Critical Of Current Leadership, Harriman Resigns BOE
As the June 21 Board of Education meeting was coming to a close, member Rebekah Harriman (D) spoke as a public participant announcing her resignation.
The announcement was effective immediately, and the school board has 30 days to fill the vacant seat, which any registered Democrat can qualify to fill.
“In my nearly seven years on the board,” Harriman read at the meeting from a prepared statement, “I have served with leaders from both parties, on boards that were split in favor of republicans and boards that were split in favor of democrats. I have voted to elect individuals from both parties into leadership positions, based solely on what I thought was best for our district. And in those seven years, we did amazing things. Collaboratively.”
Harriman summed up some of the things the school board has done in the last seven years, such as drafting and enacting a policy to protect transgender students, developing and funding new positions such as the director of teaching and learning and the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) coordinator, changing school start times at Newtown Middle School and Newtown High School, reducing the district’s carbon footprint, drafting and passing a DEI resolution, and more.
Later she said, “... at the end of the day, we were a team. A team that saw the value from the experience, input, and opinion of every single member.” But she then took the opportunity to express concerns about how she saw recent developments affecting the board.
“I leave the board today, because in the last six months, I have seen a shift. A shift that calls into question what this board is and what this board should be,” Harriman read. “A shift that disregards experience for political will. A shift that has this board overstepping its boundaries and role that is legislated by state statute. A shift that so clearly disrespects the talent of our staff — a staff who are true experts in their field of study. A shift that has moved away from transparency and honesty with the public. A shift that is coming dangerously close to undoing so much of the groundbreaking work the previous iterations of the board have made — particularly in the area of DEI.”
Harriman said the current school board suffers “from a lack of steadfast, ethical, transparent leadership,” and it has lost sight of serving students, “our one job.”
“It is not about winning elections,” Harriman continued. “It is not about ‘punishing’ board members who do not share your ideology. It is not about making decisions that are dictated by the leaders of your political party. It is about showing up, learning, listening to the experts, and making decisions in the best interest of the district.”
Harriman said most of her time serving on the school board has been “wonderful and joyful,” even though it meant time away from her family.
After tracking her volunteer time as a school board member, Harriman said it ranged from between 25 to 45 hours a week.
‘“I have come to the hard, sad, realization that my time on this board is no longer well spent, and the sacrifice to my family is not worth it,” Harriman concluded. “I wish you all the very best. Please move forward with an open mind and a consistent practice to always, always, always make decisions that are best for all our students. The future of our town depends on it.”
Harriman, who was recently appointed chair of the Democratic Town Committee (DTC), said she will still maintain that position as she feels it is important to support future leaders.
She also said in a June 22 interview she wants “the board to succeed, regardless of who the people are in those seats.” If the school board is healthy and strong, then Harriman said the school district will be too. And she will continue to do “everything to support” Newtown’s staff and students.
“It just won’t be from a seat on the board,” Harriman said. Until her seat is filled, the school board will have two Democratic members and four Republican members.
Speaking on June 22, Board of Education Chair Deborra Zukowski said the announcement “broadsided” her, and she was already making efforts to have the open position known to as many people as possible.
“The board is committed to serving our students and our staff,” Zukowski said.
Speaking as the DTC chair, Harriman said the DTC can put forth candidates for the open school board position and all registered Newtown Democrats can also submit for the position separately.
Zukowski said anyone interested in the position can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or a resume and/or cover letter can be dropped off at the Board of Education’s office at Newtown Municipal Center, 3 Primrose Street, in the care of Executive Secretary Kathy June.
“We want to make sure this position is as broadly known as possible so that people who want to join us in our work to make sure we have a top notch school system for all students [apply],” Zukowski said.
Zukowski also wrote a Letter to the Editor to announce the open position in this week’s paper.
In the letter, Zukowski wrote of Harriman, “The board recognizes and appreciates her many years of commitment and accomplishments and wishes her well.”
Education Editor Eliza Hallabeck can be reached at email@example.com.