Return to Headlines

New Trustees Benefit from Board of Education Retreat

Members of the Eastchester School Board gathered in the District Central Office to begin to map out a plan for the 2022-2023 school year.

But the July 27 Board of Education retreat was less about crafting a specific strategic vision for the future of the school district—that will come later—and more about helping board members clearly define their roles, goals and responsibilities for the upcoming year.

The retreat, led by Interim Superintendent Dr. Ronald Valenti, served as both a team-building exercise and a crash course of sorts for a School Board comprised of many first-time Trustees. 

Three new Trustees—Matthew Fanelli, Christine Civitano-Lombardi and Laurie Giacobbe—were sworn in at the Board of Education Re-organizational Meeting on July 7, while another, Michele Lawlor, officially stepped into her role just before the end of the 2021-22 school year. Seven of the nine members on the Eastchester Board have either one year of experience or are just beginning their first full term. Valenti acknowledged that the composition of the Eastchester School Board makes it a remarkable entity in many ways and said that he was eager to begin working with this group.

“It’s unique in the best of ways from my perspective,” explained Valenti. “Also, eight of the nine board members have children in the schools, so they are literally consumers of the educational delivery of services; from one point of view, you could make the argument that it is the best kind of Board.”

Valenti provided Board Members with a detailed breakdown of their functions and responsibilities within the educational system of New York and highlighted best practices that should serve them well throughout their terms. Christine Civitano-Lombardi admitted that the information was particularly helpful, especially for the newer board members.

“There were a lot of items that you wouldn’t really know about just being a parent in the district; it was something of an introductory course in education law,” she said. “It was very well-run by Dr. Valenti, who certainly is a cerebral wealth of knowledge when it comes to the educational system.”

The Trustees broke into smaller groups to discuss hypothetical scenarios that challenged them to confront how they would respond to certain ethical quandaries that might arise during their terms. The activity—which dealt with topics including breaches of confidentiality and potential conflicts of interest— was particularly effective, according to Michele Lawlor. 

“Once we were doing the training, there were things that really jumped off the page,” she said. “It solidified what our roles and responsibilities and how necessary it is to operate within the chain of command.”

Laurie Giacobbe highlighted an exercise in which the Trustees were asked write down their top two priorities for the school year as especially impactful, as it reinforced that—in many instances—Board Members shared a common vision for the School District. 

“In getting to see the priorities of the other Board Members, I think we realized that we all had a lot in common,” said Giacobbe. 

Thursday’s retreat was the first of two summer retreats for the Board. On Tuesday, Aug. 2, Board Members will participate in another training session alongside administrators from the each of the District’s school buildings. The retreat will largely be focused on fostering strong lines of communication between the Board and school administrators, something Matthew Fanelli believes will be of the upmost importance. 

“The Board, the Superintendent and the administrators are on one team,” said Fanelli. “This is an opportunity to lock arms together, look at the goals of the community, communicate those cohesively, and make sure we’re all singing from the same sheet music.”