Impressions of a Failed Town Hall Meeting in New Rochelle in the Wake of the West End Shooting

Community grapples with school safety after second murder by a 16-year-old in 4 years

Impressions of a Failed Town Hall Meeting in New Rochelle in the Wake of the West End Shooting

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- I know there was something “off” about last night’s community meeting at Columbus School, but I cannot quite put my finger on it.

While there may be as many opinions as to why as there were “civilians” in the auditorium — so, less than 60 — overall it smacked of a lack of authenticity.

The event felt fake.

I started out to write a straight news account of the meeting last night for Talk of the Sound but the more I thought about last night the more this piece turned into my impressions about last night, so I wrote this in the first person for my substack platform, Words in Edgewise.

David Propper wrote a good, comprehensive article on, accompanied by good images shot by Seth Harrison. Check that out for a traditional news account: 'We failed them'; School community seeks answers after New Rochelle fatal shooting of teen

The School District leadership came across as vacuous, lacking empathy and devoid of purpose. This is troubling because this type of moment is as big a test as school leaders face — the violent death of a student on their watch.

The last time this happened in New Rochelle in 2018 both Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Osborne and New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson failed so totally and so miserably to meet this test that both were gone before the start of the next school year.

For whatever reason, New Rochelle Schools Superintendent Jonathan P. Raymond simply did not connect with his audience.

He needs to do better, and he needs to do that posthaste before he loses support he will never get back.

New Rochelle cannot afford another Osborne or Feijóo face plant.

I want to consider the why of this because New Rochelle Schools Superintendent Jonathan P. Raymond is a smart man with plenty of experience who started off strong last night then fizzled out.

In his public invitation, Raymond wrote:

At the town hall meeting, we will reaffirm that the safety and well-being of our families and students remain our first priority. At the meeting, we will discuss ways to support the physical, emotional, social, and mental health of our students. Your thoughts, ideas, and voice are important to us.

Also at the meeting, we will share what we have learned about our current school district systems and practices, and how further improvements, partnerships throughout our community, and investments are necessary and urgently needed. We will share some immediate action steps.

Let’s skip over addressing the boilerplate “the safety of our students is our first priority” palaver. As we have stated on the many occasions in the past when this canard has been trotted out by New Rochelle school officials, the fact is the safety of students is not even in the Top 10 on the list of priorities (anticipating lawsuits, public relations, real estate brokers, union relations, avoiding public criticism, culture of absence of accountability, etc.).

If it was such a priority, why are students still being stabbed, raped, assaulted, and bullied in the schools in the four years after the murder of Valaree Schwab. If it is such a priority, why has so little been done with decades of security audits and task forces and safety committees? If it is such a priority, why do they have to keep affirming this claim after one incident and then another and then another?

And the parents? Their safety is not even visible with the Very Large Array radio telescope in Socorro, New Mexico.

Let’s skip over addressing the “your thoughts, ideas, and voice are important to us.” Not only was that not the case last night, but a number of speakers last night made the point that they did not feel heard or validated in their concerns. This mostly because questions or statements of concern were met with silence.

Let’s do focus on why there was such a disconnect between what was offered and what was delivered.

People showed up reasonably expecting to get right into open dialogue and engagement with the Superintendent. The meeting was scheduled for just one an hour, and more than 30 minutes into it, no one had been allowed to ask a question.

What they got, was mostly a Soviet-style, one-way, top-down, PA-system type propaganda broadcast. A taste of Orwell.

I was half-expecting a girl in orange shorts to toss a sledgehammer at the stage.

Does anyone running the District not understand that the entire premise of a Town Hall meeting is a grassroots, bottom up, speaking-truth-to-power format? A public figure stands up (Raymond remained seated throughout, behind a dais, more than 100 feet away from most of the audience), gives members of the audience a microphone and lets them fire away with their questions or make their statements and then answers them. A smart play would have been to dramatically stand up, walk to the front of the stage, hop down, grab a microphone and get close to and on the same level as the community so he could look them in the eye.

A town hall is usually done to establish the credibility of the public figure — that they can take the heat and hold their own while answering the questions most on people’s minds, and build support by satisfying them he feels their pain.

That is a town hall format.

That did not happen.

That was a major opportunity lost.

