When his son’s pre-K principal asked the crowd of parents if their children were left-handed, Frank Chiachiere and his wife, who were in the crowd, raised their hands. They were the only hands in the air.
Chiachiere was later pulled aside and asked by the principal if he had tried to teach his left-handed son to do things with his right hand. At first he didn’t know what to make of the question. Then the principal explained. Most classroom materials, from scissors to computers to one-arm desks, are designed for right-handed students, and so put their left-handed peers, like his son, at a disadvantage.
“It’s a right-handed world, and I thought, what would happen to this poor child once he gets into kindergarten?” Chiachiere said.
He realized, thanks to that conversation, that the quality of a child’s education lies in the subtlest of details. “I wanted to make sure that there were a left-handed pair of scissors in the classroom,” Chiachiere said.
So he decided to run for a seat on the Valley Stream District 13 Board of Education in 1993, and won. Over the following 30 years, he served another 12 times as trustee, and was board president in six of those terms. Chiachiere has helped vet and hire dozens of the district’s administrators, guiding his fellow trustees through the ins and outs of school district policy, and gauging the pulse of the latest developments in education.
Now with new school board elections, he says it’s finally time to step down. Chiachiere says he’s ready to move on, to soak in the joy of his grandchildren and focus on other passion projects.
His colleagues and district administrators will remember him as a role model. “He began his service when I was a student in this high school district,” board President Jennifer Oliver said.
“He is now a mentor to me in my role as trustee, and especially this year, in my role as board president. Dr. Chiachiere is a quiet but strong advocate for our children, who are reaping the benefits of his dedication and passion for their education.”
Over the arc of his trusteeship, Chiachiere was a leading voice in ushering transformative changes into the school district.
He stood strongly behind the passage of the district’s $32 million bond in 2015, which brought extensive repairs and upgrades to its four schools.
And in a world where music and arts budgets are the first to be put on the chopping block, Chiachiere fought to ensure that the district’s arts and music programs were fully funded.
“As important as technology is and will be for our children, let’s never forget the creativity students can access through the power of music and art,” he said.
“In the bond, we made sure Dever finally got its own music space. On my watch, (during) those discussions about where precious dollars had to be allocated, I always wanted to make sure that there was room in the budget for the fine and performing arts.”
Amid the pandemic, as he dealt with the weighing concerns of parents, Chiachiere faced his own medical scare. He was the board’s oldest member, making him high-risk for contracting Covid-19. Not one to shy away from duty, however, Chiachiere masked up and served out his term as president.
With his humane demeanor, he smoothed tensions at board meetings as scientific skepticism about mask-wearing drew the ire of parents.
With his thoughtful and disciplined approach to school board policy and procedure, he helped the board stay the course and follow health recommendations issued by the State Education Department despite pushback.
“The temperature at board meetings has been rising,” Chiachiere acknowledged. After the pandemic, he recoiled as conversations at board meetings became embroiled in issues like critical race theory and sexual identity.
“The culture wars are dangerous,” he warned. “I think there’s a lack of confidence in our institutions, and that trickles down to the most basic level, such as a school board. It’s the job of trustees and administrators to regain that trust.”
Chiachiere says the school district can shake off the political bickering that threatens to undermine it by moving away from politicizing educational issues and moving toward a renewed focus on the basics of learning. That, he says, will require discipline and courage from district leadership.
“My advice to all board members is to learn, learn, learn; read, read, read,” he said. “Take training seminars and attend conferences up in Albany. There’s a wealth of information out there to help board members do their work.” To help know when to push ahead with an issue and when to tow the line and step back.
“This is not a popularity contest or about getting a picture in the press,” he added. “This is about making sure that you’re learning everything that you can learn and bringing it back to the boardroom, so that you stay focused on your primary responsibility, and that is to ensure the best learning possible for the children whom you serve.”
Chiachiere remains optimistic about the future of the district as he bids goodbye.
“I will miss the board, and I leave on a melancholic note, but I’m grateful to the parents for allowing me to serve the district,” he said.
“My deepest prayer for the district is to keep their focus on teaching and learning. We always have to keep in mind that first and foremost, we are servants of the children.
“And I think if we stay focused on that, we will be successful.”