New Superintendent Chase heralds new era in Westbury schools
Just about every part of the Village of Westbury community was represented on Sept. 23, when the Westbury School District held a meet and greet for Dr. Tahira Dupree Chase, the new superintendent.
It was emceed by Board of Education President Robert Troiano, who noted, “No disrespect to the dignitaries that are here, but I truly believe that the most important role in the community is the school superintendent. A community’s life and blood falls on the perception of the school district. Your property values go up and down based on the perception of the school district.”
To the parents he said, “Your hopes and dreams all rely on the school district while you’re raising your kids, and the most important person is the superintendent.”
Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro echoed Troiano’s words and presented Chase an unusual proclamation that began with the word “Welcome” instead of the typical boilerplate. He hoped that the community would embrace the new superintendent, and “it’s obvious that she has tremendous vision. Anything she can do to make the district better, educate the kids better, is going to raise property values and make the community better.”
After introducing the village’s Board of Trustees, the mayor told her, “We want to work with you for the betterment of the community.”
The Community Speaks
Troiano introduced a parade of community leaders and representatives, all wishing Chase luck and pledging their cooperation.
He called on Town of North Hempstead Clerk Wayne Wink to speak, calling him “a friend of Westbury” and noting that they served together on the North Hempstead council from 2004 to 2010. He praised Wink for voting to spend $26 million to build the “Yes We Can” Community Center in the New Cassel section of Westbury.
Wink, on behalf the Town of North Hempstead Board of Trustees, welcomed Chase to Westbury.
Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Viviana Russell’s said she’d been at another event earlier where Chase confessed that she was shy.
“But if you heard her talk, there’s nothing further from the truth,” Russell stated to laughter. “She has such conviction and passion when she speaks, I know she’s going to do well here in the Westbury community.”
Russell praised the board for a thorough superintendent search process and for seeking input from the community.
Dr. Faroque Khan represented the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury and noted that it has had a long history of interacting with the Westbury School District with programs and scholarships.
“Dr. Chase, please be assured that we’ll continue our support,” Khan pledged.
Grover Mason was there on behalf of the Sherwood Civic Association. Pablo Sinclair was from the Westbury Hills Civic Association.
Sinclair said, “We expect big things from you. No pressure, right? (laughter). We hope that you’ll be able to elevate test scores and things of that nature. That’s what we’re looking for. We hope you can help. We worked with your predecessors hand in hand to do a lot for the community, [things like] passing the bond referendum and budgets.”
High School Assistant Principal Dr. Paul Pellech is also the president of the Westbury Administrators and Supervisors Association. He made a presentation of flowers to Chase after stating that administrators held themselves to high standards and looked forward to working with her. He told Chase that Westbury was a special place.
“So far it has been an amazing start,” he said. “Let’s hit the ground running.”
Troiano interjected, “She’s got a great team to work with.”
Council of PTAs President Ren Zelaya said, “We are looking forward to working with you. As parents we are the ones who will be coming up to you with, not problems, but challenges.”
Calling himself a product of Westbury High School, Class of 1988, he called the village “a wonderful community. My kids went through the district. My youngest one graduated in 2020, but because of them (pointing to a clutch of kids) I’m still [involved with the PTA]. The Westbury School District has been maligned, but they are wonderful kids who deserve nothing but the best. And having you come aboard I’m sure we could give them the best.”
Mateo Flores is the founder of the Hispanics United Association of Westbury. He thanked the board of education and said “parents feel very delighted to be part of this. I’ve been part of the community—I’ve been here 40 years—and I’m very proud to be here.”
He introduced the respective president and vice president of the association, Jairo (Jay) Reyes and Davis Orellana.
Reyes welcomed Chase and called Westbury a great and very diverse community.
“And I may be the president of the Hispanics United Association, but at the end of the day I represent the Westbury community,” he said.
Orellana said, “We are committed to being a bridge between our school community and the parents’ community.”
Flores introduced the coaches of the Westbury Dragons Youth Soccer Club and observed that, “Due to COVID, we lost the entire program in 2020,” but it was resurrected this year thanks in part to board of education and community support and now boasts two travel teams.
