‘Thank you for the journey’

School board members feted as their terms expire

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It was a bittersweet moment for Michele Tuck-Ponder and Jean Durbin, whose terms on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education came to a close at the school board’s last meeting of the year.

Tuck-Ponder, who lost her re-election bid in November, and Durbin, who did not seek re-election, were feted by their colleagues at the school board’s Dec. 12 meeting.

School board president Dafna Kendal read a resolution honoring Tuck-Ponder and school board vice president Betsy Baglio read a resolution honoring Durbin.

The resolutions for Tuck-Ponder and Durbin noted their service on numerous committees that included the Personnel, Policy, Long Term Planning and Equity committees.

Tuck-Ponder, who is a former school board vice president, also served on the Student Achievement, Facilities and Steering committees. During her service, she chaired and co-chaired the Negotiations, Equity, Personnel and Student Achievement committees.

Durbin co-chaired the Policy Committee. She was an alternate member of the Operations and Student Achievement committees.

School board member Beth Behrend praised Tuck-Ponder for bringing her wisdom, experience and a very helpful sense of perspective to the school board.

Tuck-Ponder, along with Kendal, was central in securing stable labor relations with school district employees and the unions that represent them, Behrend said.

“I hope you enjoy your Tuesday nights,” Behrend said, gently teasing Tuck-Ponder. The school board meets once or twice per month on Tuesday nights.

Baglio pointed to Tuck-Ponder’s service on the Equity and Student Achievement committees.

Baglio said she respected Tuck-Ponder’s commitment to providing an outstanding public school education to every student in the district.

Tuck-Ponder’s six years on the school board is only part of her 30-plus years of service to the town, said school board member Brian McDonald. She served on the former Princeton Township Committee and is a former mayor of Princeton Township.

“Michele’s energy – and at times, her intensity – have positively impacted all of us, and strengthened our district’s commitment to equity,” McDonald said.

Tuck-Ponder’s focus on governance has made the school board a better and stronger board, McDonald said. He thanked her for her dedication, clarity and focus.

School board member Susan Kanter said Tuck-Ponder showed board members how to use their voices and to make sure that when they were deliberating on an issue, “we are thinking about the most vulnerable members in our community.”

“I will hear your voice in my ear as I continue on the school board,” Kanter said.

Turning to Durbin, Kendal thanked her for always speaking about what was on her mind.

“We never had to worry about where you stood on an issue. You always let us know clearly where that was,” Kendal said.

“You were a voice for doing things the right way. Please stay involved,” Kendal said.

Durbin’s term began just as the COVID-19 pandemic struck, but she jumped right in, Baglio said.

“You looked at our work with a policy-minded focus, yet with great care for students at the same time,” she said.

Behrend said she would miss Durbin’s effective advocacy.

“[Jean] knows every level of municipal and state government, and knows exactly where to go and how to make things better,” she said.

“Paired with your kindness and your fierce care for students, I know you will be an advocate for the Princeton Public Schools.”

Kanter said she enjoyed working with Durbin.

“Jean sets goals and continues to get us to that goal. From the community, we say thank you,” Kanter said.

McDonald described Durbin as an energetic, passionate and focused school board member. He praised her commitment to all students, but especially those with the greatest needs.

“This has been paired with a demonstrated commitment to our taxpayers through her laser-like focus on the budget, and her commitment to using every dollar wisely,” McDonald said, adding Durbin is one of the community’s “most dedicated, effective and long-serving volunteers whose service has been both a labor of love and a gift to the town.”

“Thank you for your time, your care and compassion, and your friendship.”

Durbin thanked the school board for the opportunity to serve. She also thanked the community that elected her. She said she learned a lot, and acknowledged the steep learning curve.

“(Keep your) chin up and always assume positive intent, even when it’s really hard to do so,” Durbin said.

“It has been a real pleasure. Thank you for the journey,” Durbin said.