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May 6, 2009 1:01 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Elementary School principal faces uncertain future

May 6, 2009 1:01 PM

When word spread this week among the Shinnecock Indian Nation and the Southampton Elementary School community that the school district superintendent was not planning to recommend Principal Bertha “Cookie” Richard for tenure, it sparked outrage among her supporters.

Upward of 50 of those supporters crowded into the Southampton School Board meeting Tuesday evening to urge the superintendent to reverse his decision about Ms. Richard, who nearly three years ago became the first Native American woman to lead a New York State public school. The advocates sang Ms. Richard’s praises and suggested that she is the victim of racism and sexism—a claim Superintendent Dr. J. Richard Boyes rejects.

Ms. Richard attended the meeting, but did not speak publicly. As speaker after speaker approached the lectern to read letters addressed to the School Board and Dr. Richard Boyes—they spoke of a sense of cultural pride and community and students’ academic success under Ms. Richard’s leadership—all of Ms. Richard’s supporters remained standing.

Randy King, chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation Board of Trustees, read a letter by Sherry Blakey Smith, the director of Indian education for the school district: “Cookie has accomplished the task of administrating a building with great humility, shared decision making, a gentle hand and a strong sense of fairness, without mistaking kindness for weakness. These are the characteristics needed for true leadership.”

According to a performance review of Ms. Richard dated April 28, Dr. Boyes will recommend that rather than granting the principal tenure, the School Board should extend her three-year probationary period by one year so he and other district leaders have more time to mentor her and she has time to demonstrate leadership and the ability to resolve controversial issues. Dr. Boyes wrote that while Ms. Richard has grown during her time as principal, she had not yet reached the level of competence he expects in order for him to recommend tenure.

The superintendent also stated that Ms. Richard’s success in the past as a teacher does not automatically transfer to success as a principal. He said that she has improved in some areas she was previously criticized in, like inconsistent or inadequate communication with staff and parents, and that he has received far more positive and far fewer negative comments about her from the staff and public this year.

Pressed on Wednesday to discuss his decision, Dr. Boyes said that he cannot speak publicly about district personnel. But he did explain that, as the superintendent, he has three options in front of him: recommending termination, recommending tenure, or extending Mr. Richard’s probationary period. “I’m not recommending termination,” he said unequivocally.

“I think it’s unfortunate that people are believing that any type of recommendation might be connected to race,” Dr. Boyes added. “A recommendation should be based on job performance, and that’s what I will base it on.”

He will likely present his recommendation at the May 19 School Board meeting, he said.

Jeff Jeffries, one of the speakers who read a letter to the School Board, said after the meeting that not granting Ms. Richard tenure highlights a deeper problem of disparity in the school district. Students should see themselves reflected in the teachers and administrations he said.

“When you peel back the layers, racism exists in this town,” former Shinnecock Trustee Lance Gumbs said following the meeting. “Let’s call it like it is.”

Mr. Richard grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut, and taught grade school in Ohio for 12 years before moving to Southampton in 1990. She worked at Southampton High School for two years as a resource room teacher before starting her 14 years of teaching third grade at Southampton Elementary School. As she was earning her school district administrator certificate through Stony Brook University, she was the elementary school’s administrative intern.

The School Board appointed Ms. Richard to the elementary school assistant principal job in October 2005, a move hailed as a step toward resolving a lack of tribal representation in the upper levels of the school district. Then, in April 2006, Ms. Richard was chosen from among 23 candidates to be named to the elementary school’s top post.

When she assumed the principal’s position that July, she became the first Native American woman to lead a New York State public school. She also became the first minority principal in the Southampton School District since Carl Stevens, an African-American who served as the Southampton Intermediate School principal in the 1980s.

Ms. Richard’s appointments to the two top elementary school posts were both done while Dr. Boyes’ predecessor, Dr. Linda Bruno, was the superintendent.

“Linda really tried to diversify the school system,” Mr. Gumbs said. “That’s why she was forced out.”

