The Somers Board of Education elected Sarena Meyer as its new president July 2. Meyer has already served six years on the board, the most recent as vice president. Meyer now heads a board responsible for approximately 3,600 students and an $80 million budget.
Aside from working as a sales and technology strategy leader for IBM, Meyer is a single mother of three who has lived in Somers for nearly 16 years. She also volunteers her time to the Somers Education Foundation, a not-for-profit dedicated to raising funds for student- and teacher-initiated projects, among other organizations.
Her children are all educated in the Somers school system. Harrison, 18, just graduated and is attending the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado, Alyah, 15, will be a sophomore in high school this fall, and Carleigh, 13, will start her freshman year in high school.
Patch caught up with Meyer early this week to find out what being president means to her and what challenges and goals lie ahead during her tenure.
Patch: Why did you want to run for president?
Sarena Meyer: I wanted the opportunity to provide some leadership in the district. And it’s a great group. All of us work together very closely. While I may be the official figurehead, we all work together very well.
Patch: What inspired your passion for education?
Meyer: I guess, other than for my own children's sake, I can attribute my passion for education to my own upbringing. I was the first one in my family to earn a four-year college degree, and I had some wonderful teachers and mentors who inspired me. Giving back by encouraging and supporting education has always seemed like the right thing to do and a natural way to appreciate those who helped me.
Patch: Describe the changes you've seen in the district both personally and as a board member.
Meyer: Certainly we had the enrollment surge that predated the capital project. That happened just before I joined the board--the decision was made to pass the bond.
Patch: Have you faced challenges during your service on the board?
Meyer: Finding [Superintendent] Dr. [Raymond] Blanch was one of the biggest challenges. As a board member you’re most responsible for graduating the students and finding a good superintendent.
Patch: What accomplishments are you proud of?
Meyer: I am pleased with the insights and foresight we’ve had with the economic downturn.
Patch: Which budget changes do you think were wise?
Meyer: Unlike some of the neighboring districts, we have never cut a while program. We have reduced expenditures across the board. We call it a "haricot." We have found new ways to deliver programs to students. People come to Somers for the education opportunities here. It’s been our goal to maintain the excellence and continue to move forward to provide increasing excellent in our district.
Patch: What markers of success are you looking for?
Meyer: Student achievement at an individual test level and that the students are reaching a level of personal excellence. We have an extremely high graduation rate. That’s important--to be able to say that students are reaching the level of achievement and success that is right for them.
Patch: What lessons have you learned while serving on the board?
Meyer: This is a volunteer position. There are an awful lot of people who take education for granted. It takes a lot of work to have an excellent school district. It doesn’t happen by accident. Before my work on the board, I think I underestimated just how much it's active, that it's not an education-by-accident scenario. I hope people continue to look to the board to provide that. It takes more than just showing up, not only by the volunteers but the administrators and staff and the parents who support the education community.
Patch: Is this what you will advocate for as president--total community participation?
Meyer: I was known this past year as the board member who took on the challenge of getting parent to come to vote. I made a very bold statement and said don’t put your kids on the bus on May 15 [when the community voted on the school budget]. Drive them to school and represent your kid and vote. Shockingly, we do not have voter turnout.
Patch: Why do you think that was?
Meyer: I absolutely understand that people are busy. I am a single parent and I have three kids. I get it. I don’t think its that parents don’t care, they just don’t realize. You always must advocate for your child and that starts with voting and representing them at the polls once a year to say this is the educational experience I want my kid to have.
Patch: What are your other goals and challenges as president?
Meyer: I want to continue to help the district with voting excellence. You want to continue to strive for that educational excellence that each and every student deserves and needs, but also maintaining the economic challenges that are important and critical for our community. I do think that we will continue to require that unwavering commitment
Patch: Tell us what being president means to you.
Meyer: Being president of such a great board really means taking a turn at being the public voice, but we work together and everyone's opinions and concerns are openly shared. I am honored and appreciative to be representing such a committed, caring, and thoughtful board of trustees as the President. It's more than a "catch phrase" when I say I know in my heart that together we will continue “Moving Forward In Excellence.”
Patch: What do you think the Somers district needs to improve?
Meyer: I suppose it's not a surprise to say that I would love to see Somers increase the Technology curriculum offerings we provide at the middle school and high school levels in order to better prepare students for engineering and technology-related fields. I do a lot of education outreach for other districts, and it's the one area where we could really make some big impacts.
Patch: What would you like your legacy to be?
Meyer: I would want to be known for always working cooperatively with my fellow board members, to face the ongoing challenges with unwavering dedication to the children and families of Somers, commitment and transparent communications with the Somers community at large, and sincere appreciation and respect for professionals who work in our district.
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