Meet+the+Board+candidate%3A+Pat+Luisi

Meet the Board candidate: Pat Luisi


Pat Luisi is running for one of the two open Hillsdale seats. The other candidates running for the two open Hillsdale seats are Arnold Scher (incumbent), Gini Varghese, and Kristin Martin.

Luisi was born in Italy and grew up in Saddle Brook. He graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Industrial Engineerring. He later moved to Hillsdale, where he has lived since 2006 with his wife. Luisi has three children –– two Valley alumni and a son in elementary school.

Luisi has been a Regional Manager at Expeditors International for 20 years and has also coached youth sports in Hillsdale.

Why Luisi is running

Luisi stressed his vision of the role of the Board within the community as one of the motivating reasons for his candidacy.

“It’s important that the directions and decisions of the Board have a positive beneficial impact on all the students,” said Luisi, arguing that he was qualified to meet that goal. “I’d work hard with the other Board members to carry out responsibilities and take each issue and vote seriously. I would definitely listen with empathy to all points of view and opinions, and I would respect those.”

Luisi said his work experience, which has included travel abroad meeting people “in different industries, with different roles and responsibilities and unique challenges” has allowed him to prepare for a role on the Board as it allows him to see “what the future holds for our youth as they move through the education system.”

In addition, Luisi emphasized that the Board’s transparency was a priority. “I feel that Board members are their community’s representatives, and the community has a right to make comments, and we need to listen to all the comments, including bringing them into our decision-making process regardless of point of view.”

Luisi added that “over-communication is better than under-communication.” The topic of the Board’s transparency is not new, but it has been brought up more in light of its recent decisions such as to remove the Cowboy and Indian mascots.

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Jared Mitovich: This year has been pretty crazy with the Covid-19 pandemic and everything else going on. What motivates you to want to become a Board member now, and what will be your top priorities if elected?

Pat Luisi: My priorities are pretty simple actually. I want to be part of creating policies and goals that advance the education of our children, enhance their growth. I want to help to assure they have an environment that’s safe and secure along with an environment that focuses on their health and mental wellbeing.

I’ve traveled quite a bit in my job, so for the past 15 years, I’ve traveled abroad for work. I have a great wife and home who helped really raise our children. I’m at the point now where I have time to really focus on the more local aspect of my life, and I did research on the Board of Education. I think it’s a crucial role in the community, and as a Board member, I’d work hard with the other Board members to carry out responsibilities and take each issue and vote seriously. I would definitely listen with empathy to all points of view and opinions, and I would respect those. 

Especially now, you just mentioned it’s been a crazy year more than ever. It’s important that the directions and decisions of the Board have a positive beneficial impact on all the students. I feel I can contribute as a Board member. I think you need to be a role model for both the students, the administration, and the community. Community outreach is important, and it’s one of the Board goals for the 2020-21 school year. 

As I mentioned, I’ve spent many years traveling with my job. I’ve met many people both for work and personal engagement. I’ve worked with people in different companies, in different industries, with different roles and responsibilities and unique challenges. I’d like to think that that peek into what the future holds for our youth as they move through the education system and then into the next phase can help me as I work within the Board and the administration to help build a vision and strategy for our children’s education. 

I also feel passionate that transparency is critical. Over-communication is better than under-communication. I’ve always felt like that, and because this is our children’s future, this is the most important priority we have as adults and parents. Communicating clearly and concisely is super important, and I believe communication is a strength of mine and a skill set that has served me well both personally and professionally. It’s a skill I constantly work to get better at. I feel that Board members are their community’s representatives, and the community has a right to make comments, and we need to listen to all the comments, including bringing them into our decision-making process regardless of point of view. 

On his Facebook campaign account, Luisi stated he would seek a “change for the better” Asked to elaborate on which ways a “change for the better” would happen, Luisi returned to his initial comments.

“[It] means transparency in what we do,” he said. “That means listening to the entire community of all points of view.”

He also touched on the district curriculum, which he argued prioritizes children who want to go to college over those “who may not want to.”

