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The Tangled Web Between the Montgomery County, Maryland Public Schools and the New Rochelle City School District

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The Tangled Web Between the Montgomery County, Maryland Public Schools and the New Rochelle City School District

April 29, 2018 - 03:00
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NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- New Rochelle Board of Education President Rachel Relkin was recently confronted by questions about the integrity of the  “Task Force on Reducing Violence in the Lives of Children and Youth”. Concerns were raised about the committee’s ability to evaluate any failures by the district administration when the chairman was recommended by the leader of the district administration, namely, Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne.

Relkin replied. Relkin lied.

Here is how we know Rachel Relkin lied about Osborne and Dr. Jonathon Brice (it is worth noting from the top that Brice did not lie, Osborne has said nothing on the topic, only Relkin lied).

On February 23rd, 2018, Michael Lepore, two weeks before being named a member of the Task Force, summarized widespread concerns about Dr. Brice’s independence and integrity on a Facebook discussion group. The post followed the announcement of the hiring of Brice to chair the task force on February 12th and the publication of an interview of Brice in Talk of the Sound on February 14th. The Brice committee membership was announced on March 5th. Lepore was among the 46 people appointed.

Lepore wrote in Concerned Parents & Residents of New Rochelle, a Facebook group he founded and runs:

"It was suggested that Dr. Osborne had suggested contacting Dr. Brice which stirred further questions...questions of integrity."

Lepore was reflecting doubts among group members as to repeated claims of “independence” by Brice in media interviews and their reservations over what proved to be well-founded concerns over “transparency.” (There has been none, the committee, at Brice’s insistence, has operated in total secrecy.) The primary concern was that the School Violence Task Force should and would evaluate elements of Osborne’s decision-making so Osborne should not be involved in selecting the person charged with conducting a critical review of the Superintendent’s performance. Further, that Osborne might be influencing or directing the composition of the committee, the subjects to be covered (or not covered) by the committee or even exerting pressure on the committee to produce a pre-determined set of recommendations which served Osborne’s personal or professional agenda having nothing to do with his work in New Rochelle (but rather to give him cover when he soon applies for his next job).

In response, New Rochelle Board of Education President Rachel Relkin unequivocally denied Osborne played any role in Brice’s hiring.

"Dr. Osborne did not recommend Dr. Brice," said Relkin. 

When people did not accept Relkin’s account of how Brice came to be hired, she complained about the tone of the response.

"I am really disheartened by how this thread turned," said Relkin. "I am reluctant to join (Facebook) groups because of exactly what happened here."

As will become apparent, they had reason to doubt Relkin. People sensed she could not be trusted and, in fact, she had lied, making her faux-indignation at the tone of the response to her lie just an extension of that lie.

Brice sought to pre-empt these very concerns by repeatedly stating in media interviews that he was “independent”.

When asked, in an interview with Talk of the Sound days earlier, Brice said he had never been to New Rochelle, had no prior experience with anyone involved in running the School District or the City and did not know any of the “players” in New Rochelle.

In an allusion to Osborne, who like Brice attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education (they overlapped, going through the same doctoral program, graduating one year apart), Brice said he "may have attended the same schools but I don’t know the people so it gives me the ability to be independent."

Asked why taxpayers should foot the bill for his $12,000 (plus expenses) consulting contract for a few hours of work when they already pay to support large salaries for school administrators to deal with problems like school violence, and in particular asked what specific skills he possessed beyond those of members of the administration, Brice said it was his ”independent perspective“ that made it worth hiring him, adding that because he is "independent" it would "increase the likelihood that the information that is found, the recommendations that are made, are in the best interests of what could potentially be what the board uses to decide what they’re going to do." He closed by saying of the skills he brings to bear, “I think independence is number one."

Time and time again Brice described his putative independence as his most important qualification to chair the task force. Yet, as we shall see, Brice is a person who travels in the same circles as Osborne and his fellow classmates, all educated together at Harvard, in the same program and all working at various times for the Montgomery County and Maryland Public Schools— including Osborne.

As Brice had never been to New Rochelle and did not know anyone in New Rochelle, Talk of the Sound asked him how he came to be offered the position to lead the School Violence Task Force. 

"The Board President reached out to me," said Brice. "I think she got my name from the Superintendent who looked at his network and got recommendations of who they should have a conversation with and I was on the list."

Dr. Brice’s own account does not square with Relkin’s claim that Dr. Osborne did not recommend Dr. Brice. It is certainly more plausible than Relkin’s version of events for the simple reason that if Brice is not telling the truth about Osborne’s role in his hiring then Relkin would need to explain how an Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Maryland got on her radar. Does she have some familiarity with Montgomery County? Or with the Baltimore City Schools where Brice worked for five years? If not from Osborne, how did Relkin know to call Brice? Or did someone other than Osborne recommend Brice to Relkin?

Brice has his own explanation. He says Osborne "looked at his network" and "got recommendations". But this begs the question whether there is some connection, through Osborne’s network of contacts, between Brice and Osborne.

One longtime insider familiar with Osborne’s mindset pointed us in the right direction: "Rest assured, Osborne selected him and the Board President hired him.  Short and simple. Osborne would not allow the creation of a committee he did not control. There was most likely no posting. No competitive interviews. The notion of Osborne’s professional network sounds benign enough.  Brice indicates that he doesn’t know Osborne. That may well be true but they would certainly know the same people as Brice appears to acknowledge."

The question then becomes whether there is some person out there who was likely the bridge between Osborne and Brice. As it turns out, there are at least three possibilities.

