Angela Urbina-Medina this week announced her resignation from the role of superintendent of the New Paltz Central School District, just two years after she took the helm and helped steer the district through the COVID-19 pandemic. She will officially leave her position on Thursday, June 30, the official end of the 2021-22 academic year.
“Thank you to the teachers, clerical workers, bus drivers, custodians, mechanics, and support staff members of the district,” said Urbina-Medina during a meeting of the Board of Education held in a crowded New Paltz High School auditorium on Wednesday, June 15. “You have been a phenomenal, dedicated team of people to work with. Thank you for your support that you’ve provided me. I reside in this community and…although I will not occupy this position beyond the end of the month, I intend to be engaged in the district in every way possible.”
Urbina-Medina didn’t cite specific reasons for her resignation, but she did detail some of the hurdles she faced in coming to the district not only near the start of a global pandemic, but also difficulties much closer to home.
“Compounding the pandemic was the fact that the New Paltz Central School District had undergone tremendous upheaval with numerous staffing changes and key leadership positions in the year or so prior,” she said. “My entire administrative team was untenured, many just months into their tenure in the district, and the rest reeling from many systemic issues that led to the exodus of their predecessors. The trust issues were abundant and represented in every unit.”
Urbina-Medina said she was expected to hit the ground running with a focus on safely opening schools for the return of in-person learning following months of remote classes.
“I’m sure that we can all certainly recall the numerous CDC and Department of Health shifts, social distancing changes, pivots and guidance documents that school districts needed to work with in order to prepare their buildings for students’ return,” she said. “This was a monumental task in any district, but here it was a gargantuan one. We made it through and returned this year to five days in person with minimal COVID disruptions.”
Urbina-Medina expressed gratitude for the “overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents, staff, and even members of the Board of Education…I’d like to say thank you to all of those members of the community who have taken the time to share their thanks with me, whether it was on the ball field, in a bowling alley or in a parking lot. Your words have meant a lot to me and my family. I’ve felt both seen and appreciated by you.”
Though the superintendent didn’t go into specifics about the reasons for her departure, her wife Christine Urbina-Medina was less guarded during the public speaking session on June 15.
“My wife is heartbroken and our family is angry, saddened and dismayed,” she said. “My hope is that the countless good people who we have met in the New Paltz community, and in the district, all of you that have been so verbal in your support of my wife, hold president, Bianca Tanis, and Board members accountable. I honestly cannot believe that this shortsighted uncompromising unfair and yes, mean spirited Board reflects the majority of the people in New Paltz. Nope. I’ve seen you all. You are good people.”
Christina Urbina-Medina said her wife being asked to speak about what the district was doing to retain people of color was a “farce.”
“The cruelty of that still takes my breath away,” she said. “While parting ways with a black assistant superintendent of business (Sharifa Carbon, who officially resigned in April after being placed on administrative leave), a black superintendent and the only board member of color states, she won’t be running for the board. Again, due to the racism.”
Angela Urbina-Medina offered encouragement to those who will continue on in the district.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished, of what I accomplished here,” she said. “I encourage my leadership team to continue to be brave, to remember those lollipop moments and to keep students at the heart of the decisions that they make. Leaders, especially those new to the profession, need fearless mentorship; honest, experienced individuals who are vested in their success, not waiting for their failure. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to support the members of this administrative team and hope that they will be able to continue to support one another.”
While the superintendent did not address the reasons for her departure, the announcement comes in the wake of the revelation that some members of the public and one trustee believe that while the district publicly supports efforts to make the district more equitable for students and staff, they’re falling short behind the scenes.
“The Board, in and of itself, needs to come to terms with where you are in terms of equity and where you are in terms of your fragility, because it still exists,” said trustee Diana Armstead. “And it’s just a lot of intellectual dishonesty going on. And until you address your own issues on race, racism and equity, you’re going to stay right when you are and next…is going to be a Board with no diversity whatsoever.”
Armstead, who declined to seek reelection to the Board of Education this year, was speaking during a meeting of the Board held on Wednesday, June 1. Two weeks earlier, Armstead read from a five-page letter she sent to the Board, detailing her experiences as a woman of color in a district she said is not committed to racial equity.
“I personally have observed and experienced the subtle and not so subtle signs of racial micro-aggressions that has existed during my three decades engaged with the New Paltz Central School District,” Armstead wrote. “The spirit and the intent of our Anti-Racist Policies have been violated by current and past board members. Specifically, between 2018-2022 I have witnessed racism upfront and personally from white BOE colleagues and the former Superintendent, Maria Rice. For example, actions of racist behaviors directed at me include but are not limited to exclusion, intentional lack of communications, authoritative communication, authoritarian style behaviors, dismissiveness and avoidance just to name a few. Racism is a vicious cycle of low expectations of people of color that through self-fulfillment processes manifest themselves among the most well-intentioned liberals. Institutional racism in our district has led to a revolving door of employees of color.”
The June 15 meeting of the School Board was the last for both Urbina-Medina and Armstead; the latter said she planned to retire from community service.
Christina Urbina-Medina said she planned on running for the Board of Education in New Paltz, and encouraged others to do so too. School Board President Bianca Tanis, who Christina Urbina-Medina identified by name as being part of the problem in the district, won reelection unopposed last month with 845 votes. Armstead’s seat will be filled by the only other candidate, Matthew Williams, who picked up 842 votes.
“My hope is that people who do not think they are more important than the people that they serve will consider running for the Board at the next opportunity,” said Christina Urbina-Medina. “Those that understand that you have to be intentional about equity and representation in every aspect in your institution, from food service to custodian, from teachers, to administrators, from the recruitment of Board members, to the law firms, you hire, knowing that different life experiences and viewpoints are critical to ensure safe and fair environment for all.”
The Board of Education has yet to identify how it will begin its search for the new superintendent of the New Paltz Central School District, nor whether it will seat an interim superintendent to steer the ship while a search is underway.
The next meeting of the Board of Education is scheduled for Wednesday, July 6.