“They may want to do different things and have different interests,” Luisi said. “I think our job is to pique those interests and have a curriculum that’s a little more robust and a little more broad.”

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JM: On one of your Facebook campaign posts, you said you wanted a “change for the better.” What kind of ways are you seeking a “change for the better”?

PL: I touched upon it in my initial comments: We need to look at making decisions that are for the betterment of all the children, not just a subset of children. To me, that means transparency in what we do. That means listening to the entire community of all points of view. I also think that as far as curriculum goes, I do feel that the curriculum seems to be really serving kids with certain goals and visions, but there’s also a bunch of students that may not want to go on to college. They may want to do different things and have different interests. I think our job is to pique those interests and have a curriculum that’s a little more robust and a little more broad.

JM: You’re running with Kristin Martin, and she mentioned the same thing. 

PL: We’re friends. I respect Kristin a lot. It seems we have similar thought processes. To me, I think the world of her; she’d be a great Board member.

On the Board’s communication goal

The Board’s communication goal for the 2020-21 school year is to “Establish a Board of Education communications committee. Plan for more frequent communications from the board, including a board specific newsletter to the community regarding reopening and the operations of board of education.”

Luisi said the current communication by the Board was not a “fault” but an “area of improvement,” and he is happy the goal was listed as it appeared to recognize that they “have to do better at this.”

“[C]communication is two ways,” explained Luisi. “It’s not just communicating; it’s you listening.” Luisi said this in the context of parents and students being passionate about certain subjects and argued disagreement was not a reason to “shut certain people off” but one to “listen with empathy.”

If that communication and transparency does not occur, Luisi continued, “then regardless of whether your intentions are good or not, you’re going to lose trust, and that is a very very difficult thing to get back.”

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JM: Turning to communication. One of the Board’s goals for this school year is the following:

“Establish a Board of Education communications committee. Plan for more frequent communications from the board, including a board specific newsletter to the community regarding reopening and the operations of board of education.”

As a community member, do you see communications as a current fault of the Board of Education?

PL: I wouldn’t say fault; I would say area of improvement. I’m really happy that the Board listed that as a goal. I’m assuming they looked at it and said, “We have to do better at this.” This is critical, and it’s important in our role and our job to communicate better to the community. But communication is two ways. It’s not just you communicating; it’s you listening. You have to listen to the people that are speaking. Parents and students are very passionate about many things. And you can’t just shut certain people off because you may not agree with their point of view or what their goal is. You have to listen with empathy. I think that’s important. 

If you’re not communicating, if you’re not transparent, and you’re not communicating well, then regardless of whether your intentions are good or not, you’re going to lose trust, and that is a very very difficult thing to get back. Communication is two ways; it’s not just you speaking, which is great; you have to speak, you gotta be clear and concise and honest. But it’s also the other way around: You have to listen. I’ve been a victim of it too; sometimes you don’t listen. You have to listen. That’s important. 

For specific ways the Board could reach community members, Luisi said he would have to learn more “about the details of how [the Board] came to” its goal but suggested that “[b]eing out and about in town is great” and it could include “social media if handled properly –– you don’t want to get into social media debates and have it escalate and go in the wrong way.”

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JM: Are there any other specific ways the Board could take advantage of to reach community members?

PL: I’m not sure what the elements of [the Board’s] plan are. I’d have to look at that more in-depth to see if it makes sense or not. There are many ways to communicate. Being out and about in town is great. It could be social media if handled properly –– you don’t want to get into social media debates and have it escalate and go in the wrong way. I think there are many different ways to communicate. I’d have to know more about the details of how they came to that goal. I think it’s an important goal, but I think I need to learn more before I can comment on that.

On the mascot removal

Social media was the main place where community members debated the removal of the Cowboy and Indian mascots in June and continue to do so. Returning to his emphasis on the role of the Board, Luisi maintained it is supposed to “engage with the community –– students and parents” and “provide oversight to ensure students are achieving at the highest level.”

In that vein, he said, “I guess the Board felt it was necessary to offer a change and ultimately vote on [the mascots]. That [vote took place.]”

