Friday, January 30, 2015
Jack Huisingh’s eight years of service as a trustee on the Holland Board of Education comes to a close with calendar year 2014. Huisingh says he steps away confident that the school district has strong, capable leadership and a bright future.
He readily admits that he was not feeling confident about Holland Public Schools’ prospects for enduring as a district of choice when he spoke out at a public meeting about snuffing out contentiousness and infusing teamwork.
“It seemed that trust between teachers, leadership and the community had broken down,” Huisingh said. “That was hard to take.”
Huisingh’s son and daughter, now both graduates of Hope College, both attended Holland Public Schools for their K-12 education. The Huisinghs shared the belief that HPS provides exceptional educational opportunities, and feared labor unrest could undermine quality if not appropriately addressed.
“After speaking out at that meeting, people approached me to say, basically, ‘Well, you do it!’ “ Huisingh said. “Community members and teachers were encouraging me to run for the school board. They believed in me enough to make it happen.”
Once elected to the school board, Huisingh said he discovered governance was even more challenging than he had imagined, largely because of severe economic pressures beginning about the time he came on the board. Home values dropped during the economic recession, which translated into less funding for schools. Enrollment declines paralleled area job losses. As the economy slumped, state officials downwardly adjusted per-pupil support for schools, occasionally after school budgets were set.
To complicate the transition, there were new curriculum mandates to meet.
“We do the best we can with what we have to work with,” Huisingh said. “It’s often a matter of making do and making it work.”
For that reason, Huisingh said his advice to current and future board members is to expect opposition from some corner on every decision, no matter how carefully considered.
The best prescription, Huisingh said, is open dialogue without becoming polarized in opinions. Finding common ground among opposing viewpoints is the only way to move an organization forward, he said.
Huisingh said he believes a shared commitment to keep HPS vibrant is now as strong as ever, as evidenced by voter approval of a bond proposal which has substantially renovated all district schools. HPS leadership under Superintendent Brian Davis, his administrative team, the school board, teachers and their leadership is much less contentious than when Huisingh joined the board, he said.
So, with the district weathering “quite a ride” and seemingly entering a period of relative calm, why didn’t Huisingh seek election to a third term?
“There are people who wouldn’t agree with me, but I really believe board members should have a vested interest in the district,” said Huisingh, who served as commercial new product development director for Ford and General Motors products at Prince Corporation and Johnson Controls Inc. for almost 30 years. “My children have graduated from Holland Public Schools. It’s time for me to step aside so other parents can step up to lead the district.”
Serving on the board requires a substantial time commitment, but Huisingh doesn’t expect leaving the board will leave him with lots of free time on his hands. Fourteen months ago, Huisingh was hired to be the executive director of the Holland Community Aquatic Center, a facility that is home to championship teams and champion swimmers, but has still struggled financially. Huisingh is working to grow non-aquatic fitness programming and memberships, and competitive events at the site to increase and stabilize funding derived from taxes. Because of Huisingh’s experience on the school board, these are not completely uncharted waters.