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This has nothing to do with racism. It is not right that whenever something does not go someones way that is african american or native america, they immediatly pull the race card. I agree that they should grant Ms. Richard tenure but it has nothing to do with race why Dr. Boyes doesn't feel she should get it. I hope that he changes his mind and grants her it.

As far as Mr. Gumbs' statement "thats why she was forced out", Linda Bruno was not forced out because she was diversifying the school ...more
By courtesy (43), Southampton on May 6, 09 3:29 PM
courtesy, "This has nothing to do with racism" is a very easy assertion to make if you are not African American or Native American. Given the unbelievable number of racist, bigoted, hateful postings on these boards, it is clear to see that race is a real issue in our community. This may have nothing to do with race, but that does not mean the possibility should not be considered and/or investigated.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on May 6, 09 4:15 PM
I, as a minority women, I feel that when a person uses their race (or others do it for them) to hold on to a position they are only validating the proclamations of racists; that a minority professional cannot obtain and keep a job based on merit alone. As a person of color, I am offended when the color card is played, as we are only digging our grave deeper and adding fuel to potentially racist fires. I do feel badly for Mrs. Richard, as she is now publicly embarrassed. Yet I have seen her job performance ...more
By straightup (1), West Hampton on May 6, 09 6:51 PM
I love Cookie and I find her very inolved with the children (at least from what I have seen) and also very intrested in knowing who you are and who your child is. I am always greeted with a smile from her and when I had to have my childs class changed in the begining of the year I was hugged and assured that it would all work out fine and it did. She is one of the warmest people I have met in this school and I think we are blessed with having one of the best schools around.
By SESMOMOF2 (21), SOUTHAMPTON on May 6, 09 7:04 PM
There go Mr Gumbs and Ms Ellis again! If they don't get their way, just pull the race card! You both are the racists. Let Dr. Boyes do his job like the professional he is. Ms. Richards is being reviewed on her performance and capability, not the color of her skin or sex. Shouldn't she be reviewed like everyone else?? Or are you asking for special treatment because she is Native American????
By powerwalker (52), Southampton on May 6, 09 8:32 PM
Let it be clear. Mrs. Richards salary in 2008 was $168,289. Look at the link below and check for yourself...


This is about 4 times more then any average working local year round resident in Southampton, Hampton Bays, Riverhead....the list goes on....

Mrs. Richards is also the highest paid person on the Reservation...until the casino comes in that is...

I wont lose sleep if she does not get tenure...honestly...all ...more
By Soloist (2), Southampton on May 6, 09 10:37 PM

The number you cited from that 2008-09 chart is for the high school principal.

Ms. Richard is the Elementary School principal, and the chart you linked to lists her salary as $129,375.
By BOReilly (135), Hampton Bays on May 7, 09 12:08 AM
“Linda really tried to diversify the school system,” Mr. Gumbs said. “That’s why she was forced out.”

Latisha Ellis, who works for the district as a literacy specialist, said she fears Dr. Boyes is “acquiescent to a small body of affluent parents who cannot deal with having a person of color in charge.”

