A former Mehlville Board of Education member and a former principal will serve as co-chairmen of the district’s community-engagement process.
Board of Education members voted unanimously last week to name Dan Fowler, who served three terms on the school board, and Jim Schibig, who retired in 2001 as principal of Beasley Elementary School, co-chairmen of the upcoming community-engagement process.
During his three terms on the Board of Education, Fowler twice served as president and led two ballot proposals to success — a $29.5 million bond issue in 1992 that improved the district’s facilities and added a new elementary school and a tax-rate increase in 1998 that enabled teachers’ salaries to remain competitive with neighboring school districts.
Schibig spent 29 years in the Mehlville School District and was a teacher and assistant principal before serving 15 years as principal at Beasley Elementary.
Interim Superintendent Jerry Chambers initially had recommended Fowler be named the sole chairman at the Jan. 17 meeting, but board members Cindy Christopher and Rita Diekemper expressed a number of concerns during a roughly hourlong discussion.
During the debate, Diekemper suggested that co-chairs be named, and board member Tom Diehl amended his original motion to name Fowler chairman to have Fowler and Schibig serve as co-chairmen. Board member Micheal Ocello, who had seconded the original motion, seconded the amended motion, which was approved 7-0.
Addressing board members before their discussion, Fowler recalled his nine years on the school board, saying, “During that period of time, we accomplished a lot and I’m proud of that, but we also had disappointments. We also made mistakes. I know I certainly did. And I learned from those mistakes and after I got off the board … I was able to serve as chairman of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Facilities. There is nothing other than picking a superintendent that is probably a greater responsibility of a board than to engage the public. And what an interesting thing that was for Mehlville. We learned a lot. We learned a lot that we already knew. We were told a lot of things we already knew. We learned a few things that we didn’t.
“Some of the things that we learned, we didn’t want to hear. But we needed to do it. The school district now is embarking upon a second time of a public engagement of the likes of which we saw seven years ago. I can’t think of anything that this board can do more responsibly than to move forward on that,” Fowler said. “I think that if you believe that I can help you, if I can guide you, I want to do that. I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth, and it’s been tough for me. I love this school district and, more importantly, I have four kids that went through here.
“There are over 11,000 kids that attend the school(s), and I’d like to get that taste out of my mouth. I’d like for the healing to begin. I think that as a board, former board members, community members, members of the press and the community at large need to come together for the betterment of 11,000 kids. And I’m willing to take that responsibility on because what a great way to leave, to leave that as a legacy…”
Diehl told the Call after the meeting that he “nominated Dan Fowler because he is a man of tremendous integrity and he knows how important the success of the Mehlville schools are to the lifeblood of this community. At the same time, he is an advocate for openness and demands accountability of our tax dollars.
“His track record in building consensus and motivating our citizens to be true stewards of our schools is without compare. I know Dan Fowler will reach out to citizens who may feel disenfranchised and cynical about public education and seek their opinions and ideas on how we can provide our children with the quality education they need and deserve,” Diehl added.
Ocello told the Call after the meeting that he was very pleased with the selection of Fowler and Schibig as co-chairmen.
Though he does not know Schibig, he said, “I’ve heard very good things about him. In fact, I’ve heard good things about him from Mr. Fowler and I think that it ultimately ended up being a wonderful choice. I think it’s going to bring the district together and give us some diversity to really have the opportunity to find out what people are really thinking and feeling in this district. And that’s what this process is all about.”
Of Fowler, he said, “I think Dan brings a tremendous wealth of experience to the district, and he got the experience from going through this process before. I think we’re absolutely fortunate to have him in that position … As much as Dan’s been an advocate, he’s also been a true critic when he felt it was justified, and I think that’s going to allow people to come to this engagement process and feel comfortable to be able to say what they really think. What we’re trying to do here is to hear the true feeling of what people are believing and feeling about the district as opposed to hearing what we want to hear.”
Chambers told the Call, “Obviously, I’m elated that Dan Fowler has agreed to once again serve the Mehlville School District. Dan’s record as a board member and as chairman of a past community-engagement process after he left the board speak for themselves. He is a community leader of immense knowledge and great following. His passion for the Mehlville School District has been unrelenting.
“He will be the first to admit that there have been times when he has been disappointed in the direction of the district. Yet, as he stated to the board in public session Wednesday night, he wants to get that bad taste out of his mouth by leading the Mehlville School District toward better times. Teachers and staff generally know Dan quite well. Many of them are veterans who have long memories and still recall and appreciate what Dan and other board members have done for the students and teachers of the district,” he said.
Of Schibig, Chambers said, “Jim is a former administrator of the Mehlville School District and someone who I have always respected. Though I have not known him well, I nevertheless feel that I do know him in a sense. There’s a great deal of fondness for Jim with the Mehlville family.
“Dan Fowler stated publicly that he looks forward to working with Jim and countless others as we strive together to create an atmosphere that will be good for the community, our students and our staff,” he said.
In a telephone interview, Schibig told the Call he was “deeply honored to be considered.” After talking to Fowler, he said he was “all pumped” and “ready to roll.”
Schibig added, “I love this district. I’ve got a lot of time invested in it and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”