When Marjorie Rich was elected to the Traverse City Area Public Schools board of education in 2007, she and Megan Crandall, also elected that fall, were in the vanguard of a quiet revolution that saw the board expand and upgrade class offerings, address student flight from the district and improve communication with parents.
Since then, as voters chose a number of like-minded board members, the district made steady progress in key areas while weathering continued cuts in state aid.
Rich, who served two years as board president, has announced she will resign effective Jan. 1 to concentrate on her job as coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center’s Doula Teen Parent Program.
Rich and Crandall were part of a surge of interest - and criticism - after the school board voted in July of 2007 to close Bertha Vos, Norris and Glenn Loomis elementary schools in 2008. Rich and Crandall were representative of a crop of young professionals who got involved and began a slow evolution from the days when the board was largely controlled by former trustee Gerald Morris, board president from July 2002 to December 2007.
Since then voters have added five other members who remain today: Gary Appel, who was named to the board and then elected in 2009 along with current board vice president Julie Puckett and two-term board president Kelly Hall; and Erik Falconer and Scott Hardy, both elected in 2010.
During the board’s tenure the district has emphasized much-needed language programs, has expanded and solidified its Montessori offerings, has created an international baccalaureate program and recently signed a student exchange agreement with a Beijing-based education group.
The board also pushed through an anti-bullying policy in the face of angry resistance from a small but vocal group that claimed the policy somehow promoted a homosexual agenda.
There have been stumbles. Voters have twice rejected bond issues to continue the district’s ongoing elementary school reconstruction program and there has been criticism of the China outreach efforts.
But this is a more forward-looking, more accountable board than 10 years ago, and Rich was a big part of the transition. Perhaps the board’s biggest challenge has been dealing with ongoing cuts in education funding. The aim all along, board members said, was to keep the cuts out of the classroom, and they’ve had success.
All that progress can go away without a new crop of smart, committed citizens willing to run for the board and do the work.
Candidates for Rich’s seat can follow guidelines on the board of education section of the district’s web site. Hall said candidates will be vetted and interviewed in public; officials expect the seat to be filled by Feb. 1.