Pamela Priscoe, Line 1F
When you talk to prospective voters about what the Board of Education can–and cannot do–what do you tell them?
What I tell them now is different from my three years ago because I was not in the board seat. I didn’t really fully understand then what a board member can do and their role. And after being on the Board and seeing the other side of what goes on behind the back side of it and going through over 60 hours of personal development training. Once I became a Board member, I then realized that our job is to listen. And if somebody has an issue, we are to tell them the steps that they need to follow. Did you reach out to the teacher? Did you reach out to the principal? If you didn’t get anywhere with the principal, then you know the director or special services or then to the superintendent, and if you don’t have any luck anywhere there then you come to the board, and hopefully we can move things along and see where things are at. But normally it’s to tell everyone that there’s a policy and procedures, and they have to follow that. I try to hear everyone because people want to be heard. Everyone wants to be heard and they have the right to be heard. Unfortunately, there’s only so much as a Board member that we’re entitled to actually do.
The BOE is the most demanding community position in Verona, often requiring upwards of over 10 hours per week of unpaid time from its members, and you all have day jobs. What in your current job roles and responsibilities might prevent you from fully carrying out your duties on the BOE? And how will you find time to commit fully to the work of the Board?
There is a lot of time that goes into being a Board member. It’s not just attending the Board of Ed meetings every two weeks, there’s meetings prior during the day. I have taken my lunch hours during my job, and luckily I do work in the community so I have flexibility with taking a lunch hour, to hop on a call for a meeting. I am able to do that, so my flexibility with that is tremendous. The other thing is, now that my son Andrew, my youngest, graduated in 2021, I feel I’ll have even more free time to really dedicate to the community and to the district. The Board is very, very time consuming and I’m not sure if so many people realize the time and the commitment that goes into volunteering for this position.
Do you support Gov. Murphy’s COVID mask mandate for schools and the vaccination and testing requirements for teachers and staff? How then will you help the BOE to carry out any future directives to prevent the spread of COVID from the state or health authorities that might not be what some parents want?
So obviously there’s two sides. One side that doesn’t agree and one side that does agree. I want everybody to be protected, our staff, most importantly, and our students, should be protected, and if a student is not able to get a vaccine at this point, if they’re under the age, then they need to be in a mask. When those guidelines shift from the Department of Health and the CDC regulations, that is when we can shift, but if Governor Murphy, or whoever is in charge, decides to change that policy, then that is when we will follow suit. I understand it is very difficult for children and teachers, especially in the extreme heat, to have a mask on. Luckily we are getting through the hot temperatures now so wearing a mask during the day should be much easier. But again it’s to protect everyone and to protect all our children because it just takes that one teacher, or that one student to, God forbid, have something happen. I am fully for the protection of our staff and our children. And, you know, again, we’re not going to always please everyone with what is the right answer, but until we get a different direction, we have to follow what we’re told. We do whatever is mandated by the state. Our superintendent is told what to do from the state. That is what I as a Board member feel we should follow.
Tell prospective voters about a time you failed. What was the failure and what did you learn from it?
I’m always self-analyzing my performance; it’s probably too much of a fault of mine. Failures would be from inexperienced attempts of change, and learning how things operate in the Board of Ed. I’m constantly looking at impacts to all sides, not just a specific group, just trying to do the right thing. I think the balance is something that could be improved upon on my end. My first year as a Board member, I was learning the job. And then, year two, two months into my second year as a Board member, COVID and a pandemic hit, and then everything was different. Everyone was learning how to go through a pandemic and what needed to be done. People say there should be change and there needs to be change. I didn’t have an opportunity to really do much because my first year was a learning year, and then, boom, pandemic. I don’t think there could be anything coming further that could be worse than a pandemic. There is always room for improvement, no matter where, and I’m always more critical of myself than anyone.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#3355FF” class=”” size=””]I’ve attended Board of Ed meetings since my oldest, who’s now 22, was in kindergarten[/perfectpullquote]
In the period before your first campaign, you were a pretty vocal critic of the Board of Ed, and the superintendent. In your first term, the Board of Ed and the superintendent faced pretty vocal criticism over their handling of the pandemic. What did you learn from being on both sides of criticism?