these 2 statements from the article are deplorable. What evidence does either have regarding these assertions. Let them bring it forth, or shut ...more
By C Law (354), Water Mill on May 7, 09 9:13 AM
I know Cookie, and I think her supporters should follow her example and behave with quiet dignity. She has not been terminated, the recommendation is to extend her probationary period. You are on the outside looking in, you do not know what metrics are being used to measure her job performance. Dr Boyes stated that there is room for improvement and he is giving her the opportunity to improve. I am mortified for Cookie, I could not imagine how I would feel if my employer published my annual review ...more
By pstevens (406), Wilmington on May 7, 09 2:07 PM
Must have been a disgruntled, obnoxious parent who visited the superintendent's office one time too many and put pressure on the board. Shame on you!
By hamptonite (26), hamptons on May 7, 09 8:40 PM
This is a sad day for the Southampton Elementary School. I don't want to believe this is sexism or racist. Having had many years of experience in education, I believe and agree with hamptonite. I believe a parent was not satisfied with the communications they received from Cookie.The same thing happened when a mother, now a board member, did not get the satisfaction she wanted from the former principal, Celia Domenech. They sent her packing and the complaining mother got on the board!!! This ...more
By bayview (160), Southampton on May 8, 09 9:42 AM
This is not a racial issue. The real issure is Boyes not doing the job he was hired to do. Three years is more than enough time to know if someone should be kept or let go. Any other decesion is an indication that Dr Boyes is the person not qualified to continue.
By Lefty46 (56), Westhampton on May 8, 09 6:15 PM
Is it legal and ethical to extend the probationary period with cookie? Is there a contract that binds both parties and if so what are the particulars as far as tenure??? I would not get an extension at my civil service job I would have been canned at the end of the probationary period if I where not performing up to par and so should she!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
By Local dad (51), North Sea on May 8, 09 8:25 PM
i grew up in the southampton school district and i have to say that mrs. richard is one of the greatest teacher i know. i was blessed to have the opportunity to observe in a kindergarten classroom @ SES because of Mrs. Richard. you know the school district really needs to look at the facts of life. we have a person of color in the school district who is helping to better our SES community. i think what Dr. Boyes and the rest of the school board needs to do is look at the many improvements that have ...more
By tpettaway (11), Southampton on May 8, 09 10:36 PM
Hamptonite, Lefty46 and others, you must not have had to deal with Dr. Boyes. He actually has a set of balls, unlike Southampton's previous Super, who was looking for a pair. I doubt that Dr. Boyes is influenced by disgrunted, obnoxious parents either. From what I have witnessed, he is actually making a considered opinion with regard to an employee. He could have set Mrs. Richard loose (there are probably some on the Board of Education who wished he would), but instead he is opting to give ...more
By workingmomof4 (21), Southampton on May 9, 09 12:20 AM
Workingmomof4 you are right on the mark! On behalf of Mrs. Richard, yes she is a great teacher, but NOT an administrator. Look at Friday's newsday page A52; English test scores district by district, especially 3 & 4th grade! Shameful! Our district is at the BOTTOM. Look at th numbers! Makes me think, why Mrs. Richards is getting another year to improve herself (on our dollar)????
By powerwalker (52), Southampton on May 9, 09 8:30 AM
"Celia Domench, a previous Southampton Elementary School principle, was a minority women as well, so to say Mrs. Richard is the first minority principal is quite incorrect."

Wasn't Celia Domenech born and raise in Cuba? Do you consider that of been a minority???

I think is a mistake in your article!!!!

