Superintendent of Schools

Mary-Margaret Zehr began as the Superintendent of Schools for Carmel Central School District in February 2021.

She brings years of experience, strong leadership skills, and an understanding of the importance of clear communication with all stakeholder groups.

Zehr began her lifelong career in education as a Social Studies teacher, but quickly moved onto administrative roles. Among these, she has served as high school and middle school principal, Committee on Special Education chair, assistant superintendent and superintendent.

She holds a certificate of advanced study in Educational Administration from SUNY-Oswego, a Master of Arts degree in Social Studies and International Education from New York University, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary and Early Secondary Education from SUNY-Cortland. Her certifications include New York State Permanent School District Administrator and permanent teaching certification in Social Studies.

Updates from the Superintendent

  • March 21, 2023

    Dear Carmel Community, 

    I recently shared an update with you about the planned next steps for the district in safety, communication, and equity to better create a learning environment where all students feel safe and respected. 

    While there is much more work to be done, I am sharing an update on the work that has been happening since my last email. 

    District-Wide Updates 

    • The district has created a website section dedicated to providing updates on our work and detailed plans for enhancements in the areas of safety, communication and equity. A report of feedback provided at the two Safety and Wellness Community Forums is included on the webpage. All future updates will also be included on the webpage. 
    • The district will be implementing an Anonymous Alerts system when schools return from spring vacation in April. We have chosen a system and are currently working on the implementation tasks to get it ready for our district community to use. Specific information about the system will be sent by each building’s principal at the time of the system’s launch. 
    • The district is finalizing a list of volunteers for the new CCSD Communications Committee. Thank you to all those who volunteered to assist in the work. All individuals who volunteered will be contacted later this week regarding the committee. The committee is planning to host its first meeting on Thursday, March 30. The committee's task will be to create a system for communicating instances of concern and safety to the community. 
    • The district is working with Matthew Lattimer, Lead Conciliation Specialist, U.S. Department of Justice, Community Relations Service, to host a Dialogue on Race program. This program is four sessions and an interactive, facilitated process that opens lines of communication and fosters mutual understanding to help address racial conflict and decrease racial tensions. The program will be scheduled on dates at the end of April and May. The district will begin advertising for this event next week.
    • Strategic planning surveys were administered to parents, students and staff by the district’s strategic planning partner, Syracuse University’s Office of Public Research and Development to provide opportunity for feedback and to help shape the district’s future.
    • The District-Wide Safety Team is exploring safety training for this spring.  

    School Building Updates 

    In addition to the district-wide work outlined above, additional work is underway within each school building: 

    • All school buildings continue to provide counseling services for students with our pupil personnel staff. 
    • Building MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) meetings are focusing on student emotional concerns. 
    • George Fischer Middle School and Carmel High School administration have created student advisory teams and will be hosting town hall meetings regularly between now and the end of the school year to provide student voice regarding concerns. 
    • Middle school and high school administration attended a regional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) conference and are sharing the information learned with other administrators. 
    • The district will be implementing the Department of Justice Program - SPIRIT (Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together) Program this spring with our students at the middle school and high school. 
    • The high school equity team will be attending a conference on designing equitable learning environments.
    • In the spring, high school and middle school faculty meetings will focus on the Speak up at School Protocol, which discusses how to respond to everyday prejudice, bias and stereotypes.
    • The high school and middle school are establishing Equity Clubs for students.
    • Elementary buildings will be creating a Grade 4 principal advisory team and will meet with that team regularly this spring.
    • Elementary buildings continue to implement PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) student recognitions and Tier 2 check-in and connections with students.
    • Elementary buildings are in the process of creating Equity Teams.
    • Elementary buildings will provide professional learning opportunities to staff during grade-level meetings on multicultural learning activities and the four pillars of the NYSED (New York State Education Department) Culturally Responsive Sustaining Education Framework.
    • Building staff will be participating in an additional Dignity for All Students (DASA) training during staff meetings at each building this spring. Staff members were provided with training at the beginning of the school year as part of our annual procedures, so this is additional training.
    • Our professional development team is planning professional learning based on the Culturally Responsive Sustaining Education framework for an April Staff Development Day.
    • Our district equity team is completing a survey of interest and will review all data from the strategic planning surveys from parents and students. Additionally, the Equity Team will create subcommittees to establish goals in the four pillars of the NYSED Culturally Responsive Sustaining Education Framework. 

    We are committed to the transformative and important work needed to bring change to our district and appreciate the community's willingness to partner with us and get involved. Thank you for your continued support of our efforts. 

    I will continue to provide updates and share the district’s progress in these areas and others. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact my office directly. 

