Mary Kenny has been a member of the Summit Hill School District 161 Board of Education for so many years that she’s lost count — she guesses it’s somewhere between 25 and 30.
In the late 1970s, Kenny canvassed residential construction sites in the area, talking to families who were building their homes in the district, to create support for the construction of Indian Trail Elementary School.
She was the president of the Lincoln-Way Area Special Education District 843 Board of Education for more than ten years and she is currently president of the Summit Hill board.
During her time with District 161, enrollment has grown from approximately 1,200 students to 3,400 students.
For the first time in decades, Kenny’s name will not appear on the ballot in April. Her nearly 30 years on the board will come to an end after the election this spring.
Patch recently spoke with Kenny, and her fellow outgoing board members, Joy Murphy, Denise Wildeveld and Denise Lenz, none of whom are seeking re-election.
“It’s much easier to deal with a growing district when people are willing to support education,” said Kenny.
Frankfort Square residents today have a greater tendency to be retirees and people without children, said Kenny, as compared to the young families who moved to the area during her early days on the school board. This creates a challenge for the district, since fewer community members have a personal investment in local schools.
Summit Hill has had its share of challenges in recent years. The outgoing board members recalled the daunting task of cutting an approximately $2.5 million deficit to a deficit of $700,000 during the past year. Other hurdles the board members mentioned include a reduction in state funding, low teacher morale and an administration that Kenny said seems unwilling to admit to a need for improvement.
“We did the best that we possibly could do for our taxpayers,” said Lenz.
The board members also discussed the need to make tough, unpopular decisions during their time serving the district. Foremost among these was the vote to close Mary Drew Elementary School last February due to low enrollment, an event that evoked strong reactions from many community members.
“It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t fun,” said Wildeveld. “This is not a popularity contest.”
Outgoing board members also recalled a few of the most memorable accomplishments from their time with the district. The deficit reduction was discussed with both pride and frustration.
Wildeveld cited the district’s bullying prevention efforts and the implementation of the new summer bridging program as some of the board’s primary successes.
“Without affecting student programming, we were able to cut the deficit $1.7 million,” said Murphy.
In April, Murphy, Kenny, Wildeveld and Lenz will leave four open seats at the board table.
“I’m exhausted,” said Kenny. “It’s time for somebody else to pick it up.”
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