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Keenist resigns; replacement sought



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April 23, 2014 - The Oxford Board of Education is seeking to appoint a new board member in light of the announcement at the April 16 board meeting that Trustee Bill Keenist was resigning from his position effective May 1.

Interested applicants can e-mail a "letter of interest" to Supt. Dr. William Skilling at William.skilling@oxfordschools.org or stop at the Central Administration Office located at 10 N. Washington Street. Along with the letter of interest, applicants will also need to include a resume and an explanation of why they want to serve on the board and what unique qualities, such as expertise or experience they may have to contribute to the board of education.

The deadline to send a letter and information to the superintendent is 4 p.m. on Friday May 2, 2014. The board will have a special meeting on May 12 at 6:30 to interview and fill the board vacancy.

Skilling said Keenist will be a "big loss to the board" as well as to him personally.

"He was an excellent outside the box thinker and was willing to assume risks to help move the school district forward. These are fleeting qualities in today's world where many people in positions of leadership would rather play it safe," Skilling added. "He was a great confidant to me personally and I learned a lot about media relations through his advice and experience."

He also said that Keenist was a "guiding force during the difficult challenges the district faced during the worst economy in our lifetime."

"I am really thankful and appreciative of the time I had working for him as he served on the Board of Education," Skilling added. "I will greatly miss him."

Why resign now?

Keenist said as the final year of his term, which is up in November he had come to the conclusion that he probably wasn't going to run again. However, after a health scare last November, which landed him in the hospital for four days, due to heart issues, his reason to not seek re-election became clearer.

"It (my heart) turned out OK, but it was pretty sobering," noted Keenist.

Along with the health issues, he also has had an "increasingly difficulty balancing between his commitments at work as the Senior Vice President of Communications for the Detroit Lions and his role on the school board.

"It's been this way every year I've been on the board," he said. "Once training camp starts it's a seven day a week deal (for me).

Another factor Keenist said for deciding not to rerun is because he no longer has kids as students in school.

"I'm not saying it's a prerequisite because it certainly isn't, but the majority of the board members that I've served with serve when their children are in the district," he noted. "Our youngest child is now college, so that also is a consideration."

Thoughts on resigning

In some respects Keenist said his time on the board has "flown by," in other's "it's been forever."

Keenist understands what it is like to be appointed, having done so in June 2009 after a previous board member had decided to resign before their term was done.

"I know from my standpoint that was increasingly beneficial to me, because that experience for a few months was enlightening. It didn't tell me the whole story obviously, but it really did give me an insight into being a board member that I wouldn't have realized otherwise," he said. "It did ultimately convince me that I did want to run and I did want to serve on the board."

"While every era has its challenges," Keenist considers his time on the board "a unique one," because of financial crisis he and the current board had to face due the extreme economic conditions.

"It's forced districts to rethink how they approach public education with the paramount desire of keeping students and teachers first," he said.

Given the task of weathering the storm, Keenist said he now has a "different appreciation for public education" and "sees the importance of serving on the board and having the right board in place."

Being on the board also gave him greater respect for those in the classroom.

"I leave with that profound appreciation for the teachers of our district," he said. "They are the unsung heroes when it comes to public education."

Another critical part to a child's education is parents, he said.

"The education process starts at home and that's critical. Parents don't underestimate the impact you can have on your children with respect to education," he said. "Helping the teachers out at the lower levels, volunteering with schools and with programs, that also makes a huge difference."

Advice to board

As the board looks for a replacement, Keenist advised the key to any team, which he sees the board as, is "not to have seven like-minded people," with the exception of being like-minded in placing priority on students and teachers.

"You want seven different people who are going to have seven different perspectives and not going to agree on everything," he added. "Because if you agree on everything than you only need one person."

Keenist believes debate is healthy, but believes that there should be a consensus reached by the board at the end.

"I do believe it is important to have a consensus and we've reached that a majority of times," he said. "But that doesn't disguise the fact that we've had behind closed doors a lot of debate, which I think have been very healthy."

The challenge

Keenist threw the challenge out that if anybody thought they wanted to make a difference then to run for school board and he would "applaud anyone who ran."

"It's easy to stand on the sidelines and cheer or boo," he added. "But when you're in the game so to speak it's a totally different perspective."

"The worst reaction is apathy. As long as people care that's a good thing. It doesn't bother me that they've been critical or they support what I've done or what we've done (as a board,)" Keenist continued. "The most important thing is they do care and have an opinion. The next step is to transform that into action."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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