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Board OKs contract with DEI firm

Cara Dolan Berry
Staff writer
Posted 6/11/22

The Rome City School District’s board of education approved a request for proposals to enter into a contract with Access Global Group...

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Board OKs contract with DEI firm


ROME — The Rome City School District’s board of education approved a request for proposals to enter into a contract with Access Global Group to conduct the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion services at its meeting on Thursday. Board members also formally commended the Rome Free Academy “Top 10” academically ranked students in the Class of 2022.

Among those commended were valedictorian, Lauren Dorfman, with a grade point average of 102.28. Dorfman will attend the United States Naval Academy after graduation. Salutatorian, Dominick Cangialose, was honored for achieveing a GPA of 102.06. Rounding out the Top 10 were: Lilyan Minicozzi, GPA of 101.06; Madison Short (100.28); Adriana Varano (100.26); Kelly O’Neill (100.19); Lillian Gilroy (99.61); Alexander Woodward (99.34); Jack Anderegg (98.93); and Ryan Davis (98.44).

The following RFA spring varsity sports teams and their respective head coaches were also commended by the board for achieving NYSPHSAA “Scholar Team” honors for maintaining a team grade point average of 90 or higher during the spring marking period: boys and girls golf; boys track and field; girls softball; and boys tennis.

Superintendent of Schools, Peter C. Blake, made a point to note that, while the evening’s commendation was of scholar teams, the spring varsity season saw the highest number of individual athletes of any of the three sports seasons, 75, achieved “Scholar Athlete” status, where maintaining a GPA of 90 or higher during their season is required.

RFA Stadium

Blake was guerried about the status of RFA Stadium where repairs are underway to ready it for graduation. “There’s a ton of lumber over there,” said Blake. “They’re busting the move.”

The district held a recent special meeting last week to approve a change to costs authorized under the 2019 Capital Project, which authorized an additional $126,063 to be spent on “the installation of temporary shoring” at the stadium. The work, according to Board President John Nash at that special meeting, is required to ensure the stadium is ready to serve its role as traditional host of the annual RFA commencement ceremony, scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 25.

In recent years, the facility has suffered from a series of incidents, including mold growing from leaks in the stadium seating membrane and crumbling concrete in the seating area. The grandstand area of the stadium has been closed for most of the spring sports season and the seating area taped off to keep spectators out of the area.

Equity Task Force

Paul Fitzpatrick, former Board president, with six years of tenure, member of the Equity Task Force, and member of the Rome NAACP Executive Committee spoke on behalf of the agenda item to be advanced by the Board Clerk, Dr. Karen Fontana, to approve the district’s awarding of the RFP for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion services to Access Global Group, the firm who had provided those services for almost two and a half years before its contract was not renewed for a third year with board President John Nash, vice president Tanya Davis, and Fontana voting against approval of a contract.

“Our efforts were recognized by the State Education Department and the NY State NAACP,” said Fitzpatrick. “We were ahead of the game before there was a game.”

“A minority of three Board members effectively ended three years of progress of what many believe was a vital program to our district and our community,” said Fitzpatrick, “and, it was done, again, without discussion.”

A strangely similar circumstance as that original vote, where board member Anna Megerell was absent and board member Elena Cardwell-Redick abstained, causing a 4-3 vote in favor of AGG’s continuing to render service to not meet the state requirement of an overall quorum. This time, one member warned of possibly having to leave the meeting early to attend a school event and another member, Danielle Lubecki was unable to attend the meeting, possibly leaving – again – only seven voting members.

“If you plan to vote “no,” you should be ready to explain why in the discussion period that never happened in the first vote,” said Fitzpatrick. “If you plan to abstain, don’t. Make up your mind. If you’re not sure, then vote to table it. But don’t let another minority vote derail this vital program.”

An awkward period of whispering among members and district staff ensued before the board invited the next person requesting to make a public comment.

The second public comment was made by Mark Ambrose, who also spoke out to the Board in April on behalf of his wife, who after teaching in the Rome City School District for 35 years, retired under circumstances that involved a hearing disability.

Ambrose and his wife were objecting to a discrepancy in her pay early in her final year, as well as over two different retirement dates. He shared that he received no response from the board to his first appeal to them and then a letter from an attorney claiming to represent them in the matter contained provable lies.

Mrs. Ambrose has filed a complaint with the New York State Commission on Human Rights, accusing the district of harassment, discrimination and retaliation. “Hopefully this will become a forum where it is truly independent and justice will actually be made right,” said Ambrose.

Nash thanked Ambrose for his remarks and responded only to say the board is not allowed to respond in cases involving pending legal matters.

Vote on DEI contract

Board Clerk, Dr. Karen Fontana, advanced the sole motion of approving the RFP, which would restore the DEI services of AGG with eight board members present.

Nash’s invitation to discuss the resolution was met with silence, followed by a 6-2 vote in favor with only Davis and Fontana opposed.

Shanelle Benson Reid, Ph. D., of Access Global Group, said, “I’m super excited about getting back to the work! There is so much to be done and I am honored to have been chosen to continue with RCSD.”

Jackie Nelson, president of the Rome NAACP, has consistently spoken out against the board’s termination of AGG mid-school year, causing and abrupt halt to the services they had spend the past two and a half years rendering. “I’m just very happy that the school board voted the way they did so that Access Global Group can come back and finish the work they started,” said Nelson.

People Operations

The Board approved nine resolutions advanced by Joe Mellace, Chair of the People Operations Committee, including, with their thanks for his service, the retirement of Robert Pexton, Custodian at Strough Middle School, and the approval of the tenure of the following district teachers and administrators: Michael Flagg (principal), Molly Mytych (principal), Brianna Plumley (psychologist), Cara Wojdyla (health), Tanya Bowe (math), Jacqueline Pylman (art) and Carolann Miller (guidance)

The board also approved the hiring of six teachers — Faith Whitmore, special education, Bellamy ($51,440 prorated); Alexis Hammack, math, RFA, $64,140; Abby Carroll, social studies, Strough, $48,639; Aleksander Vernold, social studies, Strough, $50,839; Ryan Poore, social studies, Strough, $56,440; and Taylor Yerrick, science, Strough, $63,379. The board also approved the resignation of three teachers — Rebecca Ciotti, RFA; Jodi Marchione, Stokes; and Kaylee Gabriel, Gansevoort.

The members adjourned the regular meeting to go immediately into an executive session to discuss legal matters and conduct negotiations with the Rome Teachers Association.


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