Two hundred Ridgewood Public Schools administrators, former Board of Education members, teachers, and students rallied Monday outside of the Ridgewood Board of Education building to protest the resignation of longtime superintendent Dr. Daniel Fishbein. The rally started at around 5:30 PM and continued through Monday’s Board of Education meeting, which began at 7:00 PM. As the Board of Education members met in-person inside, the demonstrators outside set up a podium, equipped with a microphone and speaker, to deliver call-in public comments using shared cell phones.
Speeches were given by principals from both the elementary and middle schools, as well as Ridgewood High School principal, Dr. Tom Gorman, and vice-principal, Mr. Basil Pizzuto. Tensions between members of the Board of Education who were newly elected last May (Mike Lembo, Saraubh Dani, and Hyunju Kwak) and those rallying outside were high, as principal of George Washington Middle School, Ms. Kashmanian, who also leads the RPS Administrators Association, addressed that district administrators had brought a historic vote of no-confidence for board members Saraubh Dani and Hyunju Kwak. Many other administrators, teachers, and supervisors voiced their discontent with the board and praised Fishbein as an exemplary superintendent, leader, and friend. RPS administrators were not afraid to confront the board and portrayed the board’s performance quite starkly. Ridge School Principal, Jean H. Schoenlank, a self-described “Ridgewood lifer,” who has spent 35 years in the RPS system and witnessed the work of four superintendents, claimed that Ridgewood Public Schools’ “long history of respect and trust has eroded in just six short months.”
Dr. Fishbein sent in his letter of resignation on Friday the 11th, effective December 1st. Although the official reasoning for his resignation was attributed to retirement, many administrators and teachers have publicly questioned the conduct of the board and pinned that as the reason for Fishbein’s departure.
The meeting was highly viewed by RHS students, many of whom are concerned about how changing district leadership will affect education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Carina Trama, a senior at RHS, states that “last night was one of the first BOE meetings that I listened to almost every minute of. Being a member of student government, I have heard so much from fellow students about this situation.” She echoed other’s calls for steady leadership: “Most importantly, we need community unity and support right now.”
Laurence Fine, a senior at RHS and the 2019-2020 student representative to the board, was the only student to speak at the outdoor rally. He argued that Dr. Fishbein’s resignation came at a terrible time for the district and that the Board is wasting precious time dealing with internal strife while RHS students are concerned about pressures from the new hybrid schedule, not to mention the pandemic itself. Rachel Frank, a senior at RHS is also concerned about the poor timing of the decision, stating that “anything that can be done to maintain some semblance of stability is important” in these “tumultuous” times.
Leila Elashmawy, a senior at RHS, backs up Fine’s perspective: “there’s no mention of how [Fishbein’s resignation or the actions of the board] affects the kids and what we deal with every day. No matter who the board is, they need to meet and address the concerns of the students and their daily lives at school. They have no idea what we go through and our voices are never validated.”
Zoe Kovac, a junior at RHS and the current student representative to the board, was at the meeting in the Board of Education building with the other members. Her account of the meeting was tense and somber since Fishbein was there, sitting at the table with Kwak and Dani. Kovac describes the event as upsetting, and that Fishbein is an extremely caring individual, a trait she believes is “rare amongst educational leaders,” citing the public comment of RHS math and technology supervisor, Mr. McDonald, that Dr. Fishbein had called into the hospital to comfort McDonald during his battle with cancer last year.
Following the public comment, the board ultimately chose not to accept the resignation of Fishbein in a 3-2 vote. He will likely stay on as the superintendent, although it is unclear whether or not the vote was binding.
Photo: Jeff Voight
Video: Logan Richman