District 197 chairman retires

At the Nov. 2 school board meeting, Mark Spurr was recognized for his years of service to the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan School District. (submitted photo)
At the Nov. 2 school board meeting, Mark Spurr was recognized for his years of service to the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan School District. (submitted photo)
Mark Spurr chaired his final District 197 School Board meeting on Dec. 21. (submitted photo)
Mark Spurr chaired his final District 197 School Board meeting on Dec. 21. (submitted photo)

After eight busy years, Mark Spurr retired from the District 197 School Board.

Spurr served two terms on the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan board, starting in 2008, and chaired his last meeting on Dec. 21.

He says the district’s dire financial situation and lack of academic focus drove him to make his first bid for elected office. 

“I was, and remain, a strong proponent of public education, but believed that the district was adrift educationally and was not being managed responsibly from a fiscal perspective,” says Spurr, 61, who lives in West St. Paul.

He felt his business experience and communication skills could help the district improve its financial situation and also facilitate the sharing of information with District 197 staff, parents and residents.

In January 2012, the board members chose Spurr to chair the board. At that time, he says the board was successfully transitioning into a governing body that was willing to ask hard questions. 

“I felt that I had the leadership and communications skills to help guide the district to evolve toward a future that was focused on student achievement as well as fiscal responsibility,” Spurr says. 

During his tenure, District 197 was in a period of change, both financially and academically. In 2008, the first year Spurr was on the board, district enrollment was 4,365, which was the lowest it had been in many years.

And in his first term, the school board faced painful budget choices due, in part, to declining enrollment. But as more young families with children moved into the district, and other families decided to enroll their children in public schools, the trend began to reverse itself.

By 2015, enrollment was at 4,905 students, a 12 percent increase from 2008.

His most important decision

It was in his second term that Spurr says the school board had the opportunity to exercise its most important job: the hiring of a new superintendent.

Spurr says “hands down” one of the biggest accomplishments of the board during his tenure is the hiring of Superintendent Dr. Nancy Allen-Mastro in 2012.

Spurr says hiring people can be tricky, and when interviewing Allen-Mastro for the district’s job, he thought she “was too good to be true.” 

“She has proven to be an outstanding leader and has succeeded in making real progress in changing the ISD 197 institutional culture to focus on results,” Spurr says.

Spurr and Allen-Mastro worked closely together, and she says he has the ability to see the bigger picture while digging deeper into details.

She believes a superintendent can’t be successful without the support of the school board and vice versa.

“We’re very dependent on each other to do good work, and so I think the ability to lead the board in the way he did has made it possible for our district to be very successful in a variety of senses,” Allen-Mastro says.

Spurr was always focused on how to make the kids successful, she adds. 

Feeling confident about the future

For over 30 years, he has worked as an energy consultant focused on systems that use local energy sources to supply local energy needs.

He says he decided to not seek another term on the school board because this time-consuming role was taking time away from both his family and his business.

But he’s quick to add that he will miss the people and the working relationships he formed through his role as a school board member, and is convinced he’s leaving the district in good hands.

“I feel very confident in the executive leadership of the superintendent and her team, and in the governance abilities of the new board,” he says.

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at staffwriter@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7824. 

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