I’ve learned a lot. I was very vocal in the past. I’ve attended Board of Ed meetings since my oldest, who’s now 22, was in kindergarten, and I did speak at the podium numerous times prior to Dr. Dionisio, with Mr. Sampson and Mr. Kim. I’ve always been involved. Yes, I was very vocal at one point prior to me running for the Board of Ed and, looking back at it, it was extreme. Now, sitting on the other side and seeing what’s coming at us as we’re doing our job and how things are being handled through a pandemic that no one has ever, ever experienced. You just can’t criticize someone. There’s been so many countless hours that the administration, superintendent, and all our staff have put in to try to steer Verona in the best possible way it could. There’s going to be people that thought it was wonderful, everything was done the best it could have been. And then there’s going to be the critics. But I feel that, now that I’m on that other side, I just wish sometimes people would take a step back and just look at the bigger picture and realize what is being said and that there are people that are really trying hard to do what is right for the district.
Charles Sampson and Earl Kim were two of the superintendents who preceded Dr. Dionisio.
Verona has just about completed all the work funded by its 2019 referendum. What should our next big capital projects be and how will you address them?
Our referendum for 2019 was incredible, the $28 million spent on the schools. I’ve walked the halls in those schools and in 1988, when I graduated, they never looked the way they do right now. I think our next [project] down the line is going to have to be looking at money set aside for resurfacing the fields, because that turf only has a life expectancy of possibly 10 years. That could be coming down the road. Our roofs were all replaced, all the windows are new, our playgrounds are new. Our gym floor is new in the high school, the bleachers, the locker rooms, I mean, the list is endless, of how incredible the schools are looking. The track is new. So I think we’re in a really good position.
Another thing is that we have a capital reserve fund. It is the largest amount it has been, ever, ever since Dr. Dionisio was in hand. In 2016, the most we had in our capital reserve was $89,000. We are at $1 million in our capital reserve for the 2019-2020 year. So we think we’re in a very good place.
The 2019-2020 school year is the most recent year for which an audit of the capital reserve is available. Verona’s interim business administrator and its new full-time administrator are now auditing the 2020-2021 year, which will give an update on the reserve.
What part of being a board member was the most surprising or challenging for you, and if you were reelected, how will you apply those lessons going forward?
I think the most challenging was my role. I learned that the role and responsibility of the Board is policy making and to make sure that our schools are well run. We can’t just go in there and demand people to be fired, or to change curriculum or anything to that matter, we have to stay focused on what our goals are. And, as a Board member I, again, one year of being a Board member, really, is only what I really got; everything else was pandemic. So if I do get reelected, hopefully I could just focus on our next strategic plan moving forward, making sure that Verona is where we want it to be, where Dr. Dionisio and the administration has gotten it to be, and to keep building and getting better and better each year, because our strategic plan is for 2018 to 2023. We’ll be getting ready to start looking for a new strategic plan and getting community members involved. So I think that will be a big, big part of what I’ll be looking forward to help out with.
Verona has a new business administrator and is working to find a new superintendent. These are the top two positions in any school district. What will your approach be to these transitions?
It’s been not only the pandemic. We had a search for a new BA and Jorge Cruz has been absolutely wonderful. He is knowledgeable, and he brings a lot of information and young view to the table. And we just hired an interim superintendent to take over when Dr. Dionisio leaves in November. Her resume is outstanding. And I believe she will be best fit to keep us moving forward until we find that right fit for our superintendent. We do not want to rush into looking for a superintendent. It’s the most important position. We want to make sure we fill that position with the correct person that’s going to work well with the staff and the entire community. New leadership is going to be an adjustment, and our board would be fairly young: myself, Mrs. Drappi, and the new board member. There would be three pretty young members on the board if I should stay on. So it’s very important that we have good direction and we keep the administration that’s there in position, so we can move forward and keep Verona the best place it could be.