BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Nardin Academy’s Board of Trustees has called for the resignation of Nardin President Dr. Sandra Betters and Board Chair Tish Van Dyke the day after Nardin high schoolers participated in a walk-out in protest of Academy leadership.
Hundreds of Nardin students walked out at noon Thursday out of concern for the future of the high school. Teachers and parents observed the walk-out, which was later joined by students from Nardin’s lower and middle schools.
According to a change.org petition, the Nardin community has a “deep concern” about the current state of the school and the leadership of Dr. Betters.
The Board released the following statement Friday:
Members of the Nardin community on Thursday said the walk-out also came after a biology teacher was recently escorted from the school. Current students fear additional teachers could leave Nardin due to treatment and new policies. News 4 is working to learn specifics regarding how these policies have affected teachers. No current Nardin teachers approached by News 4 at the walk-out wished to go on-record, as they said they feared repercussions from the school.
“I think that it’s great that our children have the opportunity to voice how they feel because this is truly about them and their education,” said Vanessa Insalaco, the mother of a fourth grader at Nardin. “On the other hand, as a parent, it’s sad. It’s sad that a school that we entrust to give our kids the education that they have and to strive to ensure that our children’s future is set up, it’s sad that it’s come to this.”
News 4 reached out to Dr. Betters and high school Principal Colleen Robertson for comment Thursday afternoon following the walk-out. Nardin provided the following statement:
Asha Jones, the mother of two students — a fourth grader and student in her second year of Nardin Montessori, the school for toddlers and those in early childhood — said that morale has gone down under the leadership of Dr. Betters.
“It’s very disheartening,” Jones said. “They’re probably going to feel like they did this walk-out for nothing because I don’t really feel like there’s going to be a change. And we want a change now, yesterday, not a month from now.”
Joan Ricca, a former teacher who taught music and theatre at Nardin for 40 years, said the walk-out was wonderful.
“(The students) are supportive of each other, they love their faculty because the faculty is amazing — and I’m not saying that because I’m a former faculty member. It was the best private school for years and years and years,” Ricca said. “I just think it’s fabulous that the kids are supporting their faculty.”
Ricca said she doesn’t feel that Dr. Betters will make an effort to make changes.
“Obviously, I don’t work here anymore, but I’m in contact with more faculty members than you could know and I’ve been abreast of things for a long time and I honestly believe the woman speaks out both sides of her mouth,” she said. “I don’t think she’s able to change — I do mean that. She can put on the charm and she can be vicious.”
Jones explained how parents are feeling about the direction of the school.
“I’m bringing both of my daughters here, they’re both still in lower school. I wanted them to graduate from here. The prestige and the name of Nardin, the community, it doesn’t exist anymore and it’s very sad. I don’t know what’s going to be the end result. I do wish we could get a result by the end of the day.
“This is all they know to do, peacefully protest. And for the president to just not have any regard — as an educator, you have to have compassion. You have to try to even — for the parents — give us some kind of comfort, some type of peace about this. We’re leaving our jobs to make sure, ‘Do I take my child who’s only in fourth grade and my other kid who’s in her second year, do I take them out of the school?’ Because I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Ricca said she cannot fathom why Dr. Betters would want to stay at Nardin.
“I just think they have to move on, I think if she’s removed and they finally get somebody who’s in their corner, I think things would improve immensely,” she said. “The students — you hear them yelling, ‘Bring back (Marilou) Bebak,’ that’s the woman that was escorted out of the school. And I can tell you, for no good cause. A 36-year veteran escorted out of the school.”
Ricca added that the freshmen students who learned under Bebak have been without a teacher since her removal.
“I love Nardin. Coming from eighth grade to high school as a freshman here, I loved it so much,” senior Zahara Morrell said. “Even when COVID happened, I loved Nardin and everything it brought and it offered me. We’ve had two presidents before Dr. Betters and before she came, I feel like everything was more joyful and teachers were happy to be there.”
Morrell said Dr. Betters divided the Nardin “family” and that “it doesn’t feel like home anymore.” As a senior, Morrell said she has higher hopes for the future of the school and wants to see younger students thrive the way she did.
“I hope for a change — not in changing who the president is maybe, but at least making sure the policies that she implements are good for us and not bringing down everyone around us,” Morrell said. She continued, saying that Dr. Betters can start to make things right by apologizing to the teachers. “I don’t see any way the teachers can move past that without some sort of apology.”
Several sophomores spoke up on behalf of their teachers as well.
“I’m really here in support of our teachers. It’s hard to see some of them at risk of leaving the school,” Cara Marchese said.
“They try to hide it from us, but it’s relentless,” she said. “I can definitely see a change in how they act and I feel like it’s really affecting them.”
Insalaco said when some students threatened to leave Nardin last year, it was an “I don’t care situation,” from Dr. Betters’ end.
“We fund the school and our alumni fund the school. You can’t have that attitude,” Insalaco said.
When students from the lower and middle schools joined the walk-out Thursday, high schoolers began to chant “One Nardin.” Other chants, including “Save our school,” were heard during the walk-out.
Insalaco also said that parents have heard that a similar situation unfolded at Dr. Betters’ former school, Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset, N.Y. News 4 has reached out to OLMA for comment and is waiting to hear back.
According to a report from the Buffalo News, the third-party assessment of the school’s leadership is in the process of being conducted to ensure there is no agenda behind wanting Dr. Betters ousted as president, so Nardin can find the right path forward. The News report also said Van Dyke asked that the Nardin community “withhold judgement” while the assessment is being conducted.
Adam Duke is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of his work here.