ELKTON — The Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) Board of Education welcomed newly-elected members Dianne Heath and Tierney Davis at a meeting Wednesday. It was a bittersweet night, though — they also said goodbye to outgoing member James Fazzino.
“Our newly-elected board members are with us this evening, so congratulations,” said Board President William Malesh, who represents Perryville. “I talked with Mr. Fazzino, and he said he will not make the transition too difficult.”
Other board members praised Fazzino, a longtime educator and administrative leader who currently oversees virtual learning for Baltimore County Public Schools, for his sharp mind, forthright questions and passion for public service.
“You bring a wealth of knowledge, professional experience and critical thinking to the table,” said Board Vice President Diana Hawley, who represents North East. “I just want to thank you for your service to our community and our students.”
Christie Stephens, a board member representing Rising Sun, said she considers Fazzino a mentor.
“I have learned immensely from your leadership and wisdom, your intellect, your thoughtful conversation,” she said. “Thank you for being a strategic thinker, for bringing your passion, your insight and your experience to the schools. I know I have personally gained so much working with you.”
Fazzino, who has represented Elkton since his election in 2016, thanked his fellow board members. He also extended gratitude to his wife and two children, who he said have supported him through a busy schedule and many late nights.
Serving on the board, he said, has been a great journey.
“This is a labor of love that does require extensive thought commitment and passion,” he said. “But it’s worth it, because I’ve always believed that education is the cornerstone of a truly great society.”
CCPS Superintendent Jeff Lawson recalled meeting with Fazzino at 5:30 a.m. the morning after he was appointed superintendent.
“In the dark, we sat there and met for a good solid hour, and I walked out knowing that there would be an excellent, healthy working relationship, and so I certainly want to thank you for that,” Lawson said. “You do ask tough questions, and that’s a good thing. It makes us a better school system.”
Lawson presented Fazzino with a rubbing of the dedication plaque at Gilpin Manor Elementary School, and led a standing ovation.
He then turned to the room, including the newly-elected Davis and Heath, and reflected on the significance of seeking to uphold the highest standards of education.
“We are in these chairs temporarily,” he said. “We are simply occupying the seats on behalf of the community at this moment, and tremendous responsibility comes from that — responsibility to support the school system, the families and the community that the families represent.”
Tierney Davis will take Fazzino’s seat representing Elkton.
A United States Air Force veteran and government analyst, Davis said he was up late on election night watching the news with his wife and son, a sophomore at Elkton High School. While he ran unopposed, he was on pins and needles as the election process played out across the county and around the country.
His election to the school board, Davis said, is among the most important and meaningful accomplishments of his life.
“I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity to serve my community,” he said. “I promise to serve Cecil County with pride, integrity, transparency and, most importantly, ethics. I will always make decisions that I believe are in the best interest of our students and their health and education.”
Top of mind as he takes a seat is the COVID-19 pandemic response. Davis said getting students back in schools safely is of the highest priority.
He also hopes to be a strong voice for the community, bringing more parents into the board’s conversations by making himself available to hear their experiences, perspectives and concerns. He said he has also been in touch with some school administrators.
“I want to be available and transparent in everything that I do,” he said. “The community and parents — if anytime you have any issues or questions, please feel free to reach out to me.”
Dianne Heath, who will represent District 1, which covers the southern part of the county, is a mother of three Bohemia Manor High School graduates and one current student with a business background. Heath said she waited up on election night with family members, hitting refresh as county results rolled in.
While she was ahead of her opponent, Sam Davis, by several thousand votes, giving her a double digit lead, she hesitated to declare victory right away. Looking back on the campaign, she emphasized that school board seats are above partisan politics.
“This isn’t about a party line. This is about what’s best for our kids,” she said. “It feels good that it’s behind me. I’m really excited to just move on, to be able to be on the board and start diving into the actual responsibilities.”
She said sitting in on Wednesday’s meeting felt natural, as she’d already started attending meetings, working on other school committees and establishing connections with board members. She’s looking forward to going through orientation with Lawson and the other board members in the coming weeks, and then getting to work.
Like Davis, Heath acknowledged school reopening as a top issue.
“I was really pleased to see that Cecil County has decided to keep kids in school as of now, and hopefully we can do that,” she said. “I want to make sure that I remain informed and can think critically and ask good questions.”
Both Davis and Heath will be sworn in after Thanksgiving, and will attend their first meeting as board members on Wednesday, Dec. 9.