ILLINOIS SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL
Taking the reins...Varied experience brings Eddy to IASB leadership
by Roger Eddy
Roger Eddy became the sixth full-time executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards on July 1, 2012.
If I hadn’t injured my arm playing baseball at Northern Illinois University, my career path might have been different than teaching, coaching, school administration, the Illinois Legislature and now the Illinois Association of School Boards.
Then again, I knew after trying out in the Florida leagues that I was not destined to be the major league pitcher I once dreamed of being. It was fortunate for me that when I went to college to play baseball, they made me go to class.
I tell you this so you can begin to understand why I am so excited about being at IASB and so passionate about education and the mission of the Association.
I came from a very modest upbringing in Newark, Illinois, about 30 minutes southwest of Aurora. My dad worked for Caterpillar and my mom mostly stayed at home with her five children while volunteering for the Salvation Army. Newark was a small community where you knew everybody and everybody knew you. I met my wife, Becca, when I was a junior high crossing guard and she was the new girl in school.
As I said before, my ambition was to play baseball, but after two years at Joliet Junior College, an arm injury and while obtaining a degree from Northern Illinois University, I took a job as baseball coach at Highland Community College in Freeport, Illinois.
In 1981, I began my teaching and coaching career at Hutsonville CUSD 1 in Crawford County. We arrived in Hutsonville, me with my ankle in a cast and Becca six months pregnant. I’m sure they wondered what they were getting into!
I spent seven years in Hutsonville as a teacher and coach, but I lost enough games that they made me high school principal. I was high school principal for three years. We loved Hutsonville because it was the same type of close community that Becca and I had loved in Newark.
By this time, we had three children — Matthew, Lisa and Brenda — and even though we loved the community, when my mom’s health worsened, I applied for and was hired as a principal in Watseka. Living in Watseka allowed us to be much closer to mom and dad while mom recovered from a heart operation. We spent five years there and added two more children — Beth and Jessica Jordan (J.J.), who was born the year of the Bulls’ second “three-peat.”
Mom’s health improved and after five years at Watseka, I was lucky enough to be hired again in Hutsonville. I was going back as superintendent. While I had other offers at that time, I knew our children would get a good education in a safe, nurturing environment by moving back.
Ten years ago, my life as a superintendent took an unexpected turn when I was asked to run for state representative in the 109th district. Although I had served on the city council in Hutsonville, I had never thought about being a state rep before.
One of my first questions was: Can I still keep my job at the school district? I have always believed in the concept of citizen legislators, and I wanted to be a practical voice for education. I won a contested primary and then won in the fall election. I was now a superintendent and a legislator!
But if it had ever come to a question of one or the other, there is no question I would have picked education.
If people call me biased during my time in the General Assembly regarding education, they’re right. It’s because I believe in public education so much. Public education is a pillar in a democratic society and must provide an opportunity for all children. As we strive to improve education in this country and in Illinois, it has to be better for all.
As an example, when I returned to Hutsonville, they had been sending many special education students to schools outside the district. When I came back from Watseka, which had a good mainstream program in place, we started bringing our special ed kids back into the district. Not only that, we ended segregation of special ed students in our buildings by mainstreaming students not only in classes but in the hallways, locker assignments and the lunch room. Now almost every special education student is housed at Hutsonville. We even remodeled an outdated shop building into an autism center.
Another example of trying to make public education better for all is the 2012 Illinois Education Reform Act. While I was a co-sponsor of SB7, I also realize that implementation of this reform act will take years to accomplish. I believe we should be able to evaluate teachers based on students’ performance, but it is much easier said than implemented in a practical manner. We need to get it right, maybe just not right away. There is great potential in this reform act; the challenge will be fair implementation of the act over the coming years.
The state board is trying to provide guidance, but rules and regulations can only go so far as the law will allow. However, the basic philosophy of performance rather than benchmarks is a good shift in public policy.
NCLB proved that we can improve, but all kids are not the same. That’s because we teach children with souls; we don’t make widgets.
Now to IASB
People assume and have asked me if I will be lobbying the legislature in my new role as executive director of IASB. That is definitely not my intention in coming here. My legislative background is the icing, it’s not the cake.
I came to lead an organization that has proven leadership and an important role in supporting quality governance in local schools.
Early on in Hutsonville I had a veteran board … an excellent board. As new board members came on, I encouraged them to attend IASB training, division dinners and conferences so that they could understand their role as a board member — what it is and what it isn’t.
New training mandates for school board members present challenges as well as opportunities. One challenge that IASB has embraced for a long time is to be proactive instead of reactive … by looking into the future and providing programs and training before boards even realize that they will need them. And it will be a challenge for districts as well as the Association to find funding to meet the new mandates.
I also believe veteran board members will see this as an opportunity to instill a renewed passion for what they do.
Just as with school districts, human resources are the most important thing the Association has. As I meet and talk with each employee one on one, I am finding varied backgrounds. I am also finding passionate and dedicated individuals striving to meet the mission of IASB. That’s so important for this organization. It will be a challenge to maintain that and find people who share the same passion for their work when we need to hire someone.
The IASB board of directors was very clear during the interview process that it was interested in leadership to support IASB’s mission: excellence in local school governance in support of quality public education.
When I read the qualifications for the job of executive director, I felt that my combination of past experiences were the perfect blend to lead this organization in the future. But I also realize that I come from an administrator’s background, and I really need to come to a new understanding of the board’s perspective. As such, I plan to attend some of the many board training opportunities IASB has to offer.
We need to be the best cheerleader for public education. Board members who last have a passion for public service and they care about the children in their local communities. I’m so appreciative that people are willing to serve their communities as board members.
As we continue to hear negative comments regarding public education, we need to support initiatives that reinforce local control and show public education is doing a good job. At the same time, we need to support public policy initiatives that hold schools accountable to their communities.
Unfortunately, sometimes we limit the creativity of school districts with public mandates. The best ideas seldom come from the legislature. They often come from the schools themselves.
Public education is still the great equalizer and today’s technology can provide even greater access to quality education programs. Wherever we are now in technology represents a mere thimble of what is possible. There’s more potential out there than ever.
It is my sincere hope that a continuing theme for IASB will be to ask individual school board members what they want and how the Association can support them in their work.
I thank Dr. Michael Johnson for sharing his historical perspective of the Association and its work over the past few months during this transition. I also look forward to reconnecting with the leaders of the other educational organizations — IPA, IASA and Illinois ASBO — and attending as many division meetings and workshops as possible to get to know all of you and the wonderful work that you do.
My wife and I both come from families of five children and we have five children. Those are big families by today’s standards.
Your Association staff members treat each other as a big family as well. And I’m honored and proud to be part of this new extended family.
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