Two members of the Plano School District 88 Board, both of whom were appointed to their positions, recently attended their last meeting as board members. The departing board members are Paul Heller and Shalley Wakeman.
Heller was appointed in October 2006, elected to a two-year term in April 2007, and elected to four-year terms in April 2009 and April 2013.
Heller said he wanted to serve because his children were young (kindergarten and second grade) at the time and he wanted to be involved in helping shape what their school experience would be like. He said he decided not to run again because his oldest child is graduating from Plano High School this year and his youngest is a sophomore. If he were elected again, both children would be out of school by the middle of the term, he said.
“I know some people have the desire to continue serving once their children are out of the district, but that’s not something I wanted to do. I felt it was best to step down now. Plus, having been on the board for just over 10 years, it’s time for new ideas and new enthusiasm to join the board,” he said.
“When I joined the board, the district and town was very much in the midst of rapid growth. I was surprised at how much time we spent talking about property development and building fees,” he said. “Additionally, I had thought that I would only be interested in learning about the curriculum of the schools, but I found that I was very interested in the financial management of the district.”
Heller expected to attended a two- to three-hour board meeting once a month and maybe anadditional hour or so each month reading board materials. But he discovered they spent a lot more hours each month, particularly before the housing market slowed down.
“We were spending many hours talking about how to manage and pay for growth,” he said. He recalled that the first meeting did not end until about 11:30. And for the first few years, it was not uncommon to go past 10 p.m. and sometimes until after midnight. “But, we’ve gotten much more efficient since then,” he said. “It absolutely was time well spent. Anything I could be a part of that would help improve the education of children is time well spent.”
Heller continued, “I’ve really enjoyed working with all of the superintendents, administrators and teaching staff. Plano has a tremendous group of administrators, teachers and support staff. They are extremely dedicated and talented and I wish them all well as they continue providing an excellent educational environment for our town’s students to achieve.”
Heller said public office is probably not for everyone. “But if you feel called to do it, you should definitely try it,” he added. He said possible future board members should always keep the interests of the students at the top of the priority list. “And remember that education is more important than extracurricular activities, including sports.”
Wakeman, who was appointed two years ago to fill a vacancy on the school board, chose not to seek re-election this year. She brought 37 years of teaching experience, including 36 in Plano, to the board.
“I joke that I am a glutton for punishment, but I really felt that it was an aspect of the educational system I wanted to understand better, and I think I came away from the experience realizing that it is really much easier to be critical of a situation than to to take the time to understand how it works and why it works the way it does,” she said, adding, “I have a greater appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the school board members and the administration. They have worked very hard to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers and to make decisions in the best interest of the students and staff. I enjoyed being able to bring a little different perspective to the table.”
Wakeman said she came to Plano in 1978 as an English as a Second Language teacher. She taught first and second grades, while teaching bilingual third grade and serving as the district’s bilingual/ESL services coordinator for several years.
In the 1980s, when the economy took a downturn and enrollment decreased, she became a part-time coordinator and part-time teacher. She said Illinois was just beginning to recognize the unique needs of the students and training of teachers. As the population grew, the state became aware of students’ needs and the need for additional teachers, she said.
“Today the English Language Learners program has been updated and expanded. We know so much more now about learning a language than when I first began,” she said. Wakeman said officials today recognize the importance of being fluent and literate in two languages so the district is working to develop the Dual Language Program.
Wakeman said her biggest surprise was the volume of information and decisions needed to be made each month. She now has a greater understanding of the work needed to prepare a board agenda and gather information to keep the board informed.
“I probably spent more time this past year because I was involved with negotiating the support staff wage contract, which meant three to four additional monthly meetings per month, over several months,” she said.
She noted that the board’s recognition of the achievements of the teachers and students each month is important for the town and the district’s reputation.
Wakeman said all board members kept the students’ best interests in mind in every discussion and every action while being fiscally responsible for the district’s finances. “I felt all board members were able to raise questions and disagree without being disagreeable,” she said.
“My husband retired in June, and we are now needed to take care of aging parents. Also, we want to travel and spend more time with our grandchildren, so I chose not to run for re-election,” she said.