Independent report on reopening of schools in Williamsville Central School District released

Posted at 1:43 PM, Mar 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-24 13:43:13-04

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Williamsville Central School District announced the report by an independent counsel to the board of education on the reopening of schools in the fall of 2020 has been released.

At the request of the Williamsville Central School District Board of Education the independent counsel conducted an investigation into "why the Williamsville Central School District (“District”) was not prepared to educate every one of its students on September 8, 2020, the first scheduled day of the 2020-2021 school year."

The report says the crisis "demanded credible leadership, advance planning, and collaboration" and states former Superintendent Dr. Scott Martzloff chose to go at it alone.

Martzloff was placed on paid administrative leave due to the back-to-school reopening plan and then resigned in November 2020.

He selected and/or voiced his opinions about who should serve on the Reopening Committee, indicated that he would not meet with the WTA about the Reopening Plan until after the District had constructed that Plan, relegated the Reopening Committee to a largely ceremonial role, and did not consult with his Assistant Superintendents on many major decisions.

This sidelining of stakeholders and the go-it-alone approach simply did not work, especially as the calendar worked against the District in August and the Superintendent needed the buy-in of various stakeholders to make his August 25th Reopening Plan work.

The report also states the district failed to adequately prepare because of its inability to manage expectations amid the pandemic.

Because of New York State requirements, the District was not able to have every student at school all day, every day, for five days per week. But the communication of this reality by the Superintendent left something to be desired, and failed to properly set expectations of the community as the Reopening Plan was first announced.

According to the report, repeated and drastic changes to the instructional model in the reopening plan led to reduced confidence in the superintendent's ability. It also meant the district had less time to implement its final plan.

While changes to address some community concerns were wise, the frequent and dramatic changes to the instructional model in the two week period between when the Plan was first publicly introduced on August 11, 2020 and the date on which the Remote Academy plan was introduced, were dizzying.

The district culture was listed as another role in the failure to be prepared for reopening.

Furthermore, the District culture played an integral role in the District’s failure to be prepared for the opening of the 2020-21 school year. The culture and chain of command in the District under Dr. Martzloff were clear to administrators – communications from the administration to the Board of Education flowed through Dr. Martzloff, and vice versa.

Therefore, even when administrators had very serious doubts about the August 25, 2020 Reopening Plan and expressed those doubts to Dr. Martzloff and to one another, none of them 41 went to the Board of Education to express those very serious reservations about the Plan. This prevented the Board of Education from learning of the administrators’ doubts because the administration and the Board essentially had become neighboring silos of information under Dr. Martzloff – with the only person able to enter both silos being Dr. Martzloff.

As part of the executive summary, the independent counsel said there was not a singular reason for failure but rather a series of issues.

While it is undisputed that the District was not prepared to educate every one of its students on September 8, 2020 – as fully remote learners in grades 5-12 did not begin their school year on that day – there is not a singular reason for that failure. A series of questionable decisions, the erosion of necessary working relationships, poor internal and external communications, an apparent fear of disappointing too many community members, a reliance on a legal opinion offered quickly at the Board’s request, and the District’s culture all combined\ to leave some students at home without school work as the 2020-21 school year began.

The final misstep in a series of missteps was the belief by some that the District could offer every fully remote learner every class for which he/she had registered, taught by a Williamsville teacher – and that this Remote Academy for fully remote learners could essentially be built, staffed and be ready to operate just two weeks after its concept was introduced to the District community.

The independent counsel made recommendations to address the problems which include strengthening working relationships and communications between all parties involved. It also recommended the board identify and hire a superintendent that can build a strong culture and communicate timely, regularly and accurately.

The board of education released the following statement on the matter:

We are pleased to receive this report, share it with all our stakeholders, learn from it and put that difficult time behind everyone in the district. Our schools are operating effectively and we continue to work diligently to give as many students as possible access to their teachers and classrooms.
- Board of Education President Teresa Anne Leatherbarrow

The district released the following statement on the matter:

The District is focused on continuing to move forward in a positive manner and ensuring students continue to receive a high-quality education through the hybrid/hyflex and remote instructional models. Our administrators, teachers, and staff have dedicated themselves to providing a strong education to our students. We want to thank our students, parents, and community for their continued support throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to plan and prepare for any changes in guidance to ensure our students receive the best possible educational experiences.
- Williamsville Central School District

7 Eyewitness News has reached out to Dr. Martzloff for comment, we are waiting to hear back.