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Reich, Dr. Aaron, School Board Recognition Month
Posted in on January 11, 2024

Q&A with Dr. Aaron Reich

January is School Board Recognition Month, and we want to spotlight our Board of Trustees and all the great work they do. This year the theme for the month is “Locally Elected, Community Connected.”

Today, we’re catching up with board member Dr. Aaron Reich. Reich is the longest-tenured member of the board, having served since 2009.

What does it mean to be the longest-tenured board member? 

It means I have a unique perspective to share from having had the privilege of serving with so many previous collective boards, their performance, their actions and outcomes. To me, my tenure means I have the responsibility to share my collective experiences with my colleagues in a respectful and non-condescending way. I’ve seen a lot, done a lot, led a lot, invested a lot and continue to do so, but more thoughtfully, perhaps, than in earlier days. Translated, I offer perspective and suggestions after letting the others take the lead on thoughts and approaches. I feel this is a great board with each member having their own strengths and gifts. Listening to them first while they exhibit their talents is very important to me. It helps me to learn and grow. Then I can provide bits of information or perspective and then all of us, as a team, develop the best approach for success moving forward. Out in the community, I am often approached by people with admiration and respect for having done it for so long which is honestly very humbling to me. I really appreciate the kind words and support. At the same time, many look to me to be the one to make sure the board continues to be high-performing for the district and community. That’s a lot of weight and perhaps a false expectation. For me, I am just one of seven or part of the team of eight to ensure our employee, the superintendent, is successful, which in turn means the district and students are successful. To me, this is part of exemplifying good governance at all times.

Has the role of being a school board member changed in 15 years?

I don’t think the role of being a board member has changed in 15 years’ time because the fundamentals of being a board member, in my opinion, are still the same. We must serve as the conduit between the community’s expectations of the district and holding the district accountable and helping the district attain goals to meet the community’s expectations. I do think the environment has changed in 15 years and the level of attention that school districts and school board members in general receive has increased dramatically, some of which is for the good, some of which is quite frankly a distraction away from keeping our eye on the ball of what is best to do for students. This, just as part of any situation, requires a board member to be adaptive and nimble to be successful while addressing those ever-changing environmental factors.

How much pressure did you guys feel to get the superintendent hire right with Dr. Smith?

Hiring a superintendent is the single most important responsibility of any school board team. I never characterized it as pressure, but getting it right required a very serious and contemplative process to make the best pick for the district and community. After all, it is a determination of who is the right fit as the CEO of a major enterprise who also serves as the face of the district internally to students, parents, teachers and staff and externally to the community as a whole. Our focus was on the process and to not let such a potentially mental and emotional strain derail us as a team. Getting it right was absolutely job one which could only be done by making certain we, as individual trustees, remained respectful of one another and our individual thoughts as we considered and deliberated.

Was there one thing that stood out to you about Dr. Smith that made you think this was the right person? 

Yes. Besides a great resume and pedigree reflecting skills and accomplishments, there were several character traits that stood out to me. He is very genuine and authentic with a sense of humor and a calm, unassuming demeanor which will resonate well in our community. The one standout is his meeting people where they are – student, staff, community member. In conversations with him, he brought this up, but his example was what stood out. He spoke of how he does not speak Spanish (which was a concern to me given my perspective of the need for this in our community). He said with his Spanish or non-English speaking population, those meetings are all in Spanish and he has a translator for him, rather than having the meeting in English and having everyone there use translator headsets. This struck me as such a simple, yet unique approach compared to most modern-day norms to truly meet people where they are at so they can be positively impacted the most for an optimum outcome. I feel he will have this approach for students, staff and community that will lead to tremendous advances.

The theme for the month is locally elected, community connected. How important is community support to you?

Honestly, our job is non-existent without community support. As I stated earlier, our main role as trustees is serving as the conduit between the community’s expectations for district performance. You absolutely cannot do this without being connected to the community, interacting with them and making sure my/our actions are aligned with those ideals as much as possible. Building that trust and confidence results in the support necessary to make the bold moves we have as a board and district over the years. Community support results in academic gains, voter-supported bonds and tax elections, and solidarity as much as possible during the trying times, all to ensure the success and safety of staff, students and the prosperity of the entire community in many ways. Over the years, it has been an absolute invigorating experience to get to know and develop relationships with so many people in our community. From just about every walk of life, whether in the district, parents, students, faith-based, business of any size, realtors, other government, political affiliation, race, etc., I feel confident and proud to have them reach out to me and the ability for me to reach out to them to get their perspectives, have their trust, connect with their network and have their support while working to make this a better place to live, work, learn and play.

Does the job ever get old or is it always different?

The job certainly never gets old. There is always something that makes it stimulating, challenging or empowering. I love being a trustee and having the privilege of contributing my little piece to something so much bigger than me. I love communicating and interacting with people inside and outside of the district. That is always dynamic. I find there is always opportunity to learn and grow as a person, as a trustee and as a leader from communicating with and working alongside others for a common goal. Regarding regular calendarized items such as budget, academic reports, program updates, and policy updates etc., each one of those comes with changes and nuance that require careful thought and analysis to ensure the district is headed in the right direction. Some may think it is a boring and mundane job from the outside. I can assure you it has never seemed that way to me, especially when you personally prioritize how important a job it is and how the actions and decisions impact thousands of families over generations long after we’re no longer trustees.