Northern IL school board president receives award - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Northern IL school board president receives award

(KFVS) -

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) selected John Smith of Meridian Community Unit School District 223 as the 2015 recipient of the Thomas Lay Burroughs Award, which honors an outstanding school board president in the state every year.

Meridian is located in Stillman Valley in northern Illinois and serves nearly 1,800 students.

Smith received the award Nov. 22 during the joint annual conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois Association of School Administrators, and the Illinois Association of School Business Officials in Chicago.

He was lauded as an exceptional leader who has helped Meridian set high performance goals, achieve financial stability, improve educational opportunities for students, and provide caring support to students and faculty during times of crisis.

Smith has served five years on the Meridian School Board, including three as president.

During his tenure, Smith called for and oversaw a comprehensive strategic planning process that reaffirmed the district’s mission statement, created four strategic objectives, and identified 11 core values.

Under Smith’s direction, the board set a new, ambitious goal for Meridian to achieve as a top district nationally.

This goal-setting led the board to change the district’s grading scale and grading system to attract students to more rigorous course selections.

His first act as board president was to organize and conduct a search for a new superintendent after the district experienced four superintendents in three years.

Smith decided the board should complete its strategic planning process before starting the superintendent search.

Though others initially rebuffed this decision, Smith believed board members needed to know what type of person they wanted and what direction they wanted to pursue before seeking a new leader.

Smith was also instrumental in addressing a severe financial crisis that plagued Meridian.

When Smith became board president, the district faced a $1.4 million deficit budget.

He subsequently led the district through massive cuts, including reducing its staff by 10 percent, eliminating junior high school athletics, and dramatically changing the district’s busing system to help save nearly $1 million.

Smith also led the board to replace a $2 million bond issue with a $1.25 million tax referendum that passed.

The referendum allowed the board to reinstate junior high sports and pass a surplus budget this fall. 

Smith is also committed to enhancing educational opportunities for all students by encouraging board members to become personally familiar with every alternative placement school for students.

Smith helped create a local marker for students to be considered college and career ready through achievements such as enlisting in the military after high school, earning a job certification, or successfully completing an Advanced Placement or dual credit course.

This marker allows the district to direct programming and supports so all students are equally valued within all improvement efforts, Caposey said.

ISBE created the award for school board presidents in 1991 to honor Thomas Lay Burroughs, who served as chairman of the State Board of Education and the Board of Education for the Collinsville School District. The award recognizes extraordinary educational leadership at the local level, including leadership:  on behalf of improved student learning and educational excellence; in resolving a crisis or major difficulty; and on behalf of equal education opportunities.

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