With Chairwoman Reed retiring, “a full plate” ahead for Board of Education

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Allen Haugh

Board Chairwoman Mary Grace Reed (third from left) presides in the October Board of Education meeting. Reed's term as Chairwoman will end in January 2016.

Allen Haugh, News Editor

When Board of Education Chairwoman Mary Grace Reed first announced that she would not be running for re-election at the Democratic Caucus earlier this year, it surprised many, even those who worked with her.

“I was shocked, certainly. Knowing how much she loves the district and how much she loves serving on the Board, I was surprised. It’s certainly a loss for the Board and the town,” Board member Bill Beckert said.  

“It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever made, for myself and my family,” Reed said of the announcement, which came during her 24th year on the Board of Education.

Since being first elected to the Board in 1991, she has served as Chairwoman twice, from 1994 to 1996 and from 2006 to today.

During that time, Reed helped steer the governance of the Board, which is responsible for crafting district policies and budgets, as well as the evaluation and hiring of new superintendents.

Those responsibilities were on display when she first rose to the Board Chair. That year, Superintendent Bill Strike retired amidst a nationwide economic crisis that led to severe budget cuts and intense debate among the community about cuts to be made and restored.

“I probably had the two most difficult budget years in those couple of years. That was my first time as Chair. It was a crisis budget, a transition with a beloved Board Chair, B. Stockwell, retiring, and so they probably had enough of me,” Reed recounts. She lost the Chair position two years later.

From there, she served as a Board member for 12 years, working with fellow Board members on other initiatives, including the establishment of the alternative high school for at-risk and struggling students.

“The alt school really is a tremendous program because it helps make sure we’re serving the needs of all students. Through the history of the program, it’s developed to really meet the specific needs of the students,” Principal Bill Silva said.

 After the 2005 elections, Reed was returned to the majority and the Chair seat. Reed has led the Board to produce balanced budgets and to keep the district moving towards its mission and goals. Through the entire process, she has been lauded for her inclusive, consensus-building leadership style.

“Mary Grace, her leadership style can be summed up in one word: collaborative,” Beckert said. She strives to develop consensus, she strives to make sure everyone has an opportunity to be heard.”

As she settled into her second term, she once again faced the crises that happened in her first, as the bottom fell out of the economy again and Superintendent Villanova stepped aside.

“It was shocking. There was a part of me that really wondered, if you believe as I do that God has a plan for you, maybe this was part of the plan. It’s awful ironic; it was not lost on me that history was repeating itself and that I was the girl that was in the same position,” Reed said.

The second time around, the Board again had to make painful cuts, laying off upwards of 30 teachers after union negotiations failed. The district is still in the process of recovering the cuts, but there has been considerably less community backlash than in the 1993-4 budget cycle.

Reed is proud of her accomplishments, but acknowledges that much remains to be done.

“If a school district is moving in the right direction, the plate always has to be full. When one thing comes off, another thing comes on. One of those priorities has to be the high school renovations. The BOE must put an intense focus on the facility, and it has to be the support of the community. Everybody has to come together and recognize it,” Reed said.

In recent election cycles, the Board has faced some tumult with the exit of member Shawn Curtis earlier this year, as well as some partisan divisions that emerged during the past budget cycle. That being said, as she moves towards her retirement, Reed remains optimistic that the Board will continue to govern effectively without her.

“I am confident that the Board will come together behind the vision that all students will achieve at high levels,” Reed said.