By Stefanie Werner
My mother, Diane Werner, was by far the most influential person in my life. She was a teacher for more than 30 years, most of which was spent in the social studies wing of Ward Melville High School and was the inspiration behind my career choices. During her tenure in Three Village she was a highly respected educator and mentor with a passionate nature that empowered even the most resistant student to not only show up for class, but more importantly, achieve to the best of his or her abilities. Her sudden death only five years into her retirement produced an immense outpouring of love and compassion that exemplified how much she meant to her students and the community at large.
Fast forward 14 years and we find ourselves at a crossroads in the Three Village community. In these unprecedented times, my mother’s voice echoes in my head a trillion times a day. I hear her telling me to fight for what I believe in, to advocate for my child and to use my voice to defend that which I believe to be just. As we debate the guidelines for our return to school in September, I wish that my mother was here to add her two cents —more like twenty — to the on-going deliberations. She would be confounded by the dissension that has arisen in the community regarding the safety protocols required for our school reopening plan. Her mind would be awhirl with thoughts of how parents, teachers and community members should be united in this cause, creating a universal practice, not drowning in a “you do you, I’ll do me” mindset. Mrs. Werner would be feverishly scribbling lesson plans in her college-ruled spiral notebook, all the while remaining vigilant in her pursuit to educate her students despite the nonsensical squabbling of parents over mask mandates and plastic shields. Social distancing and face shields would be no match for the force that was Diane Werner at the head of a classroom, and no one would be more determined to keep kids safe and learning.
Although most of the old guard is gone from the halls of Ward Melville High School, many of my mom’s former students are now parents in this district. A handful of her former colleagues are now administrators making the most important decisions that have ever confronted Three Village Central School District. Nineteen years may have passed since Diane Werner blissfully strolled into the sweet land of retirement, but she left behind a legacy of strength and determination the likes of which this district needs to channel right now. The students of this community, including the grandchild my mother never met, deserve a comprehensive, rock-solid plan that exemplifies the need for a safe and secure learning environment during this global pandemic. In her day there would have been no flip-flopping on mask enforcement, and no questions left dangling at board of education or district meetings. Of course, she would have appreciated the debate, she did teach You and the Law and Mock Trials after all, but in the end, the result would be the same. Mrs. Werner would pull on her orange mask (her favorite color), walk into room 239 (her footsteps were distinct), make sure that every desk was 6 feet apart and students were masked, sign-in to Google Classroom (although she preferred chalk) and rock this place like nobody’s business. I am my mother’s daughter, and I will accept nothing less than 100% for mine. And mom would have given nothing less for yours. Miss you mommy!
Stefanie Werner is a mother, teacher and social worker. She is a lifelong resident of the Three Village community and a graduate of SUNY Oneonta, Long Island University and Stony Brook University.