‘If you can’t accomplish what you want to do in 10 years, then I don’t know what you’re going to make better,” said District 91 school board member Sean Blaylock on Monday in explaining his decision not to seek reelection to the elementary school board.
We can’t in any way argue his point but it is with regret that we see Blaylock and his fellow decade-club colleague Frank Mott make plans to leave the school board next spring. The two have been steady, progressive, positive voices on this school board and they will be missed.
We have become strong admirers of District 91 over many years and for many reasons. They have accomplished something rare among elected boards and administrations by fronting both a strong superintendent with a vision and a strong and community-connected board. In covering local institutions over several decades and in multiple towns, we’ve most often seen village boards, park boards, school boards actively swinging somewhere on a pendulum from dominating administrators with pussyfooting boards to tame or burned out administrators with micromanaging boards who want to control what happens in the classroom, the public works garage or the park program.
This is a prescription for turn-styling administrators, electeds who stay too long, and institutions that aren’t particularly focused on their targets of students, taxpayers, or citizens.
District 91 was in this boat many years back with sincere, decent board members who had served far, far too long and always deferred to a far too comfortable superintendent.
Public education is not going to thrive and survive on the status quo. And Blaylock and Mott helped lead a board through a decade of innovation and hard choices stretching from the fundamental reconfiguration of four neighborhood schools into the grade center model to an ambitious investment in technology, the embracing of new teaching and testing strategies, a worthy effort to align district and teacher interests, and an expectation of accountability from the superintendent.
Come spring, two recently appointed board members will run unopposed for their first elected terms and will be joined, also unopposed, by two total newbies. This will be a lot of fresh talent which could be good but it will be coupled with the loss of leadership and institutional memory as Mott and Blaylock retire from service.
This will put necessary pressure on holdovers Mary Winn Connor, Eric Connor and Rafael Rosa. These are three people we have confidence in to keep this school board on track for progressive change and a full focus on educating every child in this district. The challenge of the next school board is to be unified without being defensive, to spark change and to celebrate the diversity and the shared values of this school community.