Saturday, June 06, 2015

End of Her Era

Dear Susan;

For the last 12 years, you have skipped innumerable dinners with me. We have had a generous number of policy disagreements. I have fielded hundreds of "please can you take a look at this" requests. And more than a handful of times you have asked in your nicest voice if I would help draft (translation: write in its entirety) a speech, column or memo under your byline, though you were quick to give me ghostwriter credit (or so you said).

To truly balance the ledger, however, one needs to consider the context for those actions. In your role over those same dozen years as a member of the Board of Education, and in the last 8 as its President and last 2 as the president of the county association, you have spent untold hours working so that the kids in our community get the best education possible. You have worked tirelessly to support the teachers, administrators and staff as they perform the Herculean task of refocusing their charges' attention from Facebook pages to textbook pages. You have talked with uncountable parents, far more unhappy than happy, usually with patience, but always with a genuine desire to help. You have earned the admiration, sometimes grudgingly so, from those who want nothing but the best for the schools, as well as those who wonder how we can continue to pay for such largesse. And you have shaken the hands of hundreds of graduating seniors, a task which brings the same smile to your face as when you don a tall red and white striped hat and read Dr. Seuss to kindergarteners.

Upon reflection, I'd say the scales balance nicely.

While it's usually credited to Mark Twain, it was his friend and collaborator Charles Dudley Warner who wrote "While everybody talks about the weather, nobody does anything about it." Public education is much the same. It's an easy whipping boy, a critical task requiring large amounts of capital with a million variables, many beyond the control of the people in charge. Why would anyone want to be involved in such a seemingly no-win endeavor? It all but defines the phrase "dammed if you do, dammed if you don't."

And yet you stepped up to the plate, and continued well after our kids had moved on. True, your reasons in the beginning were selfish: to try and have some say in the educational process that directly affected our boys. Still, it was a natural progression from your efforts as a class mom, to serving on various district committees, to finally standing for election. Add to that the fact that you were a graduate of the district, and the daughter of a teacher from the same, and it now seems in hindsight more inevitable than not.

Your first campaign brochure (which I also wrote but which never got used) said it simply: "It's a tough balancing act. On the one hand, we all want the best educational system for our children. On the other, there are a limited amount of resources. Sometimes it means saying yes. Sometimes it means saying no. But now, more than ever, it will require school board members who are will ask tough questions, challenge conventional thinking, and look for ways to maximize the dollars we have available. I'll take that responsibility." You did then, and you still do today. (On a side note, the brochure also included space for hoped-for endorsements, including one I mocked up from your dad: "Vote for my daughter. I might.")

To be fair, not every decision you and your colleagues made worked out. But anyone who thinks that you didn't agonize over the choices, carefully weighed the options and chose the course you sincerely thought was the best would be sorely mistaken. Some might fault you for any number of things, but not caring and not trying to get it right can't possibly be among them.

And now it's time to move on. You indeed took that responsibility, but now it's someone else's chance. Whatever you next turn your attention to will be fortunate indeed to have your gaze upon it. On the occasion of moving to that next challenge, all who benefited from your tenure can only offer thanks for all you have done for all the kids, ours and others, past, present and future.

With admiration, congratulations and much love, your ghostwriter.


You can wish Susan luck in her next adventure at Her husband's column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. 

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