While the vote itself is in the past, there are still next steps to be taken. Asked how he would unite the community around new mascots, Luisi said the people have to be engaged to create a consensus, and the Board should “maybe get suggestions on different ways and different symbols the masses could be happy with.”

He stressed the process could not be compromised and required empathy.

“You’re going to be met with people that aren’t happy, but you have to try to have empathy for those people that are passionately against what you’ve done and do a very good job explaining why you’ve done it. Not just for [the mascot] issue; I’m saying moving forward, it’s just critical. Providing information and data on some of these decisions are important, and they are important because our community in particular in Hillsdale is passionate about our children. I actually think that is a positive thing.”

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JM: You mention social media. In terms of the mascot removal, the decision wasn’t met with everybody being happy or everybody being upset. There were a lot of conversations about it on social media. What do you think the Board’s role is –– considering where we are now –– and what do you think the best next steps would be in uniting the community around a new mascot?

PL: The role of the Board is to provide oversight to ensure students are achieving at the highest level. With that, the Board is supposed to engage with the community –– students and parents –– in understanding educational issues. I guess the Board felt it was necessary to offer a change and ultimately vote on it. That’s in the past. 

What they need to do to move forward now is work with the community and talk to them and listen to them and maybe get suggestions on different ways and different symbols that the masses could be happy with. I think the process cannot be compromised. You have to talk to the people. It’s a consensus, and again, you’re going to be met with people that aren’t happy, but you have to try to have empathy for those people that are passionately against what you’ve done and do a very good job explaining why you’ve done it. Not just for [the mascot] issue; I’m saying moving forward, it’s just critical. Providing information and data on some of these decisions are important, and they are important because our community in particular in Hillsdale is passionate about our children. I actually think that is a positive thing. I see it as positive.

But we need to bring the community together. That’s a great question you asked, “What do we need to do to bring everybody back together rowing the same way?” The Board, to me, is a representative of the community, and we should proceed that way and act that way.

On school reopening and the next steps

“Knock on wood,” Luisi remarked of the zero Covid-19 cases reported at Hills or Valley so far since reopening. While he praised the Board and administration for a “good job” preparing schools for both in-school and virtual learning, Luisi contended “we still have a lot of work to do.”

The framework is laid,” he emphasized, “but now, the job is on the teachers and the educators to assure we’re not compromising the quality of education that this community has come to expect.”

For the district’s educators, Luisi said “we have to make sure [through the Board] that [they] have the support they need, because [they] are such a key to success in this new normal.”

Luisi also expressed concern for all-virtual students, saying that “as much as teachers try virtual communication, it just doesn’t allow for the personal interaction that students and teachers frankly thrive on.” He said a personal connection like he had with his teachers, where he observed them shifting their message for each kid and their needs, must be maintained for those students. Currently, around 10% of district students are learning entirely from home according to Superintendent Erik Gundersen.

While sports at Hills and Valley have resumed to a large extent, sports seasons have been more difficult with the cases reported at some other high schools and the limits on in-person recreation. Citing his experience a youth sports coach in Hillsdale, Luisi said that athletics, especially during Covid-19, was connected to mental health.

In some cases, I feel that children who engage in athletics are just happier, and getting that exercise is very beneficial to their mental health, so I’m all for doubling down on in-school learning and athletics. I think it’s great for the kids,” he emphasized, adding, “We have to be really focused on education but just as focused on safety.”

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JM: Valley and Hills have been reopened for around a month. There are no Covid-19 cases so far––

PL: Knock on wood.

JM: Knock on wood. In terms of the plan itself and the resumption of athletics, what are your thoughts? Has the district been successful?

PL: I think the Board and the administration have done a good job getting schools prepared for both in-school and virtual education. The framework is laid, but now, the job is on the teachers and the educators to assure we’re not compromising the quality of education that this community has come to expect. That’s a tough job so, to me the Board’s job is not done yet. We have to make sure [through the Board] that the educators have the support they need because the teachers are such a key to success in this new normal. Although I think they’re in a better position to handle the mental stress and this new environment, we have to remember that this environment is just as tough on teachers as students. 

