Spend any length of time with Dr. Frank Calabria, 72, and you're sure to hear stories about subject ranging from his grandchildren, to his children who also work as Parsippany educators to the invasion of Normandy. But make no mistake, one doesn't have a longtime career as a school principal, earn a doctoral degree in education and spend just shy of four decades on the Parsippany Board of Education without being tough, politically savvy—and a nimble dancer.
The board's current president, Calabria has presided over a board divided into two factions that has forced him to perform a tap dance to ensure that the district is well-run while keeping acrimony to a minimum.
If one regularly attends Parsippany school board meetings, one would get the sense that the two sides, lacking a mediator, might rip the other to shreds. But on the vast majority of questions, as Calabria points out, the board comes to unanimous agreements.
"I don't believe the board is as divided as people think," he said. "These are all fine people who really care about what's best for the children. I've never met a board member that I didn't like and respect, and that's certainly true for this group. I'm privileged to work with all of them."
Asked about the issues he sees as most important, Calabria said giving students a quality education tops the list. But he said making that happens requires having experienced board members.
"I'm hoping that people will know what the issues are and vote for the candidates who will keep us moving forward," he said, adding that the future will require forward thinking combined with a knowledge of the district and how it has operated.
Bottom line, said the school board president, the times are a-changing.
"The role of the school board is evolving," he said. "It's becoming more an issue of dealing with the points coming out of the state and how we react to them and meet the needs of local area."
He said issues gaining in importance involve being transparent, dealing with the state's ever-changing moods regarding state aid to schools, following state Department of Education dictates regarding matters such as the new lunch program and the anti-bullying initiative, student performance standings and more.
"We have to figure out how we're hoing to work with the tenure law, how to get appropriate teacher evalautions in the schools," Calabria said, noting that pushing shared-service arrangements with the township and other school systems will help deal with another challenge—helping the district do more with less.
In the end, he said, he wants a 14th term on the board to have a hand in shaping the future.
"There's nothing better than seeing our young people achieve," said Calabria.