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Longtime South Whidbey school board member Fred O’Neal resigns

By KATE DANIEL
South Whidbey Record Features and Education
August 29, 2014 · Updated 2:53 PM
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Fred O'Neal is resigning from the South Whidbey School District school board, a decision he announced at the Aug. 27 board meeting, after three terms. / Ben Watanabe / Record file

Fred O’Neal, a longtime South Whidbey School District board member, handed in his resignation at the school board meeting Wednesday night.

O’Neal distributed his typed letters to each of the board members while playfully reciting the Lewis Carroll poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”

“The time has come,” O’Neal said.

Board member Steve Scoles, who has served on the school board with O’Neal since early 2007 and who has known O’Neal for about 23 years, said that, to him, O’Neal’s resignation was no surprise.

“It was time for him to move on and spend more time with family who are out of the state,” he said.

In his letter, O’Neal, who served on the board for four years in the 1990s and for the past seven years, cited “family circumstances” as the reason for his resignation, specifying that his resignation may be made effective at any time between Aug. 28 and Oct. 21, dependent upon when Board Chairwoman Linda Racicot deems an appropriate date.

In a phone conversation Friday morning, O’Neal explained that his daughter, whose husband is a military doctor, recently moved to Niceville, Fla. when her husband was given orders to relocate to Eglin Airforce Base. O’Neal said the frequent school board meetings would impair his ability to visit his daughter and grandkids as often as he would like.

Superintendent Jo Moccia said the board will seek candidates who reside in the Freeland area to fill the vacancy by a majority board appointment. The interim school director will serve until the next election in November 2015.

Throughout his term, O’Neal was a steadfast supporter of innovative and new teaching techniques and of implementing technology in the classroom.

“He has worked harder than anyone on the board to move away from the standard of ‘seat time’ education towards one of ‘mastering skills and knowledge,’ ” Scoles said.

Scoles added that “it has been a pleasure” to work with O’Neal.

“He is an inspiration and mentor to all of us, I think,” he said. “His shoes will be hard to fill.”

O’Neal was a legislative representative for the board, working as liaison with the Washington State School Directors’ Association Legislative Assembly, and had been working in education for over 40 years.

When he joined the school board seven years ago, O’Neal said, the largest hurdle for the district was finding the right superintendent, someone who could improve student success rates and combat the problems associated with declining enrollment. Selecting Jo Moccia, O’Neal said, was one of the best decisions he took part in for the district.

“Moccia is everything we wished for and we are making really good progress,” said O’Neal.

He added that, despite the continued declining enrollment — which he said is due in part to the influx of wealthy retirees on South Whidbey and the financial difficulty for young families to afford life on the island — student success rates have improved, something the board members did not necessarily think was possible.

“As we’ve gotten smaller, we’ve gotten better,” he said.

The largest hurdle for the district in coming years, he said, is finding experienced staff to replace the teachers who will soon retire. With declining enrollment came the necessity for staff cuts over the years, he said, and like most school districts state-wide, layoff decisions were based upon seniority.

“As a result we have a very experienced senior teaching staff, but the downside of that is they are going to start retiring. Our biggest challenge is replacing those positions with really talented people,” he said.

O’Neal said that although he may be resigning from his voting position with the board, he still plans to volunteer and attend workshops when possible.

“I have found my service on the board and my interactions with the board members, staff, students and public [in that activity] to be satisfying and enlightening and I leave with some regret,” wrote O’Neal in his letter which was read aloud at the meeting by Damian Greene. “However, freed from the responsibility of scheduled meeting attendance and participation in the business of the district, I intend to remain involved to the extent my changing circumstances allow.”

Linda Racicot said the notice was “received with sadness” during the board meeting and thanked him for his long service. Damian Greene, who read O’Neal’s resignation letter aloud, concurred that “many accolades” are due O’Neal.

 

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