Sixteen years of school board service

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Marge Gannon thought she would only serve three years when she was first elected to the St. Maries school board.

When she steps down at the end of June, she will have served for 16 years, which makes her the longest serving trustee according to records.

After 16 years of serving as a trustee on the St. Maries school board Marge Gannon will not seek re-election at the end of her term this year. Mrs. Gannon said she plans to stay involved in the district through other avenues. She said she appreciates the community for giving her the opportunity to spend as many years as she did on the board.

After 16 years of serving as a trustee on the St. Maries school board Marge Gannon will not seek re-election at the end of her term this year. Mrs. Gannon said she plans to stay involved in the district through other avenues. She said she appreciates the community for giving her the opportunity to spend as many years as she did on the board.

“I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into,” Mrs. Gannon said. “I thought, ‘it’s one meeting a month, how hard can it be?’ I didn’t know at that time that it is not just one meeting a month.”

Mrs. Gannon initially decided to run in 1999 after she was approached by a trustee who would not be seeking the seat for the district in which they both lived.

“I was interested in schools, loved education and my family had really pushed it. I thought I would serve for a few years and I could say I got to do that once and it was a way I had served my community,” she said.

However, the more she learned about her role as a trustee, the more she began to understand the impact she could have on the direction of students’ lives. Her perspective changed and Mrs. Gannon began to pour herself into her work.

“I really had a passion for it,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve been as passionate for a career or foster care as I was for this. The exception is for my children and grandchildren, but I had the most drive for this.”

During her tenure, Mrs. Gannon witnessed several changes. Some of the biggest changes were in curriculum, graduation requirements and new policies on bullying and technology.

“Most of them were good changes,” she said. “We do have to think of teaching in a new way. It was hard for some to accept than others as we didn’t grow up with it. When I first started on the board, computers were used very little, but now they are used for everything.”

One of the most challenging years for Mrs. Gannon during her tenure was in 2008-2009 when the state cut school funding.

“That was one of the saddest things to go through,” she said. “The state pulled back and cut funding for schools and we had to depend more and more on supplemental levies. The financial crisis created mistrust between staff and the board. It was difficult.”

Mrs. Gannon recalled a meeting back in 2009 that lasted until the early hours of the morning.

“We didn’t know if were going to have to let anyone go, we didn’t, but we had to reduce benefits,” she said. “I thought about walking away, but my daughter said to me this is when the school needs you the most.”

Learning to read a school budget and all that it entails is something Mrs. Gannon has come to understand.

“When I started, I thought we have to pay for books and teachers. I didn’t understand what a budget was or all that it entailed. The scope of what needs to be paid was overwhelming, and still is,” she said.

While funding has always been a problem, Mrs. Gannon said it was also challenging at times to work with others. Mrs. Gannon said during the 16 years on the school board she “really learned to listen for the first time” to other points of view.

“You may not agree how you got there, but when you left you were supportive of each other because you were a team like it or not,” she said.

The most difficult issue to deal with as a board member was that of student discipline. She added the board’s response to discipline has changed, which has been positive.

“Rather than discipline, we wanted to find ways to work with a child so we could keep them in the education system, but still let them know there are repercussions,” she said. “We’ve learned in the last six or seven years not to expel unless of course it’s a situation where that is the only option.”

Despite the challenges of disciplining a child, it was rewarding when that child would succeed.

“To be able to hand a student who had come before us with a disciplinary issue a diploma really affected me,” Mrs. Gannon said. “It was probably the most heartwarming thing.”

Throughout her time on the board, Mrs. Gannon said she has worked with “some of the finest people ever.”

“I worked many years with Superintendent Dave Cox and he was my mentor,” she said. “No matter what came at him he always kept his cool. He taught me how to act and not to react. I will be forever grateful for that.”

She added Karen Robinson, board clerk, does a great job for the board and helped her keep a schedule. Mrs. Gannon said Superintendent Joe Kren really helped her understand policy and to write good policies for the district.

Mrs. Gannon said she is confident in the future of the district because of the people behind it. She said those on the board work hard and care for children. She said she is excited to see two individuals interested in her seat, which is up for re-election.

While Mrs. Gannon remains confident in the people behind the St. Maries school district, she is not very optimistic about funding for schools. She said she would like to see education be more of a priority for the state legislature.

“They have to make education important again; it hasn’t been for a number of years. A good educational system is what will keep young people, bring people here and bring in business,” she said. “The state must make it a cornerstone; instead it’s considered an enemy and is torn down by so many.”

Mrs. Gannon said it has been an honor to serve for so many years. She said she plans to stay involved in public education in other ways.

“I am so thankful to the people in this community who believed in me and gave me the opportunity to do this for so many years and to complete it,” she said. “It’s very humbling.”

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