Mary Rita Luecke, left, and Mary Erickson retired last week from the District 65 School Board.

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On May 4 Mary Erickson stepped down from the District 65 School Board after serving almost 12 years. Mary Rita Luecke stepped down after eight years of service. Both Ms. Erickson and Ms. Luecke served terms as president of the Board.

During their tenure on the Board many changes took place in the District, sometimes marked by rancorous debates at the Board level. Some of the many changes include: adopting new reading and math textbooks; beefing up reading intervention programs; implementing and expanding the Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program; implementing the African-Centered Curriculum (ACC) program; adopting the Tomlinson model of differentiated instruction; introducing technology mediated instruction into the schools; increasing the focus on meeting the needs of students with a disability; increasing professional development; constructing a new administration building/early childhood center; upgrading the school buildings.

In thanking Ms. Luecke for her service, former Board member Jonathan Baum said, “Through eight long years, she maintained her commitment, often in the face of merciless criticism, always unfailingly civil and constructive. Never did Mary Rita simply oppose or criticize. She was always trying to build, not tear down. If there was a bad idea on the table, she offered an alternative. If there was a good idea, she tried to make it even better. And, in all this, her exclusive focus was on the children she was elected to serve.”

Lilian Zecker told Ms.Luecke, “You demonstrated the integrity, the tenacity, the commitment, the compassion, and the courage that are the brand of a true leader.” Recounting that Ms. Luecke dreamed of a language academy, pushed for a top-of-the-line math program, supported the implementation of curricular changes more in tune with the way kids learn, pushed for more and better services for students with special needs, as well as other initiatives, she said, “Throughout your tenure on the Board, we liked that you believed that excellence is possible.”

Addressing Ms. Erickson, Dina Berne said, “My familiarity with school politics began when meetings were weekly and ran into the wee hours of the morning and the conduct could be quite controversial. However, Mary you always conducted yourself as a true professional and respected your role as a Board member. It was never about a personal agenda or ambition, but rather the community and ensuring that the District stayed on topic academically, as well as remained financially sound.”

Lisa Kupferberg, joined by former Board members Walter Carlson, Rosie Reese, and Greg Klaiber, said, “Mary [Erickson] has the passion, the commitment and the drive to serve all of the children in District 65 and that is exactly what it takes to be an effective Board member.” Mr. Klaibor added that the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center was built in large part due to Ms. Erickson’s efforts.

Other Board members praised both Ms. Erickson and Ms. Luecke. Katie Bailey listed some of the initiatives in the last 12 years and said, addressing both Ms. Erickson and Ms. Luecke, “The decisions you guys have made have made a difference in my children’s’ lives and in our community.”

Superintendent Hardy Murphy, pointed to “rising student achievement” and “financial recognition” from the State, and said, “Together we have accomplished great things for our students and our District.”

Addressing Ms. Luecke, Dr. Murphy said, “I see your approach as one filled with a passion for insuring that our policies and practices were set to protect staff and student rights. I’ve seen in you an understanding of the democratic process that I can only hope to observe as superintendent.”

Dr. Murphy told Ms. Erickson, “You’ve been an anchor for me. You kept us from losing our moorings. And you’ve been a compass, which I’ve used to test the direction in which we’re headed.” He added, “You will be remembered for the good works that you’ve done for District 65. … You’ve made me better in everything I do as superintendent of this District.”

Ms. Luecke said, “We are fortunate to live in a progressive community that is so committed to high quality education. … We are also fortunate to have such dedicated and hardworking teachers and staff.” She summarized the progress that had been in the last eight years, and said, “If the District and its leadership keep their sights firmly planted on providing a high quality education to every child in our schools, I have no doubt that the District will continue to move toward the lighthouse district we claim to be.”

Ms. Erickson spoke highly of parents, teachers and the administration. “I hope that parents realize to trust in our District. We have some wonderful professionals, we have some tremendous teachers.” She added, “The District is not only challenging children but also nurturing them, and making sure that our children are not just intellectually prepared but also that our children are emotionally prepared and very secure in their own identities.”

Dr. Murphy presented a gift to Ms. Luecke in honor of her service on the Board. He unveiled a painting of Ms. Erickson, by Sally Baker Keller, which he said will hang in the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center.