Raymond instead finished his strong opening statement by turning to two people nobody came to hear: Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah and Westchester County Community Mental Health Commissioner Michael Orth.

Why they were up on the dais with Raymond and New Rochelle High School Principal Dr. Dagberto Artiles was never made clear but they added absolutely nothing.

In the audience, there appeared to be little to no interest in mental health programs the County ran decades ago or gang violence reduction in Yonkers or the state’s Red Flag Law.

You have to wonder who thought having county officials at a local school board meeting made sense in the first place.

We know what people came for because Raymond invited them for a discussion of “ways to support the physical, emotional, social, and mental health of our students” and what he and his team have “learned about our current school district systems and practices” and about the need for “further improvements, partnerships throughout our community, and investments”.

When people asked about those things, about how specifically those things were to be implemented to make the schools safer, Raymond said the school board would be voting on such things at the next meeting, meaning in a couple of hours.

How is that an answer to a question people were told would be discussed at the meeting they were already at? Few remained for the next meeting.

A Town Hall is an event at which a public official or political candidate addresses an audience by answering questions posed by individual members.

By that definition, last night’s lightly attended Town Hall Meeting — maybe 50 parents, students snd members of the public, was not much of a town hall.

As an event, it was a dud.

As an opportunity to address community concerns, it was a failure.

Superintendent Raymond made news when he opened the evening by saying, “Julian and Tommy were New Rochelle High School students… we failed them.”

That statement was unusual for New Rochelle in that for once someone in the District stepped up, owned a problem and stated their intention to fix it. Taking responsibility for a problem is something I do not recall hearing in my 14 years covering the District. Raymond deserves the highest marks for that.

On the other hand, the statement was deceptive, what is known in journalism as a rowback — a story that attempts to correct a previous story without indicating that the prior story had been in error or without taking responsibility for the error.

On January 25, about 6 hours after Tommy Rivera is alleged to have repeatedly shot and killed Julian Oliveros less than two blocks from the same Columbus School where the meeting was held, the District issued a statement which described Julian Oliveros as “a young person who previously attended New Rochelle High School”. There was no mention of Tommy Rivera at all.

New Rochelle High School issued a statement minutes after the District statement which said the opposite, that Oliveros was “one of New Rochelle High School’s enrolled students”. Again, there was no mention of Tommy Rivera.

We immediately sought clarification that night from the two contradictory statements, and have continued to do so over the past two weeks. Those repeated requests have been ignored.

Rivera and Oliveros were not only both students at New Rochelle High School, but according to Rivera’s attorney, Rivera was on his way home from school the day of the shooting.

Raymond went on to adopt as his own the soporific but fashionable claim that two students were lost as a result of the shooting on January 25.

We heard the same nonsense four years ago.

Both Z’inah Brown and Tommy Rivera are very much alive and well: Brown as Inmate 19G0629 at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, NY; Rivera, a resident at Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry, NY., has made three court appearances.

Valaree Schwab and Julian Oliveros are very much, not alive.

The obsequious courtesy to some half-witted notion of moral equivalency between 16-year-olds who commit murder and 16-year-olds who are murdered by them is sick-making.

Raymond went on to say the District has been failing a number of students for far too long, and so he is launching a redesigned program, starting with New Rochelle High School, which will be led by students.

Is this just pandering or for real?

Led by students?

In what world does it make sense to even consider outsourcing district leadership to children not old enough to get a learner’s permit or buy a beer? If children can lead the District, why is the board paying millions of dollars a year to a cabinet of education professionals, along with their consultants and attorneys, to lead the District?

Later that evening, school board members would go on to seriously entertain the idea of appointing students to the school board by board fiat (goodbye elections, hello appointing your neighbor’s kid to spruce up their college application!).

One board member proposed the board get input from kindergarteners. Where’s Art Linkletter when you need him? Admittedly, I would actually pay to watch that.

Raymond did a bit of table-thumping, saying it was “non-negotiable” that in the “wake of this crisis” he would be developing a system of support, social-emotional learning with wrap-around services. What is that system? Which negotiating partner is it that is opposing him on this? He did not say.

He offered no specifics for any of what he described, and left most of the audience bewildered and uninspired.

