Fraterrigo captains Flying Dutchman

GUILDERLAND — The school board’s longest-serving member, Barbara Fraterrigo, is now at its helm.

She was elected in a 6-to-2 vote at the board’s July 2 re-organizational meeting over Catherine Barber, who has served seven years on the board and was formerly a vice president. The incumbent president, Colleen O’Connell, was away on vacation.

Asked why she decided to run, Fraterrigo said this week, “A number of my colleagues asked me if I would step up.”

Fraterrigo, who has been on the school board since 1997, had unsuccessfully sought leadership roles on the board in the past.

Why was she successful this time? “Maybe they were looking for something different,” Fraterrigo told The Enterprise.

“I think I have a reputation for fairness,” she told the board before its members voted on paper ballots.

Describing herself as “level-headed,” Fraterrigo told them, “I love serving the board, serving the kids,” She commented on the collegiality of the board members and said, “I think we make a great team.”

Fraterrigo works part-time, helping to manage her husband’s medical practice; her children, Guilderland graduates, are all grown, and she is the proud grandmother of 11.

Fraterrigo and two other board members, O’Connell and Gloria Towle-Hilt, were uncontested in their bid for re-election this May.

Looking at the year ahead, Fraterrigo said this week, “We’re looking at the degradation of the educational system…As you keep cutting, it becomes harder and harder to give students the education they need.”

Speaking more specifically about Guilderland, she said, “One of the things I would like to see is follow-up.” She gave this example: “We were one of the first area schools to look at bullying. We need to follow up on that.”

Fraterrigo is also a proponent of what she calls “life-long learning,” emphasizing practical skills that range from handling personal finances to doing CPR.

“Our students need to learn practical things they have to face in life,” she said.

Fraterrigo concluded, “Everything takes time and money. I’m a patient person. I’ve been around a long time. People know what I stand for: Kids are number one; the educational system has to stay strong.”

Barber, a lawyer and musician, beginning her eighth year on the board, had served as vice president under Richard Weisz before he retired from the board.

“I plan to attend every single meeting in person,” Barber said before the July 2 ballots were cast. She was perhaps alluding to a recent practice of vacationing board members, including Fraterrigo and Towle-Hilt, participating at meetings through Skype.

“I’m always well prepared…I’m organized…I’ve got a passion for education,” Barber said, explaining she retired from the board after her younger child graduated but missed it and so ran again a year later.

The vice president’s post was also contested, with Allan Simpson winning, 5 to 3, over incumbent Towle-Hilt.

“It’s a lot different on this side of the fence than being a taxpayer,” said Simpson. “I do listen to everybody’s input.”

The father of two Guilderland students, Simpson stressed his business and accounting background — as director of accounting operations for the State Insurance Fund — when he successfully ran for a three-year term in 2011; he had served on the board for a year prior to that.

Towle-Hilt, who is beginning her third term on the board, had served the past two years as vice president under O’Connell. The two had previously been running mates.

A retired middle school teacher and the mother of two Guilderland graduates, Towle-Hilt told the board members before the ballots were cast, “I’ve learned a heck of a lot from all of you”

On the night of the school board elections in May, neither Towle-Hilt nor O’Connell would say if they planned to seek leadership roles on the board again. “Whatever the board wants,” O’Connell said at the time. “I’ve done it for two years and I’m happy to do it again.”

O’Connell was away on a family vacation at the time of the re-organizational meeting. At the prior school board meeting, on June 18, she told the board on seeking the presidency, “If asked, I would certainly serve a third term.” She noted that would absolutely be a final term.

But, O’Connell went on, if someone else wanted to run for the presidency, “My hat is off to you.”

Noting the success at developing and passing school budgets in tough economic times, O’Connell said, “I think we can be proud of the process…I think it’s been a very, very good year.”

On July 2, after Fraterrigo assumed the seat at the center of the dais next to the superintendent, she said, “A big thank you for Colleen and Gloria for the great leadership they’ve given us.”

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