Ex-Board of Ed chairwoman reflects on the past year
Published 2:55 pm, Friday, December 26, 2014
Daniele Shook stepped down Dec. 9 as Board of Education chairwoman in New Milford after serving one year in that role.
She had served on New Milford's education board for two years prior to January.
Her tenure as chairwoman coincided with a period of contention, much of it owing to the board's decision to close Pettibone School at the end of this school year.
Shook sat down recently with Spectrum reporter Susan Tuz to talk about the past year.
Spectrum: What led you to agree to be the board chairwoman in 2014?
Shook: I was nominated to the position by the five other Republicans on the board. Three of the other five were serving their first year and I had the most experience. Wendy Faulenbach was stepping down as chairwoman after 12 years.
Spectrum: Did the reality of being chairwoman differ from what you'd expected?
Shook: Yes. I didn't expect to spend so much personal time at it. I knew the budget season would be busy but not as busy as it was.
Other issues took time. I was constantly on the phone with JeanAnn (Paddyfote, the superintendent of schools).
Spectrum: Did you expect closing Pettibone School, reconfiguring grades to Sarah Noble Intermediate and Schaghticoke Middle schools would be as contentious as it has been?
Shook: I was aware from all of the previous meetings there were two sides to the question and the side against the closing was very vocal.
You couldn't prepare yourself for the reactions that occurred. Some of them got very personal.
Spectrum: You were one of five board members who voted to close Pettibone. What were your reasons?
Shook: It was a very long thought process. I had been debating what way to vote up until the evening of the vote. My biggest concern was doing the most we could for the children with the budgets we have.
Closing the school could bring money into areas that constantly get cut or to creating new programs.
Spectrum: What has been the tenor of your interactions with parents outside of board meetings?
Shook: I've gotten angry anonymous letters in the mail. I go to WalMart, Big Y and people stop me and tell me how disgusted they are with the decision to close the school and that I voted to close it.
It bothers me when I'm with my kids. They're young and people usually aren't addressing me in a very pleasant way.
I understand that people feel strongly, but it's hard when you truly feel you made the decision for the right reasons and people are still attacking you for it.
Spectrum: Do you think most parents realize the state requirements for serving on the Board of Education, the authorized responsibilities you have?
Shook: No, I didn't know myself until I was on the board. It's tough to explain to people.
Take the petition parents were signing asking for a town-wide vote to decide on closing Pettibone. If I wasn't on the board, I would have said `Take all of this energy and put it toward something that can succeed. This can't happen.'
I'd gone to JeanAnn (Paddyfote) and (Mayor) Pat Murphy after the (board's) facilities committee gave the board its recommendation in June to close the school.
I wanted to know if it could be decided by a town referendum. Pat asked the town attorney and he said, no, it was a legal issue that the Board of Education had to decide.
Spectrum: You have two children in New Milford schools. Do you, as a parent, have any concerns about the district being ready in the fall to meet their needs?
Shook: I honestly think the district will be ready. I have no concerns. I think having Arum & Associates as the transition team doing this will assure everything gets done in time. After listening to them at the last board meeting, I'm confident that they will listen to the parents, the teachers and the board as they proceed.
Spectrum: What other thoughts would you like to share that we haven't covered?
Shook: The hardest part of a board meeting is public comment. I would love to be able to respond but I just have to say `Thank you very much.' Robert's Rules of Order require that and then requires we go on with the meeting following the agenda... we often don't touch on what the public said or asked.
I understand people are upset. Everyone seems to think we were not doing any work on closing Pettibone until the transition team was hired.
But that wasn't the case. JeanAnn (Paddyfote) and her administration were working on it prior to that.