GUEST POST: Superintendent Jonathan Raymond is Fast Becoming New Rochelle’s YouTuber-in-Chief

Is that a good thing?

GUEST POST: Superintendent Jonathan Raymond is Fast Becoming New Rochelle’s YouTuber-in-Chief

NEW ROCHELLE, NY (October 19, 2022) — Jonathan Raymond is fast becoming the YouTuber Superintendent. The only question is whether that’s a good thing.

Parents dropping off their children at school might happen upon a middle-aged man standing in a parking lot or on an athletic field, an arm outstretched, talking on his phone. For those who don’t know, that would be the New Rochelle Superintendent.

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Jonathan Raymond records 1 to 2 minutes videos and publishes them on the district’s Facebook page, usually 2 to 3 times a week.

In a series, he calls “What Matters Most”, Raymond interviews subjects who work for him or with him for about 15 minutes. The interviews are recorded in a studio at Trinity elementary school. Raymond is trending towards weekly releases.

I asked the Superintendent a few questions about his video habit.

  • How much time do you spend to make these videos?
  • What is the all-in cost of making these videos?
  • How do these videos fit within the mission the board hired you to achieve?
  • How does your making Facebook and YouTube videos translate into improvements in the quality of education in New Rochelle?

The Superintendent declined to answer my questions.

One might well speculate that Raymond’s intent, in making videos, is to educate, inform and entertain an audience to convey some sort of positive message about the district.

The district’s director of public information noted, “more than 30,000 people have signed up to receive our newsletter and follow our social media accounts”.

While that sounds good, links to the videos are not sent in the weekly district newsletter.

The New Rochelle Board of Education hired Raymond in the Spring of 2021, as the seventh Superintendent in seven years.

He is currently the highest-paid public sector employee in the City of New Rochelle with a taxpayer-funded compensation, which includes a $295,000 annual salary, benefits, and perks, that rounds out to about $175 an hour or more than 4 times the average hourly pay of district employees.

He was tasked with a major turnaround: restoring a school district that not too long ago boasted a high school regularly ranked nationally by Newsweek in their Top 100.

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Over the last decade, the once highly regarded City School District of New Rochelle has tumbled in academic performance, ranked #7,836 in the most recent U.S. News & World Report. New Rochelle High School is consistently rated among the lowest high schools in the County by Westchester Magazine.

This decline in performance has been coupled with dramatic enrollment declines including significant “black flight”, poor academic results, two student-on-student murders, a classroom stabbing, gang violence, and a years-long systematic grade fixing scandal which raises significant doubt about claims of improvements in graduation rates.

The reputational damage to the district is generational and will take years to overcome.

And things continue to deteriorate.

For the past two decades, for example, successive administrations tried and failed to elevate test performance at Isaac E. Young Middle School to achieve equity between the two middle schools. Over the past few years, equity has been achieved; not by elevating Isaac, but by the collapse of standards and performance at Albert Leonard Middle School.

The two middle schools are now both equally poor performers.

The effort and attention required to course correct is titanic, but rather than engage in an exhaustive exercise of critical analysis to determine how the district fell and take steps to fix it, Raymond seems to believe he can “selfie” the District to a turnaround.

No other Superintendent in Southern Westchester is devoting hours each week to producing a talk show or shooting and posting selfie videos that few watch.

In a recent video, having apparently just woken up, he addressed his audience from what appears to be the kitchen in his home.

So far, eleven episodes of “What Matters Most“ have aired. The average number of views per video is slightly over 100 but, as the novelty has worn off, the trend in viewership is declining.

The production value is suggestive of Zach Galifianakis’ recurring comedy sketch, “Between Two Ferns”. A better name for Raymond’s show might be “Between Two Sunflowers”.

The most recent video, published last week, has 137 views. That is 0.45% of the district’s 30,000-person audience. To put that abysmal figure in context, consider that a “view” is counted when the video is played, so 137 views could be 137 people watching the video or could be Raymond playing the same video 137 times.

In the TV rating business, the viewership for Raymond’s videos is minuscule, Nielsen would list the show as a “scratch”, so low as to make statistical analysis of viewership impossible.

His PIO does not believe there is a cost to making these videos.

Of course, there is a cost. The people appearing in Between Two Sunflowers are paid, so there is the cost of the Superintendent’s time, the guest’s time and the time of staff in the technology, video, and media departments.

All contribute to the cost.

Cost accounting requires applying some fraction of the total school budget to the studio and employee time.

A reasonable estimate is that it takes thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to produce a single episode of Between Two Sunflowers.

With the audience so small — and getting smaller over time — the Board needs to start asking serious questions. Lacking a tangible rationale for the videos and any success in attracting viewers, the public is left to wonder whether this project is less about the district and more about Raymond’s ego.

New Rochelle has seen this sort of vanity project before, and it did not end well.

In 2017, New Rochelle High School Reggie Richardson was hired as building leader for the second-largest high school in New York State. Rather than devote his full attention to his new job, one that far exceeded his previous experience as principal of a school with 400 students, not 3,400 students, Richardson decided to spend about one-quarter of his time teaching a history class. He thought it was appropriate to allocate a disproportionate amount of his time to focus entirely on 25 students at the expense of the 3,375 other students entrusted to him.

As is well-documented, Richardson fiddled as Rome burned — violence, murder, stabbing, rape, drug use, and gang activity became the norm — and he was run out of town by the Board.

As Raymond goes down the same Vanity Project Road, it is time for the Board to consider whether they want their sole hire to manage a large, complex school district or be the world’s least successful YouTuber.

At the very least, the videos need full-throated promotion, such as inclusion in the weekly e-mail blast.

Here are a few samples of Jonathan Raymond Videos





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