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Chester County Press

Meola is leaving Kennett School Board post

07/13/2021 11:22AM ● By Steven Hoffman

Joe Meola, the president of the Kennett School Board, is retiring and moving away, bringing to three the number of unexpired terms the board will have had to fill by the end of 2021.

Meola was elected to the board from Region 2 (New Garden Township) in 2012 to fill the unexpired term of Shirley Annand. He has served as the board president since December 2017.

Meola delivered news of his planned move at the June 14 meeting, and he said that he was emotional when the other members gave him a standing ovation after the announcement.

Meola, 66, moved from Massachusetts, which is where he grew up, to Chester County with his wife and four children in 2004. As one of seven children, he attended Catholic schools during his elementary years and went on to Waltham High School. He graduated from Boston University, having earned his bachelor’s degree there and later a master’s degree in biochemistry. He has worked for about 30 years for Siemens Healthcare and its predecessor, having risen to his current position as executive director of National Reference Labs.

He and his wife, Annie, are moving to Florida on Aug. 2, and he will maintain his connection to Siemens to help find a replacement for his position within a year. He said they will live in the Tampa area where he has easy access to air travel to continue his contacts with Siemens.

Meola said that when he moved to the area, he chose the Kennett Consolidated School District for his four children because he liked the spirit of giving in the town, as well as the diversity of the student body. Through the years, he has become fond of his neighbors and acclimated to the local atmospheric winds of the mushroom industry.

“It’s a beautiful community and they are unique in their passion for helping others. I embrace diversity.  It adds value for my kids,” he said.

When he first came to the area, he became active with the Kennett Area Park and Recreation Board in support of his children.

Later, when Annand resigned from the board, his friends urged him to apply for the position, which he did. He subsequently ran for a full term on the board. Then, in December of 2017, he was appointed president and has served in that role ever since.

Meola’s leadership style at the meetings is efficient and decisive. Dialogue seldom goes off track.

That efficiency, he said, reflects the preparation he wants from his board and from himself, including reviewing issues and getting answers in committee meetings ahead of time.

As a scientist, he considers himself very analytical and works to make his decisions based on available information and finding out what others have to say.

Following advice from his grandfather on the occasion of a past graduation, he said he believes in listening.

He said, “Giuseppe – he called me that; he was an old-fashioned Italian – and said, ‘You want to be successful, listen to learn. It’s amazing what you will hear.’”

When the board meetings come around, Meola said he expects the members to have likewise perused the information in their packets, asked the questions, discussed it, and come to a conclusion ready to vote. He also backs the recent accreditation program for board members by the Chester County Intermediate Unit which requires a one-day training course on how to be a board member.

When he first joined the board, he said, three veteran members, George Drake, Nick Perigo and Heather Schaen, took him out for a convivial meeting at Giordano’s Grill and explained his role as a board member. That is, he said, his job and the job of the other members is to govern and set policy. The operations of the school are in the hands of the administration.

He said he took those instructions seriously and has placed a high value for operations work on the school district’s superintendent, Dr. Dusty Blakey.

He sees the superintendent as very smart, capable, and one who stands up strongly for his school and makes decisions based on what’s best for the students.

“It was trial by fire when he came and two months later it was COVID. He’s a wicked-smart man. He has passion. He is very good talking to parents during the pandemic. I talk to him almost every day,” Meola said.

In responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, he and the board had to act on simply choosing among three options: all closed, all open and hybrid teaching.

The data, however, was ever-changing from state, local and county agencies, and in that fluidity were the challenges both for the board and the administration.

Personally, in addition to being a devoted husband and father, Meola sees himself as a reader and a gardener.

“I like to read articles.  I’m always reading white papers and articles to get information and answer questions,” he explained.

“Gardening is my passion and my hobby. The Sunday after the Super Bowl, I start all my seeds under lights. I’ve grown 50 to 60 pounds of tomatoes for sauce. Two years ago, I started flowers. Starting the stuff that comes out of that mushroom soil is amazing,” he said.

How does he feel about retiring?

“I am excited about it,” he said. “I want to be able to retire and do fun stuff. I am optimistic about it. I’ll volunteer for things, but no more boards and commissions.”