    Mary-Margaret Zehr
    Superintendent of Schools

    Superintendent of Schools
  • March 8, 2023

    Dear Carmel Community, 

    During the last week, the district hosted two forums for community members to discuss safety, communications and equity in the Carmel Central School District. Thank you to all who attended the forums where we heard many compelling and thought-provoking statements, listened to your concerns and reflected on different perspectives. 

    One thing is clear: We all want to make a difference. 

    Among our core values as a district is the belief that individuals thrive when they feel safe, supported and respected, and that every person has intrinsic value. We strive to keep these values at the center of all that we do. The recent incidents and conversations at the forums have taught us that more work is necessary to make these values a reality. We are taking this opportunity to focus on how we can bring change to our district, and we are committed to engaging in that work with all of you. 

    I am providing you with an update regarding two recent incidents and the district’s plan for next steps. 

    Updates Regarding District Actions in Response to Recent Incidents 
    On the morning of Monday, February 13, the district conducted an investigation into student-created videos shared on social media. The videos used artificial intelligence to impersonate district staff and contained language that was inappropriate and concerning. As the district continued the investigation, additional videos containing threatening and racist language were discovered.  

    We immediately contacted law enforcement, beginning with the School Resource Officer (SRO), to conduct a threat assessment and determine what actions were needed to safeguard our students. At the time of the discovery of the additional videos, the students involved were already facing disciplinary action in accordance with the district’s Code of Conduct and their parents had been notified. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the district is unable to share any information about students involved in incidents or any disciplinary action that may have been taken.   

    Throughout the investigation, the district followed Incident Command protocols, provided evidence and cooperated fully with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office. As the lead agency, the Sheriff’s Department followed its threat assessment procedures while the district followed all directives regarding safety. 

    The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office conducts intensive and immediate investigations into all threats toward school students and staff. Investigatory measures include: 

    • Interrogations and interviews of all persons with possible knowledge 
    • Background investigations 
    • Searches for weapons and dangerous instruments 
    • Locating evidence including internet and social media searches 
    • Identifying behavior patterns looking for threatening behavior 
    • Identifying any issues that may have psychiatric implications including family dynamics, academic and employment concerns, relationship issues, indications of substance abuse or self-harm, attitudes toward violence, grievances or past victimization, and any other significant stressor.  
    • Welfare checks are conducted as well as searches of residences, vehicles and personal belongings including electronic devices  
    • Security sweeps of buildings and grounds may occur 
    • The Department also provides immediate enhanced security 

    While not all-inclusive, these examples illustrate the depth and breadth of investigative measures undertaken to ensure safety. The department deemed there was no immediate threat to students and staff and that it was safe to keep the buildings open.  

    When the investigation concluded late on Monday morning, principals for both Carmel High School and George Fischer Middle School sent emails to building parents and staff regarding the incident. The district also provides building social workers or counselors to support students when needed.  

    The Board of Education and the Superintendent of Schools have requested a meeting with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department to enhance our working relationship and response to incidents in the future. 

    On Thursday, February 16, after the school day ended, the district learned of a possible threat based on a student drawing at Matthew Paterson Elementary School. The concerning information was relayed to the principal by a teacher. Law enforcement was immediately notified. 

    The Sheriff’s Department followed its threat assessment procedures (outlined in the previous section of this letter). The district, as per protocol, followed all law enforcement directives regarding student and staff safety. Late in the evening, when the Sheriff’s Department deemed there was no immediate threat to students and staff and that it was safe for the buildings to remain open, parents and staff were notified. Once again, building social workers and/or counselors were available to any students in need of support. 

    The district has an SRO or SPO (School Patrol Officer) in each of our school buildings throughout the day as part of our regular operating procedures. In the event of an incident, the Sheriff’s Department may increase police presence at school buildings to support the SRO/SPO as needed.  

    Students involved in the Matthew Patterson incident were dealt with in accordance with the district code of conduct. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the district is unable to share any information about students involved in incidents or any disciplinary action that may have been taken. 

    Where Do We Go from Here? 

