While Presidents’ Day is reserved for honoring and celebrating our American presidents, I can’t help but think about local board of education presidents today as well. Like any elected officials, some you love, some you loathe, but most deserve credit for the time they put in to make sure the best is being done for students. Most have great working relationships with their superintendent, and most know the role that they play. I do keep saying most, because, well, there are some that do not. I’ll focus on that a little later. Below are three boards that deserve some credit this Presidents’ Day.
Walt Sheets is a proud member of the Lower Alloways Creek community–a retired worker from the PSEG power plant, an active community member, and most importantly to me, a father of four. Patriotic, witty, and possessing an infectious laugh, Mr. Sheets always had my back. No doubt we had our disagreements and clashes in certain arenas, but he always acknowledged that the superintendent was in charge and listened to my recommendations. What I still admire about Mr. Sheets was his mantra, “You take care of you first, then us (LAC) second.” I learned so much during my time in the crick and owe much of it to him.
Kevin Blondina is a board president that I ran into (literally) by accident. Both of us were enjoying a cigar, and I asked if I could use his lighter because mine kicked. From that point on, we have had one of the most cordial, real friendships around. Mr. Blondina is a financial planner in Sussex County, NJ, and I was working in Salem County. While geographically far apart, we couldn’t have more commonalities if we tried to. We always make time to catch up over convention dinners and text on a daily basis about educational issues and how they affect us. Kevin is another who wears his heart on his sleeve and wants nothing but the best for students and staff. His passion is admirable, and his leadership style is envious. I owe much of my newly learned diplomacy to him.
Fran DiRocco is now a retired board member. Spending over 20 years on a board, a decade of them as the president, Mr. DiRocco has navigated through a sea of educational issues ranging from collective bargaining to switching a sending school district. Mr. DiRocco’s professionalism, despite any internal board conflict, has been nothing but top-notch. I was hired under Mr. DiRocco’s term as president and chose to join the district even when the vote was 5 yes and 4 no. Was I crazy for doing so? Yep. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Besides being 10 miles from home, I was able to work with a board president who knew what needed to be done and backed me when I needed it most. DiRocco didn’t have some underlying agenda, had nothing to prove to the town, and wasn’t bitter or vindictive when things didn’t go his way. He stayed classy until his term expired in December and now thoroughly enjoys his time volunteering at his church and on the local OEM committee.
Needless to say, I admire these three current and former presidents immensely. They set the bar on what great things can happen when an honest agenda and partnership occur.
Now what about the bad presidents? Yes, they are out there, too. Sadly, there are presidents who
Run to the soccer field to rile up parents when they don’t get their way
Undermine a superintendent with a self-righteous political agenda in order to prove that they are right
Turn road bumps into sinkholes by taking quotes and data out of context
Fail to recognize national and local student recognition and replace it with canned naysayers and planted questions
Use the board president’s chair as a springboard to attempt to get on a municipal government
Use the president’s chair as a throne to show they are worthy (i.e. If they weren’t hired in town as teachers)
Apply a “past practices” mindset to today’s problems when attempting to lead
And, yes, there are scads of examples of this all over the internet. You will also have the chance to read about some real whoppers by purchasing one of my quick reads this summer–available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble! Okay, that was a cheap plug, but it is nice to know about the good presidents in the land.