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School board chairman steps down mid-term

Vince O'Brien has withdrawn from the position of chairman on District 200's school board. (Submitted photo)

Vince O'Brien has stepped down from his position as chairman of the Hastings School Board in the middle of his third term. Vice chair Lisa Hedin was voted in to replace O'Brien as chairwoman.

O'Brien withdrew from his position on the board in order to pursue a new position out of state. He will be the executive director at the Colorado Continuing Legal Education. The opportunity just sort of fell into his lap, O'Brien said.

The executive director at the Colorado CLE was stepping down and called O'Brien personally to ask him to apply for the position. O'Brien said he wasn't initially going to apply, but then two more people from the company called him to ask him to apply. It was really flattering, he said.

On Dec. 21, O'Brien was offered the position and he accepted.

"A lot of the skills I used in chairing the school board...will come into play, and I get to grow and learn," O'Brien said.

O'Brien was elected to the school board three times. He was elected to four-year terms in the 2005 (serving 2006-2010), 2011 (serving 2012-2016) and 2015 elections. He just completed the first year of his third term. He said one of the highlights from his experiences on the board was conducting site visits at the local public schools. At the time, O'Brien said he felt it was important to do the site visits as a way to show support and awareness for what was going on in the schools. He conducted over a hundred site visits over the years and he said he was always amazed by what he learned and saw at each visit.

"What was wonderful to see in all those site visits was the engagement between the teacher and the students and the students and the students," O'Brien said.

Tim Collins, district superintendent, said O'Brien was always making sure the culture of the schools were engaging. He was invested and took the time to interact with all facets of the education system.

Collins said O'Brien was a big contributor to the school board, although most of his contributions were behind the scenes. He was very good at tossing ideas to Collins in a way that was open ended. Collins also recalls O'Brien's contribution to starting the Vision 2025 concept, which he said is a great way to engage the community and have annual meetings to check in. And with all the behind-the-scenes work and idea contributions, O'Brien would still offer to put himself on time consuming committees.

"Vince O'Brien was very committed to excellence in education," Collins said.

Transition

Collins said that every January the board talks about reorganization, so O'Brien's withdrawal came at a good time in the year. O'Brien said that he nominated Lisa Hedin as chairwoman at the school board's work session Jan. 4 because of both her experience and skills that make her a wonderful candidate. She was unanimously voted as the new chair after the nomination, according to Collins.

Hedin has been on the school board since 2012 and most recently acted as the vice chair before the board voted her to chair due to O'Brien's departure.

Hedin said it was bittersweet to be voted in as chair because it also meant that O'Brien was moving out of the district. She also had mixed reactions to the news. She said she was happy for him professionally but she also acknowledged that the board would be losing a great asset.

"He is such a fabulous resource for our district just in terms of his passion for education and his experiences having kids who've gone through the system and kids entering the system," Hedin said.

Although it wasn't planned and she is sad to see a valuable member of the board leave, Hedin said that the board had actually talked about turning the chair position over on a regular basis. They had noted the value in a regular change in the chair role. Regardless of whether or not O'Brien was leaving, Hedin said she thinks the board was getting close to turning the position over to keep people engaged and invested and allow for different perspectives.

O'Brien said that evolution in the school district is a good thing, so he has no doubt that the school board will continue to do well, but he did have some final words of advice.

"As we evolve with declining enrollment, nurture the best that we want to offer so that we can grow while we right size...so that we wind up with a district that everybody can feel good about and happy to be a part of," O'Brien said.

With only six of the school board's seven seats now filled, Collins said that the district will be seeking to fill the new vacancy. More information on that process will be available in the coming weeks.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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