discontent will continue to grow. I am confident that the board will act collectively and competently "for the good of the cause."
Thank you for your time and for listening to me.
Robert Schiller lives in Lake Placid.