In response to a recent editorial from the Great Neck News entitled “Culture wars come to Great Neck school district” and a letter from the Great Neck Public Schools Board of Education in the same issue under the headline “GN school board calls for civility and respect,” I feel compelled to ask: at what point will we have gone a step too far?
Those of us who have attended the Board of Education meetings this year have witnessed parents speaking their minds, students articulating themselves in ways that should make all of us proud (regardless of whether or not we agree with their every word), and teachers sharing their experiences not on behalf of a politicalized union but rather as members of the community who are working each day to educate our children. We have heard from a cross-section of our neighbors, and we have been exposed to a wide range of opinions (with more than a few talking points simply repeating national political pundits on both sides of the aisle).
Those of us who have been paying close attention to the Board of Education and who know the individual players who sit on this board are keenly aware that we are in much better hands today than we were a year ago. The leadership of this board is more focused, more consistent and more attuned to the needs of the community. Yet there have been some missteps and this board still feels like it is a million miles away from Great Neck’s desired destination.
At a time when no one would disagree that we need more civility in every aspect of public life, the editorial by Great Neck News wasn’t helpful. There is no purpose in gaslighting the situation for the sake of journalistic convenience, though I agree that “we also need to prevent school districts from becoming political battlegrounds where board members are harassed and the education of our children is undermined.” While the letter from the Board of Education set out to encourage patience in the process—(I would ask, every single process? no matter the size or urgency?)—the board’s words and actions continue to show a disconnect with parents across the community. What is clear is that the board and the administration must do more and do it better. Simply sending a letter to the editor of the local paper doesn’t absolve them of their continued inability to communicate effectively in a transparent and timely way.
Though we have moved beyond a board that previously attempted to silence the community—if we put aside the unfortunate missteps of the Nov. 17 board meeting—we continue to witness an elected body that leaves the community with more unanswered questions than seems reasonable. As a parent, I am perplexed and left wondering about outcomes, actions and next steps. If not the board and administration, whose job is it to speak? Who will correct the record or clarify confusion when it exists? Whose job is it to inform parents and the community when the silence of school leadership becomes deafening? Who will take responsibility?
For that reason, I make the same plea to the superintendent and members of the Board of Education that I have repeatedly made over the years: please communicate your intentions, share your concerns, encourage parent engagement and interaction, and stop acting as if this situation (that is, the education of our children) is only yours to address, in silence and behind closed doors.
To be a devoted supporter of our school system, one must appreciate, as many of us do, that our children have enormous resources at their disposal, funded by tax dollars, presented in real time through well-meaning teachers, and guided and supplemented by a parent body that crosses the full peninsula. District transparency is what’s needed now, even at a time when Great Neck maintains a significant academic advantage (though the hype of Niche rankings is overblown and irrelevant). Let’s help Great Neck Public Schools break the cycle of sabotaging its future by embracing the fact that many parents in our district are now more focused on public education than at any time in recent memory.
To repeat other requests I previously made, the Board of Education should be encouraged to immediately:
- Communicate with parents and the community well in advance of every board meeting about what will be on the agenda.
- De-politicize the Board of Education and return to the system of elections that previously existed where individuals ran for a seat—not against an incumbent—empowering the community to elect top vote-getters in apolitical elections.
- Establish a conflict-of-interest policy that prohibits sitting members of the Board of Education from accepting financial support from the teachers’ union given that these board members are responsible for negotiating contracts with the union.
- Expand the Board of Education to seven seats to ensure that this diverse community is better represented by parents and taxpayers alike.
- Create a working group that explores the distribution of resources across the district, school by school—not for the purpose of shifting funds away from programs, but rather to ensure that children in every school have the same opportunities.
- Provide financial projections that clearly articulate what is anticipated in future year costs so that all taxpayers can better understand the financial position of the district.
- Recognize that parents in this district make possible the many successes we are fortunate to experience in our schools and establish a process for feedback and response in real time.
As a community, we must do better. As a district, the Board of Education and administration must do better. As parents, we must continue to support our children’s education, even when that means standing up against a political organization.
Michael S. Glickman