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School Board President retires

Orion Superintendent Marion Ginopolis takes a picture of Treasurer Jim Weidman and Mary Jo Burchart during her farewell party. Photo by L. Farrell (click for larger version)
December 19, 2012 - 12/12/12 was a special day on Lake Orion calendars, but it had very little to do with the coincidence of numbers.

For Lake Orion, it was special because it was the last school board meeting for President Mary Jo Burchart. She stepped down on 12/12/12 after 12 years of service to the community.

Burchart began with the school board in 2000, and has been president for the last two years. She leaves with fond memories and a full heart for Lake Orion and its school district.

She is especially appreciative of the citizens who repeatedly placed their trust in her. "Thank you for the opportunity to serve," she said. "It has been an honor and privilege."

Ever modest, Burchart downplayed her contribution to the district over her tenure. "Between staff and administration, the staff does the lion's share of the work, [so] while [progress] occurred during my tenure, I take minimal credit because it's a culmination of everybody working together"

Burchart had a kind word to say about everyone with whom she's worked, fully conscious of the dedication and passion staff and administrators put into their district.

Of particular note is the work done by the behind-the-scenes support staff. "They are the unsung heroes and do a lot of the work that's very important for the proper functioning of our district," Burchart said.

Heidi Kast, former principal at Waldon, and now assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, is the person she's known longest at the central office.

She's "a person who really does her job well," Burchart said. "She's passionate about it, and will do what she needs to do to get things done, at the detriment to her own physical well-being."

Burchart also spoke highly of assistant superintendents Larry Lobert and John Fitzgerald for their excellence and the support they've given her.

Superintendent Marion Ginopolis has also provided tremendous leadership. Burchart said she has been invaluable in placing Orion schools where they are today.

"I'm so appreciative of Marion's insight and experiences that she brought to the district. The cabinet that she has put in place — John, Larry, and Heidi — is amazing."

As she reminisced on her time with the school board, student graduation was at the head of her list of fond memories. "Graduations are the culmination of what we do. I always enjoy participating in those and being able to congratulate students on what a fine job they did in school before they leave us and go off to college and careers."

Another point of pride for Burchart, and unique to Lake Orion schools, is the award ceremony for Lamp of Learning. This program treats academic all-stars to the spoils usually reserved for student athletes, she said. "We give acknowledgment to students who have a 3.5 GPA and above. We treat it like we do athletics. They can get a letter, they get pins. It's a reward for high academic achievement."

Another fond memory, one that has been particularly instructive for Burchart, was her experience with the opening of Oakview Middle School.

"I had been on the new middle school committee, and then was on the bond committee that got the bond passed that allowed us to build Oakview. I got to see it from start to finish which was great."

Other accomplishments she lists are the Freshman Academy, the concept of "teaming" inaugurated at the middle schools, and, more recently, Lake Orion's placement on the AP honor roll.

"We're doing things that benefit students and their ability to compete with others for college positions and for careers," Burchart said .

Burchart is also conscious of not always meeting the mark for which she aimed. "Every decision I've made, in hindsight, can I say that all of them were the best? No. However, at the time I was making those decisions, I always did my best to have the most information that I could and to make the best decision that I could make based on the information that I had. I always wanted what was best for students and so I tried to learn from those mistakes that I made too and not make them again."

She may not have enjoyed some of the controversial decisions, such as the decision to privatize custodial staff, but insists she did the right thing.

She laments the waning influence wielded by locals over school matters. "Lansing is trying to take away local control of schools and it's become more and more frustrating to be a school board member, because you get told more things than you get to decide anymore."

This fact, coupled with the increasing politicization encroaching into supposedly non-partisan board positions, influenced her decision to refrain from running for another school board term.

"My whole point of being on the school board was that I wanted to serve my community. It's been a privilege to do that, but I think there needs to be folks who have different gifts than me because I'm just not a political animal."

Her son and daughter were poised to enter their fourth and first grades, when Burchart joined the school board. They've since graduated, and Mom is very proud of their accomplishments. But she said she's viewed all Lake Orion students as if they were her own.

"I've always treated all of the kids in the district kind of like they are mine and have made my decisions that way. Some of the cuts that I've had to make earlier in my tenure affected my kids as much as or more than other kids, so it was never a matter of [them] getting special treatment because Mom's on the school board. I got an earful a couple of times."

Burchart has no immediate plans, and is in a wait-and-see mode. "There is an initiative beginning at Blanche Sims (Blessings in a Backpack) that I'd like to get involved in it because it's very important for all of our students to have the best chance to do their best. For me it would be a logical thing to do.

Otherwise, she said she'll always be ready to lend a hand should the schools need her.

"I'm still going to be a cheerleader for our schools. I'll just be doing it from another vantage point. I've already told many of the administrators that I've seen if you need any help with anything, let me know. I'm not walking away from the district. I'll be there to help when needed."

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