By Bel (86), southampton on May 9, 09 10:59 AM
INS, I hope your comment is not an endorsement of the great job our Town Supervisor is doing. I do agree, however, that there is something wacky about the assessment numbers and corresponding tax liabilty.
By workingmomof4 (21), Southampton on May 11, 09 12:32 AM
Not to go off on a tangent but even though the Town Supervisor may have a little more responsibility than the principal, the Town Supervisor hardly does any work and is terrible at her job. She deserves to make 30,000 lower than the elementary school principal.
By courtesy (43), Southampton on May 11, 09 12:47 PM
INS, when the teachers make 100k plus, you have to pay the principal more.
By C Law (354), Water Mill on May 11, 09 1:59 PM
Obviously that is part of the problem. When someone gets 13 weeks off a year pays less than anyone else towards health care and have tenure so you can't lose your job there is very little incentive to do anything but maintain the status quo. Southampton spends more per student than any other school district on Long Island which probably means more that anywhere in the country. If there weren't for all those mcmansions out there everyone would be paying 20k a year in property taxes and not getting ...more
By rippedoffedtaxpayer (13), speonk on May 11, 09 3:25 PM
Looks like someone on here needs to defend the teachers in Southampton. Any educated person knows that test scores do not reflect on how children are taught and truly is not a great indication of the knowledge and abilities of children. Most of all test scores are not a true indication of the performance of a teacher or school principal. If it was, than the blame goes on the parent for not involving enough time in their child's learning progress. I've heard great things from both teachers and parents ...more
By hamptonteacher (13), East Hampton on May 11, 09 9:08 PM
merit pay is the best way
By littleplains (305), olde england on May 11, 09 9:43 PM
Give me a break. If these overpayed teachers and administrators had to work in any other field none of them would fine a job with the benefits they receive now, except for school phychologists or nurses none of these people could work in the real world. I agree that the parents need to help their children learn but why is it whenever a certain school's test scores are poor it's the parents to blame not the teachers and school officials. It's still a six hour work day with several breaks in the day.So ...more
By rippedoffedtaxpayer (13), speonk on May 12, 09 9:29 AM
I see hampton teacher didn't address the benifits issue. School employees pay less into their healthcare than anyone else. I see that Tuckahoe teachers only pay 2.5% new employees 10%, well I pay 25% of the premiums for my healthcare and my retirement is all my own money not a garanteed pension with very little or no contribution as the school employees have. I would love to be able to take additional college courses so that I could bump up my salary and pension, no chance of that happening in the ...more
By rippedoffedtaxpayer (13), speonk on May 12, 09 9:55 AM
The option, under state education law, of offering a fourth year probation in the tenure process is undesirable for the person at the receiving end of such an offer. Ms Richards, with sound and adequate counsel--both formal and informal, will make her own decision in this regard. Why is it undesirable? First one has to recognize that if, under the same superintendent, one isn't able to prove oneself in three years, it is unlikely to happen in a fourth. Second, consider the hoops Ms Richards must ...more
By SAHS (4), Southampton on May 12, 09 10:35 AM
Rippedofftaxpayer, your comments are not new to teachers. We have heard all of these before. Out of curiosity, what do you feel is a fare salary for a teacher who has been teaching for at least ten years, has a masters degree +(paid out of their own pocket) but necessary to keep their job as per NY State requirements, a teacher who many days stays at least 1-2 hours overtime without pay (unlike other jobs) along with taking home work to grade and prep for the next day (unlike other jobs)? I know ...more
By sagmom (1), Sagaponack on May 12, 09 10:46 AM
Why is it that all teachers make a big deal out of having to pay for the additional college courses out of their own pockets, guess who paid for my education and that of my children, me who else. So give that a rest. The school year is 180 to 188 days with personal and sick days. The work week for the private sector is 260 days with anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks off, this is still 50 more days than a teacher. You get full time benefits and a very generous pension for working less than the average professional. ...more
By rippedoffedtaxpayer (13), speonk on May 12, 09 12:00 PM
Something to think about, how come Westhampton Beach and Hampton Bays school districts, which have approx the same number of students, have budgets of 9 and 15 millions less than Southampton respectively.
By rippedoffedtaxpayer (13), speonk on May 12, 09 1:55 PM
What would these teachers do if they had to contribute 300 per month for health care and had to put in their own money to a 401k with no garantee at the end. Lets do away with the pension system and let them save like the rest of us. Most teachers and administrators will actually recieve more in pension payments than they ever did in salary over the course of their careers. I also think everytime they get a 4% raise they can pay an additional 4% in insurance premiums. Taxes that support these ridiculous ...more
By rippedoffedtaxpayer (13), speonk on May 13, 09 10:23 AM
I think many of you have ill conceived notions about teachers. Like any profession, there are GOOD teachers, and BAD TEACHERS.

My wife is a teacher in CT, and has been for 4 years. She makes 39,432 dollars a year. She works 55+ hours a week (not even including the time she spends at home), and spends AT least 3000 dollars of our own money for supplies, and activities for the kids each year (the federal tax write off is only $250 dollars). Every summer 3 weeks before school begins she is ...more
By wakeup (1), ct on May 22, 09 1:14 PM