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Triumph in Briarcliff – Walkabout Alumni, Parents and Future Students save 4 slots for 2013-14

Over 50 Walkabout current students, alumni, parents and supporters showed up last night to the Briarcliff BOE meeting to support Walkabout. After first voting NO, the leadership of Superintendent Neal Miller prevailed and the Board reversed it’s decision. Briarcliff will be sending 4 students to Walkabout next year. They heard what we had to say and we owe them our sincere thanks.

That’s the important fact but the story behind how they came to this decision is an amazing one. Here’s what happened……

Alumni started gathering at Briarcliff High School/Middle School at 630pm.  We signed up with the board clerk to speak.  The standard procedure for the board is to start their meeting at 7pm and immediately adjourn to an executive session.  They returned at 8pm to start the public session.  The meeting got underway with comments from the outgoing board president, Sal Maglietta.  He started by making a motion to extend the time allotted for public comments from 30 minutes to 90 minutes given the long list of almost 30 concerned Walkabout alumni and parents.  The board was totally accommodating and allowed for the extra time.

We each got up to speak and told our stories.  We thanked the board for our opportunities to go to Walkabout and shared with the board how we can directly credit Walkabout for the people we are today.  Beyond telling our own stories of growth and transformation, we hit on points such as the importance of giving Briarcliff kids an alternative to the traditional high school experience that leaves many disengaged from education and themselves.  We also spoke the critical timing of this decision and the fragile state of the program.  I believe they all listened and heard our heartfelt comments.

The next part of the meeting was when each board member had time to speak.  They discussed the very difficult nature of the decisions they have to make and their disappointment in the initial budget not passing.  They spoke of their reliance on the school administrators judgement in putting forth the revised budget and that although it is very difficult to approve it, they felt they they should which would mean the discontinuance of Walkabout.  We were all feeling that they had mostly made up their minds.  The message was that they truly wanted to keep the program but the money just wasn’t there. 

Sal Maglietta addressed the rest of the board and the administrators and asked if there was any way they could make it work.  He succinctly stated that there are basically three choices: cut it, fund it or partially fund it.  They went through the board members again and asked which they thought was the right thing to do.  Options such as dipping into already scant reserves, cutting sports programs and cutting health aides were all discussed.  We were starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.  But, after much deliberation and the consideration that they had already cut so much out of the budget to get to where they were, they decided that it wasn’t the right thing to do and they voted to fully cut Walkabout.  

We walked out dejected and collected in the hallway outside of the middle school theater where the meeting was wrapping up.  The point was made that this was certainly not the end of our fight.  We would keep fighting.

Victory for Walkabout!Then, at 1215am, someone who had just left the meeting approached us and informed us that Neal Miller, the superintendent found a way to fund Walkabout. The board reversed it’s decision and added Briarcliff’s 4 slots back in. It was Mr. Miller’s leadership that saved the program.  As you can imagine after this roller coaster of emotion, we were all elated!

We owe Mr. Miller and the Briarcliff Board our sincere thanks.