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San Angelo - For Max Parker, the road to serving as a Trustee for the SAISD Board of Education started in his hometown of Comanche, watching his father serve in a similar way Parker has served for the past eighteen years.
"My dad was on the school board in Comanche for around nine years. During that time, the school board was sued twice, which became significant for two reasons. One. I remember asking my dad, 'Why do you stay on the board when you're getting sued?' My dad said, 'You can be on the outside and throw stones, or you can be on the inside trying to make a difference and that you should try to make a difference.'"
The second reason Parker's father gave him was that he believed that it's the parents who have children in the school district who should step up.
That is what Parker did in early 2005 when the school board, led by Julia Stout, who was resigning before her term was up, asked him if he would be willing to serve if appointed. Parker's children were current students in the district, and he even had experience serving on the school board for Angelo Catholic School for six years when his children attended that school.
Still, when he expressed interest in serving, he had no idea he would serve for 18 years.
Parker recounted many successes in that time period on the board but said that the most important, by far, was the school board's hiring of Dr. Carol Ann Bonds to serve as superintendent in December 2006.
"When I joined the board, I took part in training out of town. At one of those training sessions, a statement was made that said the biggest decision you may have an opportunity to make if you're on the school board is hiring a superintendent. Because if you hire the right superintendent, it's going to make your job much easier on the board. So I was fortunate to have that opportunity, and we hired Dr. Carol Ann Bonds. That statement came true once we hired her; she made a big difference in our board, school district, and in our community now. And so that was not only an important decision, the most important decision that I was able to participate in, but I'm very proud to say I was one of those that helped bring her here."
One of the ways Bonds helped make the board's life easier was by changing how the board worked. When he joined the board, Parker said it was dysfunctional in many ways. Board meetings occurred once a month, and meetings starting at 5:45 PM would often last until 11:45 - 12:45 in the morning.
Under Bonds, however, a pre-agenda workshop meeting was enacted where the school board would have a meeting a week before the regular meeting to talk about what would take place a week later. According to Parker, that change helped make the board become more efficient and gave them more time to serve the community better.
Parker also said Bonds helped for another critical reason: she helped prepare and groom Dr. Carl Dethloff to replace her before she retired, so even though she retired in 2015, her legacy has continued through her preparation of him.
Regarding challenges for the upcoming school board, Parker mentioned that the facilities issue will always be the biggest one in his view. Four bond elections were held during his time serving on the board, with only one (the 2008 bond election) passing. Of those bonds, his biggest disappointment was the 2017 bond election.
"We lost the 2017 bond election by two votes. And that would have really would have been very helpful to our school district and our community to have because it would have repaired or renovated the facilities that were not touched by the first bond passed in 2008."
When it came to the issue of more parents getting involved, Parker mentioned that he was encouraged by the recent showing of San Jacinto parents who showed up to school board meetings to try to save their school. He said that it was democracy in action.
"If parents will keep the board notified of things that they're concerned about, come to some of our meetings or send letters. Not just complaining, but just questions. What about this? What about that here or here? Some suggestion here is that that that helps give us guidance of at least what parents are thinking.
But we need that parental input. So, if somebody wants to run for the board, parents should be encouraged to run. If they would like to say we'd board, 'we'd like to be more active. How can we be more active? What committees are our projects can we help you with?' We could certainly be able to put them to use there also."
Up until earlier this year, Parker had yet to decide on running for re-election. His children have all graduated from college, so he had lost a pulse of what was going on in the schools from them but still had so much experience, what he jokingly referred to as a "catch-22."
However, he met with people who might run for his seat and learned that Kyle Mills, a physician, was interested in running. When Mills told Parker that he planned on running even if Parker decided to run again, Parker told his wife he knew it was time. He is excited about what Mills will do and mentions that Mills and his wife are both Central graduates and that Mills has no real agenda other than just doing his best for every student in the district.
Still, Parker is proud of his service on the board and even experienced some things he would not have been able to if he did not express interest to Julia Stout in 2005. For example, he never expected he would have the ability to be on the stage for all of his children's high school graduations, yet, he was able to do just that because of his service.
"One of the joys of being on the board that I had never thought about, I never dreamed it would be possible. But I was on the stage for all five of my children graduating, and I got to hand them their diplomas, and even when I did in 2005, gave my son Grant his diploma, I never thought I'd do all the other four."
While he may not see it, Parker has left a legacy of excellence for his five children AND every student who has gone through the district during the past eighteen years. When one tells the story of San Angelo, one cannot truly tell the story without mentioning the service Parker has given to SAISD and the community, as a whole, in these last eighteen years.