    As a community, we must face these challenges together. We must work to create a learning environment where all students feel safe and respected. We must continue to enhance the partnership between parents and school. We must work to create communication protocols that are a model for others to follow. Next steps include: 

    • The district will share feedback from the forums and detailed plans for enhancements in the areas of safety, communication and equity. The district will also send regular updates on this work to the community and will post them on the website. 
    • The district will implement an anonymous alert system that enables students to report issues and concerns. Such systems have been found to not only alert districts to schoolwide threats but to bring attention to individual students at risk. The District-Wide Safety Team will review feedback and provide updates to the community. 
    • To strengthen the school-community partnership, the district is creating a communications committee comprising students, parents, staff and communications specialists. We are seeking interested people who can commit to regular meetings to discuss district communications and offer ideas and suggestions. If you are interested in being a part of the CCSD Communications Committee, please complete our interest form by Wednesday, March 15. Our goal is to include a representative cross-section of our community on the committee. 
    • We are working with agencies to provide learning experiences that help students feel connected and safe. Parent and community members shared programs that we will ask the District Wide Equity team to explore and possibly implement. Both the high school and middle school are currently forming student focus groups and scheduling working sessions where students can voice issues or concerns and help brainstorm solutions with the building administration. The District Wide Equity Team will also review feedback, determine changes, work with the building-level equity teams and provide updates to the community. The team will prioritize staff training in the area of Dignity for All Students. 
    • The Board of Education will review crucial district policies, including 0012 - Equity, Inclusivity and Diversity in Education; 5020.2 - Racial Harassment of Students; 5020.3 - Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; 5804 - Dignity for All Students; and 5300 - Code of Conduct.  

    This is such challenging, but transformative and important work, and our goal is to provide the community with many opportunities to get involved. Our partnerships with the parents, students and community members are critical to our growth. It takes a village to raise our children, and we appreciate all that you do to support those efforts. 


    Mary-Margaret Zehr 
    Superintendent of Schools 

    Superintendent of Schools
  • March 2, 2023

    Dear Carmel Community,

    Last night, we hosted our first of two Safety & Wellbeing Community Forums to come together as a district community for open dialogue. Having an open partnership with our parents and guardians is essential and we appreciate that so many of you were able to join us.

    Thank you to those parents, guardians and family members who attended last night, shared experiences, asked questions and provided important feedback on safety, communication and equity. The conversations throughout the evening were impactful and will help us enhance the wellbeing and safety of the students in the district.

    The suggestions and input that came from the meeting will help us formulate some actionable steps to take as a district in response to questions, suggestions and concerns. We will be hosting our second forum in just a few days to gather additional feedback and will share a plan of action for our district soon after.

    I thank our high school and middle school families for their flexibility with needing to reschedule the forum due to the inclement weather closing. As a reminder, the community forum for high school and middle school families will take place this coming Monday, March 6, at 7 p.m., in the Carmel High School library.

    There is still time to RSVP to attend the forum on Monday if you have not already signed up. Please complete the RSVP form to help us ensure we have enough seating and space reserved.

    I look forward to meeting more of our parents and guardians in just a few days. If you have questions about either forum, feel free to contact my office directly.

    Best regards,

    Mary-Margaret Zehr
    Superintendent of Schools

    Superintendent of Schools
  • February 27, 2023

    Dear Carmel Community,

    Due to the impending inclement weather and school closing tomorrow, the Safety and Wellness Community Forum planned for high school and middle school families has been rescheduled to Monday, March 6, at 7 p.m. in the Carmel High School library.

    At this time, the forum scheduled for elementary families on Wednesday is still planned as scheduled.

    • Elementary Families: Wed., March 1, 7 p.m., Carmel High School Library 
    • RESCHEDULED: High School/Middle School Families: Mon., March 6, 7 p.m., Carmel High School Library 

    If you haven't yet registered to attend, there is still time to RSVP for the forum(s).

    At the forums, we will host discussion tables to hear from you regarding any concerns you may have in the areas of safety, communication and equity. We truly value the collaborative relationship we have with district parents and guardians and look forward to hearing your ideas and suggestions on the topics at hand.

    In the meantime, please stay safe and warm, and feel free to contact my office if you have any questions.

    Best regards, 

    Mary-Margaret Zehr
    Superintendent of Schools

    Superintendent of Schools
  • February 24, 2023

    Dear Carmel Community,

    At last night’s Board of Education meeting, based on my recommendation, Lauren Santabarbara was appointed as the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, effective March 1. Lauren has been serving in the role as our interim since October 2022.

    We are pleased to have Lauren join us permanently on the district-level leadership team and know that she will continue to be a tremendous benefit to the district. She comes with great experience as a building administrator and has done an exceptional job this fall and winter as the interim assistant superintendent for instruction. Lauren previously served as the principal of Carmel High School for two years and assistant principal for eight years.

    Carmel High School is currently being led by Interim Principal Vanessa DeFonce. Vanessa will be in the interim role with us through the end of the school year. We are beginning our advertisement for a new permanent principal at Carmel High School with the intention of filling the position beginning July 1.

    As always, please feel free to reach out to my office with any questions.

    Best regards,

    Mary-Margaret ZehrSuperintendent of Schools

    Superintendent of Schools
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