Former superintendent writes on critical role, major responsibilities of school trustees

To the editor:

I write as I have been ruminating on the important roles that the superintendent and the board of education play as a governance team together.

Service on a board of education is among the most important roles members of a community can play. The decisions that are made impact thousands of students, hundreds of employees and impact the quality of lives of parents, homeowners and neighbors. It is often thankless and requires the commitment of thousands of hours. Schools are complex organizations. They are highly regulated, and the stakes are high when it comes to setting policy and the elevated outcomes required to keep schools great. We are extremely fortunate. Our schools are indeed great, and they are led well.

I spent four years on a governance team with the Pelham Board of Education as the former superintendent of schools (six altogether), and I was privileged to work with many inspired elected individuals. The past year has been an unprecedented and most challenging one for everyone, including boards of education. We have all struggled, and our decisions have been met with embrace, rejection and every imaginable combination between the two.

Pelham is also my home. We choose to live here because the Pelham public schools are great, and our children have been fortunate to be taught, coached and led by an inspired system of board trustees, administrators, teachers, coaches and support staff. For the past 28 years, I have worked as a teacher and building/central office administrator. The past eight years, I have had the honor of being one of only 731 men and women who have the privilege of serving as a superintendent of schools in New York State. We all work for a board of education, and we all have the opportunity to serve as the chief executives and ex-officio members of our respective boards of education. We don’t get to vote on matters, but we offer our recommendations and counsel as important members of a governance team. Among many data points, we set out to have student voice, the wellness of our students and staff, student achievement and fiscal responsibility inform our recommendations to our boards. The board adopts goals, and it is our job as superintendents to meet/exceed them.

I’ve worked with many trustees, and the very best ones have made their decisions in the best interests of all students and the organization at large. They attempt to understand the student experience and lead with empathy and courage. They leverage their lived experiences and the roles that they have played as community leaders in various local organizations to do good work on behalf of students. They understand that they are stewards of schools and work towards leaving the system better than they found it in concert with their superintendent of schools and the entire learning community. They challenge the system to be better in their role as a corporate body and allow their administration, teachers and support staff to get the job done.

The work is awesome, and the rewards make the efforts worth it.

Dr. Peter Giarrizzo

2 Hazen St.