I worry about the students in 100% virtual learning. I really do. I think we all should, because as much as teachers try virtual communication, it just doesn’t allow for the personal interaction that students and teachers frankly thrive on. I still remember many of my teachers throughout my youth, and that wasn’t because they taught me how to derive pi. It was their personalities, the way they shifted their message to teach kids differently that need to be connected in a different way. Just getting glimpses of their personalities is something that kids enjoy, so I think our focus as we continue the virtual environment is to try to find the best way to maintain that personal connection.

Again, the Board and administration laid the framework. To me, we still have a lot of work to do on that, but they did a good job.

On the athletic front, this [topic is] near and dear to my heart. I’ve been a rec coach in Hillsdale for basketball, baseball, and football for both boys and girls going on my 15th year. The mental health of our children is challenged by so many factors. Just the advent of technology and social media, the pressures and expectations to do well both academically and athletically… 

In some cases, I feel that children who engage in athletics are just happier, and getting that exercise is very beneficial to their mental health, so I’m all for doubling down on in-school learning and athletics. I think it’s great for the kids. We have to be really focused on education but just as focused on safety. So far, I have a boy in fourth grade, and I’m really happy with the way Meadowbrook [Elementary School] in Hillsdale has some of their processes and procedures in place as simple as they are. They’ve done a really good job, so I can tell you personally, I’m very happy. 

On student wellness

Luisi said positive interactions were key to improving and maintaining student wellness. They need to feel “we are all in on them and getting them not only through this pandemic but setting them up for a really solid future,” he explained.

While he returned to athletics as one way to accomplish this, Luisi sad that a “personal touch” for students could be accomplished in several ways. He wants children to be more engaged in building curriculum, and that “we set up the right process to get them to talk to people that can understand them and help them” if students need “someone to talk to aside from their parents.”

Other candidates have emphasized initiatives at Valley such as the Wellness Center, where students can check-in (virtually right now) to receive support, and shared Luisi’s view that students needed to be more aware of resources available to them during and after Covid-19.

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JM: You highlighted student wellness. One of the district’s goals is the following:

“Build upon the district’s student wellness program with a greater emphasis on freshmen transitions and collaboration with partnering districts.”

Do you have any ideas on the best way to approach handling student wellness during this pandemic?

PL: Unfortunately, it’s not just the students. There are many adults out there [for whom] mental wellness is something we could all be cognizant of. But as far as the students go, I think the interaction with any faculty, teachers, administration, the Board itself has to be positive. It has to be a positive one. The student needs to feel that we are all in on them and getting them not only through this pandemic but setting them up for a really solid future. 

I’d like to even engage students more in building curriculums. I think the more engaged they are in their own strategy and development, I think it’s better for them. It’s important that if children need someone to talk to aside from their parents that we set up the right process to get them to talk to people that can understand them and help them. Again, I don’t know many of the details of what we have in place already, but that’s something again that I’m very passionate about: the wellness of children.

I think athletics absolutely helps. I think being in school and seeing people and talking to people –– that personal touch –– absolutely help. We just need to be prepared and listen to the children. Again, the key thing for me is our interactions have to be positive. That starts with the Board, the administration, and the faculty. It has to be positive.

On equity and inclusivity

Asked for his personal experience with equity and inclusivity,which the district has set a goal to advance, Luisi said he does not want anyone to feel “that because perhaps the way they look or the way they act puts them in a position to be excluded from certain things.” Making sure this doesn’t happen starts with building programs that “are for everyone and don’t exclude anybody,” he explained.

He argued that it also includes listening with empathy and an understanding that “the decisions we make are again beneficial to the entire student body.” To do this, the Board has to do “deep dives and try to get as many facts and information as possible” before voting on a motion.

There have been specific efforts by the Board to advance this goal, which it cited in its decision to remove the mascots. An equity committee was created last year to include students from both schools, and incumbent Arnold Scher said it is one of two new committees being added to the Board this year.

