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I am interviewing Lucy Stamilla, coordinator of educational services in the Teaneck schools.
(I) In 1964, when you were teaching, major changes occurred in the school system. Would you like to discuss them?
(N) Yes. At the time, I was a sixth grade teacher at the Emerson School but when the school system. was reorganized during the summer of 1964, I was transferred to the Bryant School. I and many of my colleagues from around the community had been asked whether we wished to participate in the reorganization and some of us agreed and some of us did not. I did opt to go over to the Bryant School. The first year of the Bryant sixth grade school was a very exciting one in every way for the teachers as well as for the young people of the community. It was truly an exciting experiment and I think most of us, although we began the year with a bit of trepidation, found that it was a most rewarding year in our careers whether we were administrators, teachers or students. The year began with parents filling our hallways and some of them indeed marching outside vowing that the school would not, get off the ground. As you know, there was a great deal of opposition to the centralizing of the sixth graders in the community and many parents had decided that they would either not send their children or, if they did, they were going to see to it that the program did not succeed.
As a matter of fact, the school opened rather smoothly and outside of the fact that there were many people about, the children came into school and we began our programs as usual. Kids were very excited and for many of them who had come to school by bus, that became a very exciting part of their experience. I remember well the first day of school. We had a number of television cameras and interviewers about and since I had pulled bus duty, I was on one of the buses getting the children settled when a TV reporter came on with his mike and he started interviewing children. I suspect he wanted to hear some gory tales about the kids having to ride buses and how unhappy they would be and how they had been beaten up and so forth and so on but he approached a young man, sixth grader, and he said to him, what do you think about this whole situation? How do you like this whole busing that you have been forced to participate in? And the kid just looked up at him and he said, beats walking, and I'll. never forget that because it just seemed as if the youngster just kind of punctured the myth right then and there that terrible things were going to happen and that this was going to be a fiasco. As a matter of fact, the kids were matter of fact about it. They rode the buses and they seemed to enjoy them and as the young man said so well, it was better than walking to school. And as a matter of fact, also, our safety record that year was in tact. There was not one incident of a youngster being hurt going to school or going home. Everyone just cooperated very nicely and it was a very safe year.
Educationally, well I just can't imagine in my very long career that there was a better year, for me anyway, We immediately went into team teaching. The previous summer I had participated in a workshop at Harvard University and the thrust of that was to give us some background in team teaching. When I came pack to school, I was asked by the then superintendent, Dr. Scribner, and the then principal, Emil Massa, to head up a team at the Bryant School which I did. There were five teachers and approximately 130 kids. We ran almost a mini-school where we self-evaluated, we planned, we observed each other, we counseled the kids and it was a huge success. Professionally it had to be my very best year. I grew so that it was amazing. Emi Massa was a taskmaster and he was with us it seemed every minute that we were in school but it couldn't have been so because everybody else was saying that he was with them so I guess it was just the appearance but he was everywhere and was an enormous influence in the success of the school, worked very, very hard.
In order to insure the success of the school, it had been determined by the superintendent and his staff and approved by the Board of Education that the school would have many, many resources and we did. We had our own full time art teacher, music teacher, we had two physical education teachers. We had a librarian, We had a myriad of ancillary staff who really provided us, the teachers, with the opportunity to do our teaming. When our children were occupied with one of our specialists, we would be in planning our lessons and trying to plan some very exciting opportunities for the kids. One dimension of the sixth grade school which I think is maybe underrated but I think it deserves some mention is the socializing aspect.
The children who came to the sixth grade school, of course, represented every single corner of our community. The school was full of them and they came from everywhere. Trey came from Whittier, they came from Longfellow, all over the community. And these were children who heretofore would not have met each other until they were in ninth grade or tenth grade up at the high school but here, instead, they had met as sixth graders. For some of the children who had never been, never attended a school where there was a minority student, it was an enormous experience but again, kids being kids, they just went along and accepted friends from allover the community regardless of background and that probably was really one of the pluses that is underrated. What we were able to do was to have a bit of flexibility with the busing. If a child wanted to spend the afternoon after school with one of his peers somewhere else in the community, the children could ride each others buses as long as they brought in notes from the two parents who were going to be involved.. We would then allow a child to go somewhere else in the community. This was really I think one of the bonuses because we found children from the northeast going out into the rest of the community and the rest of the community spending time in the northeast after school and this was really a plus. I personally saw many, many beautiful friendships flourish between and among children who would not have met each other for many, many years yet, until they had gotten to the high school.
And so I think as far as that was concerned, that was one of the big pluses of the Bryant School. The educational program I think without a doubt was much better than they would have received in their neighborhood schools. But putting that aside, I think the social aspect made the Bryant School the huge success that it was. I personally was very sorry when the school was disbanded in the early 70s and, as you know, it was disbanded because by this time another community had grown up within Teaneck which was in danger of tipping, that is to say there was starting to be more than 50% minority and this was the Washington Irving community. And when it was felt that the, another organizational pattern had to be implemented, the central kindergarten school was instituted and so now we had a central kindergarten school and we had six regular elementary schools and one central sixth. You will recall that when the central kindergarten was first instituted, another one of Dr. Scribner's brain-childs was implemented and that was the birthday school. Under this concept, the children began school during the month that they became five years old. It was his feeling that there was nothing sacred about the September/June school year but rather we should be taking children in as they reach whatever given age would be set and in this case, it was five.
