Opinion: A Call For Civility

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Pam Priscoe has been one of the quieter members of the Verona Board of Education. Elected three years ago, she has dutifully reported on her committee assignments (Buildings & Grounds and Athletics & Co-Curricular), but has generally not spoken out on the bigger issues before the BOE.

Priscoe stepped out of the shadows at last week’s BOE meeting with a statement praising school district personnel for their work through the pandemic–and decrying the lack of civility shown towards educators and BOE members during the past year. Some of that rudeness and discourteousness has been out in the open, in the public comment sessions of BOE meetings that stretched to midnight and beyond. Some of it happened in emails and phone calls out of view of the general public. Some of it happened in vituperative posts on social media that became echo chambers of misinformation.

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Most of it was simply too offensive to be chalked up to misplaced manners because of COVID-19. We are, after all, a public school district that teaches students, as early as second grade, how to write persuasive letters that are polite. 

So, with the worst of the pandemic hopefully behind us and a new school year on the horizon, it’s a good time to listen closely to what Priscoe said, take it to heart and relearn the art of civil discourse. Here’s the transcript:

Good evening all. Since this is the last meeting of the school year, I would like to reflect and comment on a few topics.

First, I would like to congratulate the Senior Class of 2021. I am looking forward to graduation Friday night and I am so thankful that we are having a normal graduation ceremony. Also, congratulations to the 8th graders on their moving up ceremony to the high school and to all the 4th graders heading off to HBW. So much has been lost in these past 15 months, but you managed to keep your heads held high and you all should be very proud!

I would like to take time to say thank you to all the teachers, case managers, guidance counselors, custodians, administrative assistants, paraprofessionals, nurses and all staff members for everything they did for our children to keep them safe and teach them during such a trying time. This has been a difficult year and you are all heroes in my book.

Sitting on the board has truly opened my eyes to all that goes on behind the scenes and this year is one we hope will never be repeated. To Dr. Dionisio and all our administration, thank you. I know there were numerous times that working tirelessly around the clock was the norm, but doing what was best for our children and staff was your #1 priority. I truly appreciate everyone’s dedication to our district.

With that being said, being on this side of the table, you are able to get a glimpse that not everyone is happy with decisions that are made. Over and over we would receive emails of praise and then in the next refresh of the computer we receive the negative ones. However, this is what has made me decide to speak up and voice my opinions. You may not like me or others personally and/or professionally, and that is okay because people are entitled to their opinions.

It is easy to sit back and think decisions should be made based on what is best for your child. However, this board makes decisions based on what we feel is best for all children, parents and staff members. There has been a lot of negativity and anger cast out during the past 15 months and has made people lose sight on the fact that we should be happy to be alive–think of those who lost someone–we should be grateful for our loved ones who are with us, but secondly, we all need to work better on treating and speaking with one another with more respect and less negativity.

People have mentioned–on social media of course–that I do not say much and that the board just approves everything and we have no voice. This my friends is false. We have discussions in closed session where we do discuss and disagree on many items throughout the year. Having a good disagreement that doesn’t become personal is critical in life. What is presented at the meetings has been discussed as a whole prior. We are adults and a productive Board of Education. We work through situations that we may not be in agreement with but also do not carry over any negativity into our public meetings.

There is a way to ask a question and make your voice heard in a positive way. We all want what is best for our students and staff, but we still have to remember to be respectful. You may not like a decision that was made or how a question was responded to, but remember there is always someone else that does…

Just as a quick aside, I have known one of our principals for almost 40 years and to see and hear them deflated is so disheartening and extremely upsetting because I know this person doesn’t have a bad bone in their body and would do anything for his students and staff.

With all that being said, I am hopeful that we can all do better. We all need to be positive and thoughtful before hitting the send button on an email or posting something to social media. Stephen Covey wrote, the biggest communication problem we have is that most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.

I truly wish everyone a very relaxing summer and please let’s be kind to one another. Remember that our children are watching!

Thank you all for listening and please stay well!

You can listen to Priscoe’s statement in full in the recording of the BOE meeting, beginning at the 31 minute mark.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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