John Yagielski has a message for the Niskayuna school board that could have originated in any of the district’s elementary classrooms: compromise, collaborate and be kind to one another.
“We can have disagreements, but let’s not be disagreeable,” the interim superintendent said during a half-hour presentation that closed Tuesday night’s board meeting.
The presentation seemed appropriate in light of the recent break between the school board and its previous superintendent, Susan Kay Salvaggio. A district statement, released days before Salvaggio’s April 15 departure, cited “philosophical differences” and disagreements as reasons for her release.
Barbara Mauro, who is serving her sixth term on the school board, said she couldn’t comment on the reasons for Salvaggio’s prematurely ended tenure.
Yagielski suggested the board’s working relationship with its superintendent should become a model of cooperation for community members. In his presentation, titled “The Superintendent and the Board: Understanding Roles and Responsibilities,” he encouraged a less formal, more conversational relationship among superintendent, board members and community members who attend meetings.
“We, as leaders, ought to be modeling that behavior for others to see,” said Yagielski, who previously served as an interim superintendent of the Schenectady City School District. “That’s what the law is all about with respect to open meetings.”
He expressed dislike for the dark wood podium community members stand behind when they address the board because it reminds him of lectures, which flow in only one direction. The arrangement of chairs, he said, makes the community seem like an audience when they really should be actors in the school board’s process. He even advocated a change in room setup, so the public could literally join the board at its table.
Turning to the Niskayuna residents gathered in crowded rows of folding chairs, he said: “Sit down and join us for a while and share with us your thoughts.”
Finally, invoking a neighborly metaphor, Yagielski told board members to imagine a picket fence between themselves and the superintendent or school community, rather than the divisive gray line on the organizational charts he projected. He demonstrated the friendly tone he hopes the board will take as it conducts its future business.
“We’ll come across much more respectful to the community that’s here and the community that doesn’t show up at the meetings,” Yagielski said.
Bob Winchester, a board member in his third term, said the presentation was germane and to the point.
“At times, all of us have a hard time understanding our roles in this difficult fiscal and regulatory environment,” he said. “We have different roles in different situations, and John’s presentation clarified them.”
Mauro said she hoped the presentation helped those in attendance understand the relationships between constituents, board and superintendent.
“I couldn’t even try to characterize public perception of the board, but whatever it is, we want to improve it,” she said.