After his introductory remarks, Raymond did not open up the meeting to questions from the floor but instead turned the microphone over to Michael Orth of the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health who went on at length on the history of his department and his department’s programs and then Raymond turned the microphone over to Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah who went on at length about gun control measures and gun-related arrests and “precision policing” and “precision prosecution” then Raymond turned the microphone over to New Rochelle High School Principal Dagberto Artiles.

Rocah said most violent crime involve a small number of people — she mentioned gang violence — and the perpetrators were known to police, and her office was going after them. She called this “precision policing” and “precision prosecution” which sounds exactly like what New York City, under Bill DiBlasio and now Alvin Bragg, opposed.

As Raymond began to speak again, he was interrupted by former School Board Member Martin Sanchez, who pointed out the meeting was halfway over and no one in the audience had asked a question. Another person shouted, “we don’t want to hear your resumes.”

Raymond continued, ignoring outbursts from the audience, then finally opened up the floor for questions.

Predictably, Vince Malfetano got the microphone and refused to let it go, mostly to troll the room by advocating for absurd, unworkable, invasive policies, seen as racist by many, such as searches of students entering New Rochelle High School. He claimed searches were not racist because they could be algorithmically randomized so as to avoid racial and ethnic bias, apparently unaware that a truly random selection for a pat down entering the high school would result in 80% of the “random” selections being Black and Hispanic students which may be technically random but would not look random.

Just as predictably, Malfetano got his wish, making the discussion about him, as the next few speakers ignored Raymond and addressed Malfetano to criticize his ridiculous proposals as Malfetano toyed them, shaking his head, heaving loud sighs and making faces. Vince being Vince, offering minimum input to get maximum attention on himself while he is speaking and for as long as possible after he is no longer speaking.

Martin Sanchez said there are over 400 Hispanic students unaccounted for on the District enrollment. He wanted to know when Raymond would answer questions put to him in a February 3 letter from La Fuerza Latina:

Please provide current numbers of enrollment in ALL AP and PAVE programs based on race and whether they were allocated from IYMS or ALMS?

What are the current systems in place to address the Latino student graduation rates?

The differences in reaction & public comment by the District and City to this recent tragedy and that which occurred on January 10, 2018, is appallingly disproportionate. Why was that Superintendent Raymond? Why was that Mayor Bramson?

How will the school budget be specifically amended with these new funds to reflect the assistance that our community needs?

Daniel Bonnet, who grew up in New Rochelle, said he turned out great, so Raymond should take advice from the people he liked as a student in the New Rochelle schools. Bonnet said the District has pitted Black and Hispanic students against each other for years. He said he knew many people leaving New Rochelle for Connecticut.

Yolanda Valencia, a member of the Brice Task Force in 2018, said that she did not see much happening in the four years since recommendations were made.

Myriam Decime said, “the violence is in the classroom” that students do not feel welcome, which is why kids have left school and are out on the street.

In one particular cringe-worthy moment, a Shelley Mayer staffer made an embarrassing, lengthy tone-deaf pitch for her boss. Turning her back to the dais to address the audience and speaking from prepared remarks, she was allowed to drone on like one of those late-night 30 minute infomercials as she extolled the virtues of her favorite politician and described a youth program of no particular relevance to the purpose of the Town Hall, then promoted a coat drive. She then repeated the whole thing in Spanish.

Overall, the Town Hall was a dud.

The expectation of many attendees was that they would hear a back and forth between members of the public and the school district leadership. Good questions eliciting better answers. What they got was about 20 members of the public making speeches, or debating each other over irrelevancies while the four panelists observed, with Raymond occasionally weighing in with platitudes.

The auditorium at Christopher Columbus Elementary School has about 450 seats. It was about 80% empty. An unofficial headcount halfway into the meeting tallied to about 90 people, but many of those were District employees, School Board members, City Council members, City employees, reporters. elected officials and their staff, security guards and police officers (apparently they were expecting trouble but got none).

Among the “names” present were Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Mayor Noam Bramson, County Leg. Damon Maher, City Council Member Yadira Ramos-Herbert, City Council Member Martha Lopez, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, and the aforementioned Mimi Rocah and Michael Orth.

LoHud was there. No News12. No other media outlets that I noticed. The mic flags told a different story four years ago.

We wrote about the contrast between 2018 and 2022 on substack last week.

Two Very Different Responses to Very Similar Murders

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