Dear Great Neck,
Some food for thought. Writing in my own personal capacity and bringing as many of my perspectives as I am able in order to say what I can say I know for sure- and to say it publicly.
The very last thing I want to be accused of is blowing a dog whistle or targeting, as is so common. Hoping some readers will consider my perspectives but I am not asking for a vote or endorsing anything other than respect for process, civic institutions, and public service.
On July 1, 2021 I was sworn in as a new president of a school board, elected by my colleagues. That evening, I offered remarks which expressed my civic sense of gratitude to my traditional immigrant Persian Jewish American family for always supporting mine and my sisters’ educations.
I spoke of my spouse living in Great Neck since the 1979 Iranian Revolution and our living here since our marriage in 1994,and raising our four grown children in Great Neck. I spoke of myself as the product of public education, and shared that my public service is borne of mine and my family’s gratitude to this country, its’ laws, institutions, and opportunities.
I promised to lead at arms’ length, and to vote without fear or favor. I spoke that night of the importance of trustees staying nonpartisan amidst this wonderful, sophisticated, pluralistic and diverse community which I humbly serve. I stated that even where there is diversity of opinion, we can strive toward unity of purpose of educating the next generation of American citizens.
I trembled with awe as I was sworn in and spoke, too, of the honor and the humility of holding the president’s gavel. I wished aloud never to need to use it to call a meeting to order. The remarks were rather prescient albeit the during first week of July when there were only a handful of people in attendance to hear them.
Funny enough, the remarks were not live-streamed or recorded. The vote to permit live-streaming and recording was taken subsequently, finally enabling this past school year to be the first one with meetings streamed and recorded.
In some ways, the July remarks anticipated much of the board’s work this past: a year marked by heated allegations leveled, including but not limited to regarding identity, masking, curriculum, indoctrination, bias, ethnicity, sexuality, race.
Contentious behaviors by members of the public at board meetings led to use of the gavel and to votes to recess and reconvene as tempers cooled.
Anyone who runs for any leadership positions and public office these days must brace and gird themselves, and their families, continually, to withstand heckling, trolling, name- calling as these have become normalized.
Below are some facts offered to be helpful to distinguish issues, impartially, in a nonpartisan manner:
1) Board of education meetings are not the forum for debate or town halls; public comment is discretionary and meant to address boards during their public action meetings -not to address other audiences. The hope is that speakers allow one another to be heard as they address a board;
2) Our personal subjective views to the contrary, members of boards of education are precluded from discussing personnel matters or individual students publicly. Negotiations of these are never to be conducted in public;
3) A school district is not identical to its constituent parts- not the various unions in its employ; not the individual employees within; not the parent body, not the students, not the individual administrators, not the individual school buildings whether elementary, secondary, etc. A district includes all of these, and, also, residents without enrolled students;
4) Boards direct administrations to oversee, to investigate, to be responsive, and held accountable, including on issues raised during public comment;
5) Ours is a large district (fourth largest in the county) and quite diverse (socio-economically, ranges of ability, ethnically, religiously, gender, politically, and, also, for its proportion of public and non public enrollees. FYI approx 1/4 of school age children are enrolled in nonpublic schools (almost 2,000 students) with the other 3/4 enrolled in public (almost 7,000 students);
6) Once elected, and sworn in, each board member is a duty-bound as a steward and fiduciary for all the district’s constituents and all its resources, not to just one segment;
7) despite our own personal identities, nonpartisanship is the expectation of board members as well as the district;
8) the weight of the responsibility is heavy; the amount of time commitment is significant;
9) the annual budget is vetted and presented publicly numerous times.
One is not born knowing all this; I was involved in the schools and other community organizations for 18 years before I was first elected, and this is my second term and fifth year on the board. There is much to learn, still.
Yet, without public forums or investigative journalism, I fear that echo chambers will lead to ill-informed decisions with far-reaching consequences that can negatively impact the entire district, its stellar reputation, its overall outstanding educational program, and, frankly, the values of homes.
Since there currently exists a vacuum in forums for public discourse and a void in journalistic coverage, at best there are just conflicting opinions being regurgitated in social media echo chambers. Especially since so many of the commenters on social media – and including on this newspaper’s letters and comments section!- use aliases, and/or do not actually reside here, and/or lack first-hand information; and so many are susceptible to propaganda and repeating what they read or heard someplace.
Put another way, the whole is greater than the sum of its many parts. This does not mean boards excuse or deflect every issues raised. To the contrary we listen and follow up. Discrete, separable items are handled one at a time, as appropriate. Isolated issues do not not define an entire district or an entire board.
I wrote to clarify what I could. I am not running for office at this time, and will not tell anyone you how to vote, but if you live in Great Neck and have questions you may write to me via email to [email protected].