Unfortunately, that program was not really given the opportunity to succeed as was Bryant Central Sixth Grade because in the meantime, Dr. Scribner had left the community to take a position as the commissioner of education in Vermont and somehow there was never the commitment to the birthday school that there probably would have been had he stayed here and so that eventually just kind of went by the wayside and as the community makeup continues to change, it was determined that rather than have the two isolated grades, the kindergarten school in one part of town and the Bryant School somewhere else, that we would have combined K-1 schools and we would make both the Washington Irving and Bryant School K-1 school and so that's how they came to be and it was at that time then that the Bryant School was disbanded as a central sixth grade. Kids went back to their neighborhood schools and the Bryant School, like Washington Irving, housed only kindergarteners and first graders. And as you know, under the most recent reorganization which was implemented this past September, the Bryant School now houses K-2 and Washington Irving School is now closed altogether and there is another K-2 school in town and that's the Longfellow School.
(I) What year did you become an administrator?
(N) During the summer of 1968, I was called by Dr. Scribner to come in. He wanted to speak with me about a new position that he was going to be creating. At that time, there were many funds available from the federal and state governments and he felt that it might be a good idea for the community to have someone whose major responsibility it would be to go out there and seek funds from other sources. So I entered the central office in 1968 and. immediately began writing proposals, the first one being the Title I proposal for which we were funded As time went by, I was asked to fill in for a year for Ray Kelly who was the then director of elementary education as he took a sabbatical year. I filled in for him while he was gone and when he returned, he stayed only for a year and then left to become superintendent in Plainfield and it was at that time that I was promoted to the position of director of elementary education. I was the first female to be a central office administrator. There had been women in administration prior to that time. There had been Helen Hill at the high school as principal and there had been Gertrude Haffner and Alice Hoak and Marie Record as elementary school principal. However, I was the first in the central office. I took that responsibility very, very seriously because I knew very well my own abilities and I knew that I was not unique so I knew that I was kind of path-finding and I knew that I made it a very big priority of mine to do my very best to ensure that other women, as the years would go by, would follow me in the central office and indeed they did.
My first year as director was a very exciting one and a very interesting one. I found myself suddenly thrust from the classroom to being the director and supervisor of principals who, up to this time, had been my supervisors and so it was a very interesting turnabout. To their . credit, they accepted me very beautifully, very graciously, even thought I know that when I was a candidate for the position that at least three of them were also candidates for the same position. However, they are most cooperative and I was appointed and I think that during the years that I lead the department, that we saw many very beautiful programs come into being. Team teaching I have already mentioned. I had a very strong background and a very strong inclination toward teaming and I was most pleased that during the time that I was director, the then superintendent who was Joe Calory agreed to ask the board to provide stipends to teachers who would agree to go into a team teaching situation and they agreed and it was probably due to that that teaming got such a wonderful foothold in the schools. Mostly in the elementary because the elementary programs were more conducive to teaming but there was some spilloff into the .secondary schools as well.
Another program which flourished during my time was the program of the open classroom and open space. Although the programs had begun prior to my being director, it was after I became director that they spread and so eventually were in every single elementary school. These were very turbulent years as far as the growth of that program. There were some people in the community who felt that every classroom should be open and there were some people in the community who felt that no classroom should be open. And neither group was willing to see any middle ground. And I really felt like I was water on an oil hot plate because the groups were adamant and I don't want to say fanatical but they really approached it and it was very difficult to try to keep the reigns and keep some semblance of order. I was most distressed during this time when I found that teachers who were colleagues in the same building all of a sudden found themselves being pulled to one of these philosophies, organizational patterns or another and it seemed as if they were either open traditional, they then could not be friends with each other. And that was very sad. We went through several years of this and I think they were maybe the lowest point of my personal view of the community. I feel an enormous pride in the community. I think it is a great place to be. I have tremendous respect and regard for the people who live here and their decisions to integrate the schools and to become one full community but during this time, I don't know what happened. All of a sudden, it seemed I saw some flaws that were very distressing and this business of my way or no way was incomprehensible to me. I mean I felt that people should have the opportunity to say I like this and this is what my children will do or I don't like this and for that very short time when it was felt that it had to be one way or the other, I think is when we kind of hit a low.
Subsequently, we implemented the program where we would ask the parents which program they preferred and we would then place the child in that program. That worked fairly well except that again it became a matter of pulling. It was almost a matter of prestige. You just have to opt for one thing or another and sometimes the decisions that were made by the parents were, I think, not made because the parents genuinely felt one way or another about a program but because they had been pressured one way or another and this was, I think, unfortunate. As time has gone on, however, I think that has tempered somewhat. There is still some vestige of this as people feel threatened. They feel that their programs are threatened. However, I would think that by now they would realize that no one is going to wipe out the open classroom; no one is going to wipe out a traditional or a LEM program which was another reorganizational program which came in at that time; but rather they can all exist side by side. And so, at the present time, we have a smattering of various programs operating in the elementary schools and I am very pleased with this because I think by now we have come of age and the programs that are now existing are there because people want them and believe in them and have a good background and are doing a good job.
As for my own self, back in 1981 my position was changed. The position of director was abolished. There had been director of elementary and a director of secondary. Those positions were abolished and consolidated into one position which was assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction and that position was applied for and given to Marion Liebowitz and she served in it I guess just two years. My own career took a different turn and I was appointed coordinator of educational services, a position which I still hold today and just very quickly as a broad brush of my responsibilities, I am responsible for all of our operations with the non-public schools in and around the community. I operate the textbook loan program; the federal programs and the state programs are still under my operation. I supervise the teachers in those programs. I am the connection with the BOCEES which is our computer programs for attendance and scheduling and so I really do have a very wide range of responsibility at this time. One of the positions, one of my responsibilities I should say, that I enjoy very much is that of being a library board member and the other position which I especially enjoy is that I am the affirmative action officer for the district, having been appointed such by the Board of Education and I think that I serve the community well in that capacity as well.
(I) OK. Thanks a lot Lucy. That was fascinating.
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