How Did We Do?
Local Board of Ed Engages In Self-Evaluation
The Woodbridge Board of Education, at its meeting on May 16, took a step back from its regular business to engage in self-evaluation. At a time of great national divisiveness, when values clash and boards get embroiled in personality disputes, the Woodbridge Board of Education seems to be modeling civility as a way to get things done.
As the tensions associated with teaching through a pandemic is waning, and a new team is in place to lead the district, the board can look back on a successful year. It filled the superintendent’s spot — first with an interim, followed by the current superintendent, Vonda Tencza; found leadership for the business office, again at first an interim, followed by current director of business services, Donna Coonan. It hired Carolyn Borcherding as Special Services Director. The Board worked with the town to form a building committee to plan for needed repairs and convinced the townspeople that a 3.6% budget increase is acceptable in a general inflationary environment.
But what came up in the self-reflection was not which boxes the members had ticked off or how many, but rather the fact that they did so in a collaborative manner. In spite of being politically rather diverse – the chairperson is a Republican leading a majority Democratic board – the majority of votes are unanimous.
“This board is substantially different than [previous] boards,” commented Board Chairwoman Lynn Piascyk, “I think we work very well together.” One indicator for that, in her mind, is the fact that board members “don’t go out into the community,” to criticize board actions after votes have been taken. “That’s different than it was a couple of years ago,” she added.
The respectful collaboration also helped the new district leadership find its footing. School Supt. Tencza, who joined the district just about 6 months ago, appreciated that atmosphere of trust. “I feel you welcomed me, interacted, shared your goals and [offered a] relationship that builds trust,” she said.
Each of the board members filled out a questionnaire, rating the board’s work in five areas, namely a shared vision, how it interacts with the community at large; board operations; ethics; and the board-superintendent cooperation. The forms were collected by the superintendent and responses collated.
“There was minimal commentary,” said Piascyk. But she did point out several areas that the board will need to improve on going forward.
“Our vision continues to be a work in progress,” she said. Board members will be working on vision and mission and related goals for 2023-24 in July, either at a regularly scheduled meeting or, if the agenda gets too full, at a special meeting.
Piascyk also thought that communications with the community at large could be improved. She welcomed the suggestion made by PTO president Rushi Jain to engage in conversations with the PTO and similarly, with the staff. The teachers as per their contract should have been offered an opportunity to “meet and discuss” with the board – for board members to listen — which didn’t happen this year. “It’s something to look for down the road for next year,” she said.
Piascyk also is hoping to get more of the activities and achievements featured in the local newspaper. “We need to tell people ‘Look, there are great things going on in the school.”
Current Board of Education members are:
- Lynn Piascyk, was elected to the Board in 2015, after retiring from Beecher Road School in 2013. She rose to the chairmanship in 2020. During her 36-year tenure as a Grade 1 teacher, she received the Award of Excellence for Distinguished Service and was the district’s 1993 Teacher of the Year. A resident of Woodbridge since 1964, Lynn also serves as a Justice of the Peace and is on the Board of Directors of the Amity and Woodbridge Historical Society. Lynn holds a B.S., M.S., and Sixth Year Professional Degree of Advanced Study as a Classroom Teacher Specialist.
- Maria Federico Madonick, DNAP APRN CRNA, vice chairman, was elected to the Board in 2021; has four children who have graduated from or attend Beecher Road School and its MAG program. A graduate of Georgetown University, SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, she earned her doctorate at CCSU. Dr. Madonick is a clinical educator for the Fairfield University and YNHH School of Nurse Anesthesia and she has held an adjunct faculty position at CCSU in the graduate Nurse Anesthesia program. Dr. Madonick is on the Finance Committee and is Chair of the Policy Committee.
- Sarah Beth Del Prete, Secretary, was elected to the Board in July 2021. The New Haven native moved to Woodbridge in 2017. She has 7 children, 4 of which attend BRS. Sarah Beth is affiliated with Seabury Hill Realtors, serving real estate needs of the Yale community, Greater New Haven and Shoreline areas. Sarah Beth holds a Bachelor’s degree focused in Communications and Business from Albertus Magnus College. Sarah Beth serves on the Curriculum and Finance Committees.
- Jay Dayha, Ph.D, was elected to the Board in July 2021. Jay is professor of finance at the CUNY Graduate Center, Baruch College, and at Columbia Business School, Columbia University, specializing in corporate finance, M&A and international financial markets. Jay has received numerous teaching awards for his instruction at the undergraduate, executive and PhD level and is published in leading finance journals. He has held visiting posts at the universities of Cambridge, Porto, Oxford, Universiti di Bologna, and London Business School. Dr. Dahya serves on the Facilities Committee.
- Brooke Hopkins has been a Woodbridge resident for 13 years and has 2 children attending BRS. She is a social worker with an MSW and has a long history of working in the nonprofit sector with a focus on young people. In 2012, she founded the Kelly Ryan Foundation, which raised over $150,000 for families in need. In 2016 she started CT Youth Resources, which works with at risk youth through a mentoring program and providing support to families. In addition to her role as CEO Of CT Youth Resources, she is currently an advisor to students at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. Ms. Hopkins serves on the Facilities and Policy Committees.
- Jeff Hughes moved to Woodbridge in 2011 and has two children currently attending BRS. Mr. Hughes is a UCONN graduate in Horticulture and Agronomy and serves as the Area Manager for Residential Colleges at Yale University with oversight of 92 Yale properties. Mr. Hughes also has extensive business knowledge in landscaping, construction, restaurants, contract negotiations and capital projects. Mr. Hughes is Chair of the Facilities Committee.
- Steven Lawrence was appointed to the Board in June 2022. Mr. Lawrence moved to Woodbridge in 2012 and is the parent of two children, one of whom is a Beecher graduate and the other a current student. He is a graduate of Cornell University and the University of Chicago and provides consulting services to foundations, philanthropy-serving organizations, and non-governmental agencies to uncover new insights and make strategic decisions. Mr. Lawrence currently chairs the Finance Committee.
- Michael J. Strambler, Ph.D. - Dr. Strambler moved to Woodbridge in 2018 and was appointed to the Board. Dr. Strambler is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and is an Assistant Professor at the Yale University School of Medicine with an appointment at The Consultation Center at Yale. He is the director of the Child Well-Being and Education Research program and the Partnership for Early Education Research (PEER). Dr. Strambler also serves on the Board of Achievement First Bridgeport Academy. He has one child attending BRS. Dr. Strambler is chair of the Curriculum Committee.
- Erin Williamson joined the Board in August of 2021 and has two children attending BRS. Ms. Williamson works in the fields of social service and criminal justice, with particular expertise in the areas of human trafficking and child sexual exploitation. Ms. Williamson currently serves as the chief programs & strategy officer for Love146, an international human rights organization working to end child trafficking and exploitation. She sits on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Advisory Committee on the Sex Trafficking of Children & Youth in the United States. Ms. Williamson has a Master’s in Public Administration and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Erin serves on the Policy Committee and the BRS Diversity Committee.