Flores also noted that there were girls on the team and the slogan of the club was “Changing life through soccer.”
Turning to Chase he said, “We’re here to bridge the gap between the Latinos and the school district. But today our number one priority is to educate the future leaders of our country. We are a diverse community, but we want to be one. Together, we will stand with you and I’m sure we can move forward.”
Troiano also acknowledged Chester McGibbon of Westbury, who was one of the original signatories in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit in 2000 that spurred changes in the state funding formula for underserved schools. Troiano claimed that Westbury got an extra $28 million in funding thanks to the changes brought on to the lawsuit.
The Superintendent Speaks
Trustee Robin Bolling introduced Chase by saying, “We have a new era in Westbury and in our new era we’re going to engage [ everyone]. We believe in the new superintendent.”
“Buena noches.” began Chase, who vowed to work on her Spanish because she wanted communicate with the entire community.
“It is my honor to beat your superintendent,” she affirmed to applause. “The work has started. I have inherited some of the most dedicated teachers, staff and administrators. They’re here today. They worked hard all day. They’ve been up since 5:30 a.m. They are committed to this work.”
Chase said that she had already heard from many people, and had met multitudes at the Night Out community-police event in nearby New Cassel back in August.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we need to take this district to the next level,” she asserted. “We can only do that when we work together. We will be bringing in new programs. We will analyze the programs that exist and see what’s working and then enhance what’s working and move to the next level. The future of Westbury is bright.”
Pointing to the dozen or more kids from the Westbury Dragons Youth Soccer Club she said, “All these students who came out today remind me of my purpose. Of why I’m here. These are my ‘why,’ all 4,873 of them.”
“As superintendent I’m going to make decisions that you are not going to understand,” she observed. “Sometimes I’m going to make decisions that are so tough and so mind-boggling that [you might be saying] ‘What is she thinking?’ But here’s what I want you to keep in the back of your mind—every single decision that I make is for the betterment of our children, the staff, the administrators, the school board and the Westbury Union Free District as a whole. I want you to understand that. This is no easy task and I cannot do it alone.”
She called herself an extremely lucky superintendent who has had the support of the school board ever since she was hired. She asked for a round of applause for the trustees.
Chase wowed that in addition to the academic needs, “I’m going to be focusing on our social and emotional needs. We’re coming out of a pandemic, we’re coming out of one of the most difficult times in our lifetime.”
With an eye toward the pandemic stress, Chase said the district will be working with Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams, “a renowned psychotherapist, to put together a social emotional wellness program for our students to address the trauma that they faced while they were home during the pandemic and to make sure that these kids stay focused.”
Applause broke out when Chase mentioned that Williams is a contributor to NBC News and Good Morning America.
“We want our children to believe that they are great,” she stated. “We want our children to believe that they are exceptional, that they can be everything that they want to be.”
After comments of “they could be the president of the United States” variety, she said, “They could be the next Cristiano Ronaldo. You didn’t think I knew that, huh?” she asked the soccer team members after naming the soccer great.
She continued, “They could be the next Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player who ever held the ball—and don’t you dare challenge me!” as laughter broke out.
She asked the community members to push back against any negative comments they might hear about the district, and suggested several talking points to rebut the negativity.
Chase admitted that there were people who were skeptical that the district could rise above its limitations, and stated, “When you believe in the power of these children, when you instill in them the recognition of their own greatness, they will soar to the heights unimaginable. That’s what we’re going to do together in the community. Do I have your support in getting it done?”
Cheers, whoops and applause was the response as she exclaimed, “Let’s get this done, Westbury.”
Chase concluded, “Ladies and gentlemen it is my absolute greatest honor to lead this community into the 2021-2022 school year at such a time as this. I thank you all for being here. I appreciate each and every one of you for your time, for your well wishes and for your partnership.”
She praised Troiano for insisting on holding the meet-and-greet in person because she was scared of the potential heavy rains and wanted to do it virtually.
“But Robert ignored me and did it his way, and I have learned to let him do it his way,” she said to laughter.
Troiano observed, “When she says she’s going to do big things, she’s going to do big things. But she can’t do it without all of you.”