The newly elected members of the Highland Community Unit School District No. 5 Board of Education were officially seated at a special meeting April 27.
After the vote canvasing, Aaron Schuster, Zach Lewis, Rene Friedel and Jim Gallatin, swore their oaths of office in front of a small crowd, then took their seats on the board.
Schuster and Friedel were the two victorious candidates from Saline Township in a four-way race in the April 4 election. Friedel, who is the former board president, has served in the board for 14 years and received 1,100 votes, the highest number of votes for the contested seats.
“We are going to embrace the new board coming in and start a new chapter, look forward to working cohesively with all of the individuals, and try to do the best we can for our students and our community,” Friedel said.
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Schuster, who ran as a write-in candidate claimed his seat with 1,071 votes, only six votes higher than the other write-in candidate, John Hipskind, who earned 1,065 votes.
Hipskind and the former board vice president Duane Clarke, were the two candidates who did not claim a seat on the board. Clarke, who had served on the board for four years, received the lowest vote total, 951.
Lewis and Gallatin had no competitors in their races. Lewis who is from Alhambra Township, received 1,385 votes, and Gallatin who lives in Helvetia Township, received 1,427.
Rules allow that only three board members can reside in any one township in the district. Since board member Joe Mott, whose term does not end until 2019, also resides in Saline Township, that set up the contested race there.
While Gallatin and Friedel both have experience on the board, this will be the first term for both Schuster and Lewis.
Schuster said that he is excited to be a part of the board, and he hopes he can help connect the community.
“I am very excited to be on the school board,” Schuster said. “I really have no agenda to fill. I’m very very excited to try and bring the community and the parents and the teachers and everybody together to be proud of our school district.”
Lewis said that he is looking forward to learning about being a board member and becoming a voice for the center schools and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.
“I am looking forward to joining the board and learning as much as I can,” Lewis said. “I’m here for the kids, obviously, and a big goal is to implement a lot of the STEM programs. I think that science and technology is the way of the future, and technology is constantly changing. That is one of the main goals I have, and obviously, I want to help keep the Center Schools (Alhambra and Grantfork) open and do what ever I can to make the schools better for our kids.”
Before the board considered nominations for president, vice president and secretary, there was a leadership discussion, prompted by Friedel.
Friedel asked each board member to say what they wanted in their leader. She asked all of the board members to be as candid and transparent as possible.
The largest theme of the discussion was entertaining of the idea of changing board policy to allow a more frequent leadership rotation. Currently, the board policy has leadership change on a two-year basis. At the beginning of the discussion, Friedel proposed reviewing, and maybe changing, the current policy. The board members agreed that they might be interested in the same prospect.
The board members all mentioned changing the president on a yearly basis might be beneficial, as would potentially rotating the vice president every month. Their reasoning was that, if the policy was changed, it would give everyone a chance to learn to lead, and would prepare every board member to take the reins. However, one board member, Robert Miller, seemed a little hesitant about that proposal.
“Leadership is not a random, ‘Tag you’re it,’” Miller said.
He also voiced concerns about the community losing faith in board leadership if the president and vice president positions were to become “ceremonial.”
Some other trends of the conversation outlined the desire the board members had to have cooperative and inclusive leaders who would work, as board Mott said, “hand-in-hand and shoulder-to-should” with Superintendent Mike Sutton.
The newest members of the board, Schuster and Lewis, also made the point that the leaders need to actively communicate with the whole community. They both stressed that, during the election, they felt and heard concerns saying that the board was disconnected from teachers and parents within the district.
Board member David Raymond said that he would like a leader who would remember that not all of the students in the district are “four-year material.” He said that he wants someone who would actively pursue promoting vocational careers throughout the grade levels in the district and that community colleges are a viable option and not “a four-letter word.”
Friedel, who was the previous board president, decided to step down from the position before the nominations began. Friedel thanked the rest of the board for entrusting her with the position and explained that she wanted to give someone else a chance at leadership.
After the leadership discussion and Friedel’s announcement to step aside, two people were nominated for the position. Gallatin was nominated by Mott, who said that Gallatin’s seniority and experience on the board made him the best candidate, and Miller was nominated by Raymond. At the end of the vote Gallatin took the presidency.
“I'm honored to have the opportunity to serve the community in a leadership position,” Gallatin said. “The board is a dedicated group of individuals who are committed to helping the children achieve their true potential through education while maintaining fiscal responsibility. We promise to do the best we can for the citizens of the Highland School District.”
During the nomination for vice president, Schuster nominated Miller for the position, while Friedel put Mott up for the vote. At the end of the vote, Mott took the vice presidency.
Election of president and vice president were both decided on 4-3 votes —Mott, Gallatin, Friedel and Lewis on one side and Miller, Raymond and Schuster on the presidential vote. The vice presidential vote was Mott, Gallatin, Friedel, Raymond on one side and Lewis, Schuster and Miller on the other.
Dena Henricks, a school district employee, will continue to serve as the board secretary. Henricks has served as the board secretary for nine years, she began serving in 2008.
The board approved the following as new personnel for the 2017-2018 school year:
▪ Billy Sullivan, fourth grade teacher at Highland Elementary School
“I am thrilled to see a young man at the elementary school level,” Gallatin said.
The board approved an overnight trip for the Highland High School boys basketball team to the University of Wisconsin.
The team will leave early in the morning June 15 to drive to Chicago to attend the White Sox and Orioles baseball game. After the game, they will leave Chicago and drive to Madison, Wisconsin, where they will check into a hotel. After arrival, the team will compete in a two-day team camp June 16 and 17. After the last game June 17, the team will travel home.
All of the trip expenses will be covered by the HBBA and high school accounts. The team camp will cost between $2,725 and $3,175, which will include tickets to the ballgame, hotel rooms, the cost of the team camp and transportation costs.
The board also approved bids for flooring services that will be done in Highland High School office.
The district administration receive two bids for flooring replacement. The low bid was $21,225 from Gould Flooring Services Inc. from St. Jacob.
According to the district Business Manager Tim Bair, the company has been used by the district in the past.
The plan had been to remove carpet to replace it with a mixture of new carpet and vinyl tile. However, the board decided that the best option would be to cut out the new carpet and just replace all of the flooring with the luxury vinyl tile.
This decision was made to increase the longevity of the flooring, with the hopes it will not wear as easily as carpet. The board member also agreed that the use of just the tile would create a uniform look in the school.
The board also approved a joint agreement resolution with the Collinsville Area Vocational Center. The agreement will be effective starting Sept 1, 2017. According to Sutton, this is something the district renews every year, in case a student wants to pursue a vocational program not provided by the district.