“I don’t know what’s been harder — 20 years of public service or surviving a heart attack. They’re probably one and the same.”
School board President Frank Montaño made this comment at last Tuesday’s board meeting after the district surprised him and fellow board member Barbara Gudwin — both of whom will step down as of the next board meeting, scheduled for March 5 — with a roughly 10-minute video tribute to their service on the school board. Montaño is finishing the second of two four-year consecutive terms on the board; Gudwin is completing one. They will be replaced by Lorraine Price and Susan Duncan, who will be sworn in by a judge before the March 5 meeting.
Montaño’s heart attack was referenced in the video during a segment in which former board members Mary Ellen Gonzales and Richard Polese recalled working with him, and Gonzales noted that despite undergoing quadruple bypass heart surgery, Montaño never missed a board meeting.
One pretty funny part of the video showcased board member Steve Carrillo, known for his succinct, to-the-point and sometimes amusingly barbed comments, debating with an empty chair representing Montaño — a reference to Clint Eastwood’s similar shenanigans during last summer’s Republic National Convention. Carrillo noted with respectful bemusement that he will miss Montaño’s penchant for debating issues at great length.
It can’t be easy serving as a board member because somebody is always going to not like you. I marvel at all the members’ ability to withstand criticism, questioning and sometimes disrespect from various community members. I’ve covered school-board meetings for just over three years now, and people look at me as if I am nuts (which I am) when I tell them I rarely find the meetings boring. You can see that the board members care about education and our students.
I asked the three student advisers to the board — Bree Hernandez of Santa Fe High School, Jose Rodriguez of Capital High School and Austin Tyra of the Academy at Larragoite — to weigh in with some advice for the two incoming members. Hernandez did not respond before my deadline, but Rodriguez said, “I would want to tell the new board members to always keep the students and staff of every school in the Santa Fe Public Schools district on their mind. You are representing a grand amount of people, and your decisions will affect each and every one of them.”
Tyra said, “A good board member is someone who will stand up for what they believe despite the fact someone might disagree. However, it is also important that board members stay open to other’s opinions and consider alternative methods to solutions.”
Gudwin said something Tuesday night that probably sums up the reason that people serve on the school board: “It’s been such an honor to serve as a representative of the school community. I just hope that some of my decisions will have a lasting effect beyond tomorrow.” Sometimes that hope must be enough.
Making bad schools good
I urge all school board members, superintendents and education advocates to google David L. Kirp’s recent opinion column, “The Secret to Fixing Bad Schools,” in The New York Times. His piece focuses on the incredible transformation from “bad schools” to “good schools” that educators in Union City, N.J., pulled off with a long-term strategic plan.