As smiles and clapping filled the room, Gary Pierson was sworn in as a new Director of the Clayton School Board after six years of campaigning.
Filling the position previously held by Dr. Maripat Gatter, Pierson’s opportunity to become a member of the Clayton School Board was presented in the unexpected leaving of Gatter in an unusual relinquish of position.
“This is an unprecedented situation, so the first thing we do is refer to our policy on unexpired term fulfillment BBE-1,” President Kristin Redington of the Clayton Board of Education said. “Administration and board leadership meet to discuss the next steps and to make sure we create a procedure that is both as objective and fair as possible, while following the policy.”
The procedure to elect a new board member is an extensive process which requires hours of work from all of the board members.
“We chose to make rubrics based off the application questions and the interview questions, to help the board members organize their thoughts and to help them make a decision on ranking the candidates,” Redington said. “Characteristics such as commitment, involvement, board experience, vision and professional experience may be considered.”
On top of both formulating an election procedure and going through the files of each applicant, the decision of choosing the best candidate is by far the most controversial and challenging aspect of the election process.
“Our democracy depends on effective local governance and individuals willing to serve their community through public service,” Redington said. “We were fortunate to receive five strong applications and have had to make difficult decisions to get us toward an appointment.”
Though Gatter’s resignation was somewhat of a sudden change, the decision stemmed from something deeper than simply a lack of time.
“Everyone talks about how much time is involved with being on the board. But until you really try to fit it into your life it is very difficult to appreciate that it is not only the meeting themselves which are frequent and long, but the preparation for those meetings and then that would be doable but then on top of that there are multiple committee responsibilities always added meetings on different topics or executive sessions,” Gatter said.
Gatter, who is a full time emergency room doctor, had to make the challenging decision to step down from her position on the Board. With hundreds of hours of meetings, topped with research, all after a full work day, it became impossible to give her position the amount of time required.
Although she is no longer on the BOE, Gatter’s respect for both the Board and interest in the well-being of the Clayton District remains high.
“I think a good education can make all the difference in a life and I believe that we owe that to not just our own children but to our broader community,” Gatter said.“I think it was just too much time for the impact that I felt was helpful.”
Following Gatter’s resignation, the election for her vacant position was won by Pierson, a resident of Clayton since 2010.
Having worked as an attorney for various different law firms throughout his career, Pierson has moved around relatively frequently and was drawn to Clayton because of the strength of the Clayton School District, which his children attend.
“We moved to Clayton in 2010,” Pierson said. “We were living in another area of St. Louis and we wanted to move to Clayton because the Clayton School District is really good and we really wanted the kids to be a part of that.”
Upon moving to Clayton, Pierson decided he wanted to use his career expertise to become more involved in the community.
“Everyday in my legal practice we are solving problems and we are helping one client negotiate an agreement with another party and working with their attorney to figure out ways to meet everybody’s needs and wants and come up with a deal,” Pierson said. “Making something happen that everyone wants. That skill is applicable to the Board of Education. And I enjoy the process of making deals and figuring out to come to an agreement on something.”
Applying to become one of the Directors of the Board of Education is not merely an overnight decision.
“Over about a year’s time I learned a lot about the Board itself,” Pierson said. “I talked to a lot of people about it. I did a lot of preparation and I am a lawyer so I read the policies and statutes that decide what the Board does and that was part of my process in deciding if I would be interested in being on the Board.”
Pierson believes that looking to the future and laying out potential goals and aspirations as the newest member of the BOE is crucial in becoming an effective contributor.
“You have to have the mindset of how can we improve today? We are always getting better. It’s not either you are there or you are not. It’s either you are here or you are not there yet,” Pierson said. “Whatever we are now we celebrate, but what are ways we can get better and having more happen with what we have?”
The idea of looking into the future is also held more closely to Pierson, given that his position is only temporary. Because he is only standing in for Gatter, Pierson’s term will expire in April 2017, the same day Gatter’s term would have officially ended.
“I discussed with my family that I was going to fulfill this term and make a decision in a few months on what to do from there,” Pierson said. “I don’t want to sit back to get involved until I know I have three years, I want to do what I can and get involved now.”
Ultimately Pierson is excited to be part of working in whatever way he can to make the District stronger and better.
“We have some really good people here: teachers, administrators, students, and I love and am excited to be a part of that, Pierson said. “It is really cool to support them and say, ‘How can I help with what you are doing?’ It is an honor to do that.”