During June, students protested police brutality by writing names of Black men and women killed by police in parking lot spaces at Hills and Valley. Valley students also requested that the phrase “BLM,” standing for “Black lives matter,” be added to the school’s electronic sign.

At the time, Gundersen said that the school-approved “BLM” sign at Valley, which was “based on the suggestion of the student equity team at PV as they were looking at a constructive way to protest the killing of George Floyd,” was up for two weeks longer than it was supposed to be.

“[S]tudents have the right to express themselves,” Luisi said on the issue. He continued, “I worry that there are people that react poorly when certain people express themselves, and that’s on both sides of the fence –– whichever side you’re on; I don’t know if there’s two sides of the fence, three sides of the fence, four sides of the fence. But we can’t have the type of divisiveness that I’ve seen and heard about, where children that have certain beliefs or thoughts are looked down upon by either our educators, our administrators, or our Board. We just can’t have that.”

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JM: Turning to equity and inclusivity. Another district goal is the following:

“Advance the work of inclusivity and equity throughout the district. Incorporating data-driven research into equity education for faculty, collaborative efforts with community and regional partners, curriculum development, and leadership and goal setting.”

What is your personal experience with equity and inclusivity? 

PL: I don’t want anybody in not just the community, but anyone in the world to feel like they’re not being listened to or they feel that because perhaps the way they look or the way they act puts them in a position to be excluded from certain things. I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s important that the programs we build are for everyone and don’t exclude anybody. I think that’s important. 

We need to listen to people that have issues and listen with empathy and understand that the decisions we make are again beneficial to the entire student body. I do think that when there are issues that are acute and very worrisome, it’s important that as a Board we do deep dives and try to get as many facts and information as possible before any direction is decided on. 

JM: There were complaints that a “Black lives matter” slogan (“BLM”) on the electronic sign on Valley was left up too long in June after being approved at students’ request by the principal at the time and the Superintendent. It was left up too long –– longer than two weeks –– according to policy for slogans on signs like this. Do you think students should be able to share their opinions on certain matters using electronic signs and expressing themes on similar platforms on the school campus?

PL: I think students have the right to express themselves. I worry that there are people that react poorly when certain people express themselves, and that’s on both sides of the fence –– whichever side you’re on; I don’t know if there’s two sides of the fence, three sides of the fence, four sides of the fence. But we can’t have the type of divisiveness that I’ve seen and heard about, where children that have certain beliefs or thoughts are looked down upon by either our educators, our administrators, or our Board. We just can’t have that. 

We have to remember, too, that when we do express our opinions, we have to understand that others may be offended. I think we have to look at them empathetically. 

On what voters should know

Luisi is running with Kristin Martin for the two Hillsdale seats and said the two have “similar thought processes.” Speaking for his own candidacy, Luisi stressed that he is “viewed as a leader in the community.”

“We’ll let the people elect the best person or two people and we’ll move forward like that,” he added. “I think we all have to understand it’s about the kids. It’s not about us.”

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JM: Without any attacks, are there any differences that you would like voters to know between you and the other candidates running for the two Hillsdale seats?

PL: I wish the candidates luck. I believe that I would be a great Board of Education [member]. I am a positive person. I’m a role model. I believe I’m a leader. I’m viewed as a leader in the community. I’ve made tough decisions. I’ve made decisions that impact people positively, and I look at helping others all the time. I’m not going to disparage anyone that’s running for the Board of Education. We’ll let the people elect the best person or two people and we’ll move forward like that. I think we all have to understand it’s about the kids. It’s not about us.

On his favorite pastimes

Outside of running for the Board, Luisi likes to travel.

Both my wife and I are immigrants born in Italy,” he explained, “so we like to take the kids back every couple of years to see family. That certainly grounds us and makes us happy, so I would say that’s one of my favorite things to do is go back and see my family overseas.”

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JM: Outside of running for the Board, what are your favorite pastimes? 

PL: I like to travel. Both my wife and I are immigrants born in Italy, so we like to take the kids back every couple of years to see family. That certainly grounds us and makes us happy, so I would say that’s one of my favorite things to do is go back and see my family overseas.

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