From his Linkedin page, we know Brice received his M.Ed. (with a concentration in Urban Superintendency) from the Harvard Ed School during the 2002-03 academic year.  He completed his Ed.D. in the Urban Superintendency Program in 2012. Osborne received his Ed.D. from the Harvard Ed School in 2011 in the area of Administration, Planning and Social Policy. Osborne went through Harvard's Urban Superintendents program as well. It is a relatively small graduate school so they likely crossed paths and would almost certainly have had an overlapping circle of friends and acquaintances and professional colleagues. They would both know Dr. Robert Peterkin, the Director of the Urban Superintendents Program at the Harvard Ed School at the time.

Osborne is mentioned in a Winter 2014 article in Ed. Magazine, Harvard Ed School’s quarterly education journal, in connection with the Montgomery County  School District.

The article, “Dropping Out: Is Your First Grader at Risk?”, is largely based on an interview with Dr. Joshua Starr, the then-superintendent of the Montgomery County, Maryland Public Schools (he was removed by the school board in 2015). In the article, Starr is describing how he came up with a predictive modeling concept to project risk factors for first graders that would indicate a propensity to later drop out of school.

"(Starr) was walking through New York City's Central Park when the idea hit him. 'I was actually walking with another Harvard grad, Brian Osborne, and I was talking about the Seven Keys,' he says".

Could Joshua Starr, who received his Ed.D. from the Harvard Ed School in 2001, and was the Superintendent of Montgomery County from 2011 until February 2015, be one of the links between Osborne and Brice?

In 2014, Talk of the Sound broke the news that Osborne had been hired as New Rochelle Schools Superintendent. We published an article on May 28, 2014 based on a deep dive into Osborne’s background including detailed information into his acceptance and then sudden rejection of the Superintendency of the Ann Arbor, Michigan school district.

In our research we obtained a copy of the cover letter and resume Osborne submitted to the Ann Arbor School District. The package contained three letters of recommendation that connect Osborne and Brice. All were likely updated and submitted to the New Rochelle Board of Education as part of his job application in New Rochelle in 2013-14 when Relkin was Vice President of the school board.

The first is a letter of recommendation from Dr. Starr. He says that the first person he called to help him when he was hired as Superintendent of Montgomery County Schools was Brian Osborne. Starr, in fact, put Osborne on the payroll of the Montgomery County School District. Records obtained by Talk of the Sound under a Maryland Public Information Act request show that Osborne was paid fees totaling $3,000 plus reimbursement of expenses for travel and entertainment totaling $1,163.00 for 20 hours of work, primarily two days of “transition team” meetings in Maryland, one on June 16, 2011 and another on August 23, 2011.

In the recommendation letter, Starr details how he worked with Osborne over the years starting in the Plainfield, New Jersey School District. When Starr left Plainfield for a job in the New York City School District, he says he “immediately” hired Osborne away from Plainfield. The pair went on to work together in the New York City School Chancellor’s office. When Starr left his job in New York City to become Superintendent of the Stamford, Connecticut School District he says he regularly consulted Osborne.

A second recommendation letter in the Ann Arbor application packet comes from Dr. Andrés A. Alonso, CEO of the Baltimore City Schools. Alonso says he first came to know Osborne as a student at the Harvard Ed School. When Alonso took a job with the New York City School system he hired Osborne. When Alonso took a sabbatical he recommended Osborne to replace him and when Alonso returned from sabbatical they worked side by side. When Alonso was promoted he hired Osborne as his Chief of Staff. Osborne left to become Superintendent in New Jersey in 2006; Alonso left in 2007 to become CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools.

Brice was hired by Alonso as Executive Director of Student Support Services of the Baltimore City Public Schools in 2008. Alonso later promoted Brice to School Support Network Officer of Baltimore City Public Schools in 2011. Brice left in 2013 and has bounced around ever since with brief stints first as a Deputy Assistant position with the U.S. Department of Education, two self-directed start ups and then for the last 20 months at Montgomery County Public Schools (where Starr was fired in February 2015 and Brice was hired in July 2016).

The third letter of recommendation is from Robert S. Peterkin, Emeritus Director of the Urban Superintendents Program at the Harvard Ed School. As Director he would come to know Osborne, Starr, Alonso and Brice.

While Rachel Relkin has offered no explanation for how she came to hire Dr. Brice let alone knew that Dr. Brice existed, it is quite clear that Brian Osborne had multiple connections to Brice through his network at the Harvard Ed School, his own consulting work in Maryland and his professional association with not one but two of the highest ranking school administrators in Maryland both of whom ran school districts where Brice was employed.

The record supports only one reasonable conclusion, that Osborne found Brice and recommended Brice to Relkin and that Relkin relied on Osborne’s recommendation. The record is consistent with Brice’s version of events and all available facts going back more than 15 years.

The only question remaining is why did Rachel Relkin lie?

It is worth noting that at the January 11th City Hall press conference, held the day after the murder of Valaree Schwab, New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson was asked by a reporter about the “closed campus” policy at the high school. Before Richardson could answer, Brian Osborne whispered to Richardson. Seconds later Richardson lied, claiming that the high school had been an “open campus” for many years, before he became principal.

So, did Rachel Relkin lie on her own, or because Brian Osborne also whispered in her ear?

 

RELATED:

 

The First Step to Begin Restoring Trust in New Rochelle School System is to Come Clean on the Supposed Open Campus Practice

 

New Rochelle Board of Education Appoints Former Obama Official to Chair School Violence Task Force

 

... a few questions to Rachel Alvy Relkin.

 

Q & A with Dr. Jonathon Brice, Recently Appointed Chair of New Rochelle Task Force on Reducing Violence in the Lives of Children and Youth

 

Dropping Out: Is Your First Grader at Risk?

 

New Rochelle Expected to Name Brian Osborne as new Schools Superintendent

 

 Osborne Consulting Payments from Montgomery County School District (PDF)