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Thomas Waskiewiecz to leave Hadley school board

  • Tom Waskiewicz has served on the Hadley School Committee Committee for 22 years.
  • Tom Waskiewicz who is not running for Hadley school committee reelection.
  • Left Sharlene Jenkins and John Arrighi of Northampton, fight off the cold Thursday morning while waiting for the bus in Northampton.

On Thursday he announced that he will not seek an eighth term in the town election on April 9. Waskiewicz, 57, joined the committee in 1987, serving a year of an unexpired term, and first ran for the seat in 1991.

Since then, he estimates that he’s attended more than 660 committee meetings, plus contract negotiation sessions, Parent Teacher Organization meetings, and an occasional Select Board or Finance Committee meeting. He said he’s loved every minute of it.

“You’ve got to love working with people and have an open mind so that a variety of opinions can be expressed,” he said. “You need a sense of being committed to a cause. It’s like a 24-hour-a-day job. I’m always thinking about what I can do to advance the Hadley schools.”

It is highly unusual for a School Committee member to serve more than 20 years, said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. The average is six years, he said. Waskiewicz may be the longest-serving School Committee member in the Pioneer Valley, he said.

“A lot of people give it up sooner, because of the stress and the demands of the job and because of the difficulties in all the decision-making,” Koocher said. “It takes an extraordinary degree of patience with the political process. One needs to be able to deal with frustration and constant challenge.”

Over the years, Waskiewicz, whose day job is western Massachusetts 4-H educator, has served three terms as School Committee chairman. The most controversial issue he’s dealt with was the building of a new elementary school, which was approved after multiple votes in the 1990s, he said. In 2009, he was re-elected despite undergoing intense criticism for supporting a new contract for then-Superintendent Nicholas Young.

Even though Young left to become the South Hadley superintendent last year, Waskiewicz has no regrets over his support for him.

“He was the consummate professional,” he said. “I’d take a million hits for him any day of the week and I believe he’d do the same for me. I never had a second thought about that. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

One factor in his decision not to run this year was Young’s departure, he said. “Our goals and vision meshed in making Hadley the gold standard for schools,” Waskiewicz said.

Another factor was that since 2009, he has not had children in the Hadley schools, he said. “When your kids are in the school system, you’re there on a daily basis,” he said. “You really have a much better feel for what’s going on on a daily basis. It’s more difficult if you don’t have a child, and you have to make an extra effort to swing by.”

Waskiewicz, said he wants to spend more time working on his family’s farm, raising additional acres of asparagus and putting new roofs on two barns. “I’m a big believer that the future of Hadley is in asparagus,” he said.

He also wants to focus on developing a self-guided audio tour of the Hadley Farm Museum. The museum has raised money for this project through sales of the “Hadleyopoly” board game, he said.

Waskiewicz said one high point of his 22 years on the committee was the call he got from Young three years ago with the information that the Hadley schools had been cited for achievement in academics by U.S. News and World Report. Hadley students have done well on state standardized tests despite the fact that the district spends much less per pupil than the state average.

“We have a good sense of what’s important, and have a strong tradition that permeates academics and extracurricular activities,” Waskiewicz said. “There’s a sense of seeing everything through and paying attention to detail that permeates the school.”

As 4-H educator, Waskiewicz works with hundreds of volunteers and thousands of youths from age 5 to 18 in 75 4-H clubs in the Pioneer Valley.

“Tom has been a steadfast booster for the Hadley schools and an advocate for children in Hadley,” said Robie Grant, the School Committee chairwoman. “His many years of experience gave him a special perspective on the schools, which I hope he will continue to share with us.”

Molly Keegan, who is vice chairwoman of the committee, lost to Waskiewicz in her initial campaign for a seat in 2009.

“He should be commended for his dedication to public service,” she said. “It’s always hard to replace that level of experience on any committee. For that he will certainly be missed.”

The Hadley schools are going through a transition time, with an interim superintendent, an interim principal and new athletic director at Hopkins Academy, the town’s high school, and a second-year principal at the elementary school. Waskiewicz said he’s confident that his home town is embracing change while also honoring its traditions.

“I make a point to stay connected with the schools,” he said. “When I walk into the hallways, I still see a lot of positive energy. There’s a lot of confidence and excitement, and with new challenges come new opportunities.”

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