La Verne Magazine
"Education in La Verne"
In Service: Five Citizens Take On the Extraordinary Task of Guiding
by Robert Parry
photography by Scott Harvey
Dr. John Rieckewald
The Bonita Unified School District has been hard at
work trying to solidify its important place in the La Verne and San Dimas
community by setting standards for its employees. A big step in making the
district work is the local School Board, headed by Dr. John Rieckewald,
first-year superintendent, who is aided by Michelle McClowry, assistant
superintendent of business, Lonnie McConnell, assistant superintendent of
human resources, Lorna Horton, assistant superintendent of instruction,
and Joe Gullentine, assistant superintendent of pupil services. The board
is also guided by Board President Ed Jones, Vice President Diana Au and
Board members Robin Carder, Robert Olander and Bruce Colburn, all of whom
are active community members and act as a bridge between the district, parents
and School Board.
They filed into the room in an unassuming manner shortly after 7 p.m.
The five were clad in ways which seemed to reflect their character-a plaid,
outdoorsman's shirt; business suits; an elegant, yet casual pants suit;
and a "Bonita green" dress. On this Wednesday evening at the Bonita
Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting, there would not be any
dynamic decision making or personal judgment calls.
It has been a tough time, of late, at BUSD. Tawdry claims and packs
of lawyers have not made sitting on the Board the happiest of ways to serve
one's community lately. But on this night, the agenda was blessedly free
of such ugliness.
Ed Jones finished a turn in the president's chair of the board in
mid-December. With 7 years' experience, he is the second-most senior of
the Board members. A consultant for Ace Hardware Corp., with 26 years' experience
in the industry, Jones, 49, was motivated to run for the board in 1991 because
the District lacked fiduciary controls. He says he came to a problem district
which continues to have problems, but they are much-reduced in number and
Of the 44 people in the room, nearly one-third are listed as official
attendants on the agenda. They include five Board members, three student
observers and six senior members of the district staff.
The meeting began like most board meetings do. President Ed Jones, like
a medieval town crier, read aloud a list of disciplinary decisions made
in a just-completed closed session. Reminiscent of "Les Miserables,"
the culprit was identified by a number, his or her offense described and
the sentence (expulsion from district campuses, suspension, etc.). With
the corresponding vote, a young person's life was altered -- hopefully for
With a year on the board, Bruce Colburn is its junior member, having
been elected in November 1997. As part of the district finance committee
, he has learned much in his short tenure. Colburn reports he has found
more positives than negatives, and that some of the negatives have silver
linings. He has also been pleasantly surprised by the totality of the parental
and community involvement in the District's education process. Colburn is
a project manager for Southern California Edison.
The board is saluting employees who served well in the face of adversity.
Dr. John Rieckewald, district superintendent, presents award certificates
to staff members who aided a young student struck by a bus. Among those
recognized are the bus driver, school staff members who gave the child first
aid, and the district maintenance staff member who took pictures of the
accident scene for insurance purposes.
Minutes later, five young girls clad in matching sweatshirts declaring,
"Lone Hill Leadership," address the Board about the need for additional
rain shelters at their school. The staff and Board say they will look into
the matter, and the girls skip out of the building, having learned a practical
lesson about democracy, bureaucracy and perhaps gaining a dry place to sit
Diana Au is dean of the board and has been re-elected twice since
filling a vacant seat in October1990. She says she has seen a heightened
level of trust between employees and district administrators and is careful
to keep in mind that her role is that of a policy maker, not a day-to-day
manager. Au adds that her top priority is the welfare of children and their
educational future. She resides in La Verne and is a speech pathologist
in another district.
This is a special week for BUSD. It is Smudge Pot week. Two nights after
the meeting, the Saints of San Dimas High School and the Bearcats of Bonita
High School will have their own meeting on the Bonita gridiron to determine
who will gain trophy possession. Student representatives from the high schools
each slyly and yet prominently feature updates about their institution's
partisan activities for the week. Says the Bonita student: "This is
spirit week. Actually, it is more of an Anti-Saint week." Not to be
outdone, the San Dimas representative announces that the school is well
into "Anti-Green Week," complete with the "Green Police."
Each discusses accomplishments of students in fine arts and leadership,
as well as results from the just-past "Red Ribbon Week."
But the game captures the most attention. Jones deadpans, "I think
I've heard about that." Au points out the spirited color of her dress
while others make well-intentioned boasts about their favorite schools.
Robert Olander II
Bob Olander is a hard one to miss in the room. Though not physically
dominating, he is stocky and broad-shouldered, and his facial expression
shows that he means business. The Board members' attention seems to naturally
wander to him. When the agenda turns to the rivalry, his allegiance is clear,
as it is on his home answering machine which proclaims, "Go SD Saints
and Bonita Bearcats." Olander came onto the Board following the 1993
election and is an Orange County businessman.
The crowd has dwindled to fewer than half its initial number of 30.
A representative of Mt. San Antonio College wraps up a presentation on the
community college's programs for students and teachers. Some Board members
stare intently while others read distributed handouts.
Just under 45 minutes into the proceedings, the first matter requiring
input and deliberation from elected officials rolls up on the agenda. A
new date must be selected for the December meeting.
Soon, the meaty issues start flowing. Dr. Rieckewald and staff present
outlines of the revamped support program for new teachers. They discuss
a plan for class-size reduction in the ninth grade. With new state funding,
BUSD will be reducing freshman classes from an average of 32 students each
Robin Carder was elected to the board in 1995. She is known around
the District and community for her tireless efforts as a dedicated mother
and PTA member. It was this experience that motivated Carder to run for
the Board in the first place. Her guiding philosophy is that the students
"must always come first," especially in matters such as budget
All seem at-ease with each other and are on a first-name basis. Colburn
pulls out some staff-recommended decisions for approval. His concern (why
another bus company is needed for a stand-by list of transportation options)
is handled swiftly and approved within seconds.
By 8:12 p.m., the remaining audience consists of four people, including
two union representatives. Carder declares, "This is the first time
I'm proud to say I'm a member of the Board, because of the unions and their
participation," and adds that Dr. Rieckewald has much to do with that
Au says this has been her first period of fun on the Board in many years.
She expresses relief that the District is faced with decisions on how to
add staff; some of her first major decisions had been on laying off employees
to save $5 million, a decision she said brought her to tears.
By 8:20, the meeting chamber is vacant.
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