NORTH SMITHFIELD – They’ve helped with budgets, contracts and numerous projects to move the district forward, and have worked to guide North Smithfield schools through the unprecedented challenge of reopening amid a pandemic.
But on Tuesday, Nov. 17, Francesca Johannis and Christine Charest attended their final meeting as appointed members of the North Smithfield School Committee, hearing praise and gratitude for their service from others in the district.
North Smithfield voters eliminated the appointed positions in 2018, approving a charter amendment to remove the two seats when the terms expired in 2020.
“We will be losing two highly respected members of our team,” said Committee Chairman James Lombardi. “The town appreciates your time, your leadership and your counsel on many issues.”
The departure marks the end of what turned out to be a short-lived stint with a hybrid school board in North Smithfield, first authorized by voters in 2014. A charter change approved by a slim margin that year added the appointed members to what had long been a five-member, elected committee.
The hybrid model took effect at the start of Town Administrator Gary Ezovski’s term in 2016, when he appointed Johannis, a revenue agent for the Department of Treasury who had previously held an elected seat from 2008-2012, along with Paul Jones.
Jones secured an elected position following a 2018 campaign, and Charest was tapped to fill the vacant, appointed seat. A former town postmaster who previously served on both school and municipal boards, Charest would be the final appointment under the hybrid model after voters reversed the decision.
“You each brought special skills and experience to this committee and we have been better because of you,” said Committee Vice Chairperson Jean Meo to the pair last Tuesday.
Committee member William Connell noted that the board has worked particularly well together since 2018.
“I think we’ve gotten a lot done in the past two years and you’re been an integral part of it,” Connell said.
“It hasn’t been difficult because of the talented personnel, the administration, the staff the teachers – everyone in the school district,” said Johannis. “I appreciate everything you’re doing for our kids.”
Last week also marked the final meeting for the town leader who first chose the appointments.
Ezovski did not seek a third term in 2020, and cited accomplishments of the past four years, including collaboration with his fellow leaders, in his final newsletter to town residents on Friday.
“From the start in 2016 we established a clear message that we needed to work together for the benefit of the town. I believe that those with whom I have served these past four years have indeed done that,” Ezovski noted. “We didn’t always agree but we found ways forward. We made progress.”
The five remaining members of the school board will continue their work after an upcoming inauguration. Lombardi, Meo, and member Margaret Votta ran unopposed in their 2020 reelection bids, while Jones and Connell still have two years remaining in their terms.
Lombardi said he hopes to recruit Charest and Johannis to help out with future town and school projects.
“You were a benefit to our children and you will be sorely missed,” said Lombardi “We can’t thank you enough.”