This letter was published by activist Naftuli Moster in The Journal News as a Community View, April 5.
When Deborah Wortham was appointed superintendent of East Ramapo in 2015, she was touted as a visionary leader who would bring desperately needed change to a district whose board stood accused of gutting public education to serve the interests of private religious schools.
What a tragedy, then, that Superintendent Wortham is not only not aiding but is actively impeding a change in East Ramapo schools that is urgently needed. Many, perhaps most, students in East Ramapo are receiving little or no instruction in math, English, science or social studies. I am referring not to the 8,000 students in public school but to the 20,000 who attend yeshivas.
I have been trying to meet with Dr. Wortham to discuss this issue for almost a year. The only time she did meet with me was when education activist Steven White made the appointment and invited me to come along. Our attempts to follow up with her have been delayed and postponed for months, so I decided to try speaking at a recent public board meeting.
What I encountered at public meetings is that she runs down the clock with lengthy, low-content presentations, such as her patronizing show-and-tell using pictures of rocket ships to illustrate supposed improvements in data. A Hasidic parent who mustered up the courage to join me to speak before the board and the superintendent about the sub-par education his sons and other Hasidic boys are receiving had to leave before having the chance to speak.
Superintendent Wortham earns a prorated base salary of $250,000 in a district where the per capita income is $21,627 and 26 percent of the population is below the poverty line.
Perhaps she has forgotten that she serves the people, not the other way around. Those of us who attend board meetings after a hard day at work aren’t being paid overtime to do so.
We want the opportunity to air our grievances about the state of East Ramapo’s public and non-public schools and the thousands of Hasidic children who are being denied a basic education — grievances Superintendent Wortham is turning a blind eye on. We want to read to her and to the board the NYSED guidelines that outline the superintendent’s and the board’s responsibility to bring East Ramapo’s non-public schools into full compliance with the law, ensuring that all children get the education they deserve. We demand the right to be heard, and we won’t stop until we get it.
The writer is executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education.