‘It's difficult because I’m new.’ New Rochelle superintendent talks about present and future plans for district
It’s been a tumultuous 33 days on the job for New Rochelle Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijoo.
Some members of the community tried to have her fired before she even started.
The calls only grew louder when she reassigned longtime football coach Louis Dirienzo, better known to locals as “Coach D.”
"It's difficult because I’m new. I'm a new superintendent coming in. I’m coming into a circumstance in which I had to reassign him and I know it's a challenge, I know it's difficult, but it is a process,” she says.
Dr. Feijoo's first day on the job was Nov. 1, and even that was controversial for some people in the community. They wanted her fired even before her first day when they learned she had filed a $90 million lawsuit for discrimination against the New York City Department of Education -- where she worked for 30 years.
"In any position, there's opportunities and things you don't get... that's not what ultimately happened in the end. It was very different and I didn't take action for a while and at some point I decided to stand up for myself, it was different and it was something I needed to do,” she says.
That controversy wasn't even in the rear view mirror when the bombshell of Coach D’s reassignment hit - and even now there is still mystery surrounding the situation.
Feijoo says she really couldn’t comment on the details, saying it’s a process and still in progress.
In another unexpected turn, Yonkers police recently announced it is conducting an investigation of Coach D that dates back to the late 1980s. It is also remaining silent about the nature of those allegations, but says it came out after his reassignment.
Last week, Coach D met with district officials for the first time and afterwards asked his supporters to stop demonstrating on his behalf and focus on the players.
“I understand how people feel,” she says. “I hear. I listen to all the wonderful things people attest to for him and it's a challenge because I just got here,” she says.
Dr. Feijoo has another challenge moving the district forward. It was last year that a 16-year-old girl was stabbed to death off campus by fellow students.
"I think there are a few things that are on the top of the radar, including looking at data to drive some of our decisions, looking at an equitable budget and certainly issues of safety and security because that has been communicated to me throughout the process," she says.
And by focusing on those issues, it will hopefully give the New Rochelle community even more to celebrate than a football game.
“I understand. I know that these things are not the way that I would have wanted to be introduced, but the opportunity to discuss challenges, the opportunity for me to see things through, to really do the things I’m saying that can happen here and take this district on a path to where everyone wants to be,” she says.
There are some more issues Dr. Feijoo says she wants to look at, including relying too much on the use of standardized testing when assessing student and teacher performance and looking for alternatives to out of school suspensions. Her contract runs through 2023.