LIVINGSTON, NJ — At the recommendation of newly elected Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) President Samantha Messer, the LBOE unanimously approved temporary suspension of a bylaw for the year of 2021 in order to divide the vice presidency into two six-months terms.
As of Jan. 4, longtime LBOE member Pamela Chirls has been named vice president trough June 30, at which time Seth Cohen, whose first term began in January 2020 upon his election to the board, will take over the office of vice president trough Dec. 2021.
Noting that “democracy is hard” and something that demands practice in addition to “teamwork, compromise, respect for rules and a willingness to engage with other opinionated, vociferous individuals,” Chirls expressed that splitting the vice presidency was her idea because she feels it presents a “creative, not-precedent-setting solution to a problem.”
“[Outgoing Mayor] Rudy Fernandez remarked at the township reorganization meeting that this is a team sport,” she said. “Here, each member promises to carry out my responsibility not to administer the schools, but—together with my fellow board members—to see that they are well-run. This pledge commits each one of us to my responsibility and with my fellow board members, as one needs the others to do the work of the board.
“It does not invalidate, however, the idea that each one of us has a singular voice and a singular vote. I bring institutional memory and deep experience as a parent, school and community volunteer of three terms and to the table where we conduct our business as members.
“There are situations in which others who have had less experience have held these vice president positions. In recent memory, this has happened under extenuating circumstances, with individuals choosing not to serve in leadership roles and members vacating positions before the end of their terms.
“Because we are a body with ongoing work and tied to a school calendar, I have often struggled with the long transition period between the election and the reorganization since we moved to a November election cycle in 2012. To enable what I believe will be a smoother transition, I look forward to representing you as vice president until June 30, 2021.”
As she expressed gratitude toward her fellow board members for their “willingness to consider this alternate path,” Chirls also expressed confidence in Cohen’s ability to take over this important role at the end of the academic year.
“During this past year, Seth has demonstrated his commitment to Livingston Public Schools by listening to perspectives across stakeholder groups, asking questions and, of course, getting answers around areas of immediate need,” she said. “With this path forward, our collective capacity will drive creative innovation, enable continuous improvement and unify this board.”
In addition to the “messiness of democracy,” Cohen added that the past year has presented a significant challenge for adults in both their personal and professional lives and an especially difficult challenge for the students. He urged the community to recognize that these challenges have not disappeared along with the turn of the calendar from 2020 to 2021.
“We still face those very same things that we need to overcome, that we need to work through, that we need to collaborate on and that we need that we need to find solutions to,” he said. “I am greatly appreciative of the board's willingness and Pam's idea to come up with a solution that gives us the best of all worlds.
“We are very lucky and privileged to have a board member like Pam Chirls—someone who is deeply rooted in our community, but also who has spent the time to develop a deep understanding of the role of a board of education member and the role of a board of education. Someone who has involved herself not just in our local community, but in our county-level board of ed as well as in the state. We are better for her service, we are better for what she brings to this board, and I am proud to share this role with her this year.
“As we move toward the summer, when I begin my transition into this role, we will begin the process of forward-looking, and that is what I bring to this board: an opportunity to think creatively, to bring new ideas and fresh perspectives and to continue to ask the questions that I have and that we all have as we continue to figure out which direction we should head…
“This is an idea born from collaboration. It is born from appreciation for what we each bring, and it gives me great hope for what this board of education will do this year. It is also my hope that it is these attitudes that we can all share together that when we all work together and we all appreciate what each of us brings to the table, that as a community, we will move forward.”
To read more from the LBOE reorganization meeting, where Messer was appointed as the new board president for 2021 and Vineeta Khanna was sworn into her new role as an elected board member, click on the headlines below:
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