It was Greg Lawrence’s night Tuesday, April 27, at the Homewood School District 153 board meeting as the long-time board member took his final bows and received accolades from staff and fellow board members.
Lawrence relinquished a seat he has held since 2005 to newly elected board member Broderick Booth, who after hearing the various testimonials noted, “I have some big shoes to fill.”
Board members thanked Lawrence for his mentoring and leadership, and several underlined the honest conversations they had over the years as Lawrence helped guide the district toward more diversity and inclusion.
Board President Shelly Marks noted Lawrence’s influence.
“When you came on the board we looked a lot different as a board and as a school district,” she said. “You helped make our district a much better place by your holding us to our commitment that all children will learn and all children will be served.”
Superintendent Dale Mitchell credited Lawrence’s leadership on the board’s personnel committee as key to improving the district. He said he considered Lawrence to be a mentor and almost like a big brother.
Lawrence thanked the board and staff for their praise and acknowledged that it was his mission to push for inclusion, providing a perspective the board and administration needed to hear, because hiring the best teachers, in his view, wasn’t enough.
“Kids deserve to be served by somebody that looks like them,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion. “Unless you’ve been on the other side, it’s hard to understand that.
“I had to fight that fight all my life. I had to always prove that I was just as good as anybody else, always had to put in the hard work to be accepted. It was hard work to earn all these accolades. It was joyous work, but it was hard work.”
He said he was grateful to find a place like Homewood, where people shared his values and were willing to act on them.
“I’m glad people listened to me, but more than that I’m glad that people understood and got it and walked the walk and took the steps to make that happen.”
The board and administration gave Lawrence a number of farewell gifts, including a copy of Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” the poem she delivered at the presidential inauguration in January.
But the most enduring recognition of Lawrence’s legacy might be the new award the board created in his honor.
The Homewood Way Award will be given annually to one volunteer from the community of each school in the district to “recognize outstanding volunteer efforts on behalf of the district community,” according to the resolution honoring Lawrence’s service.
“The Homewood Way” was Lawrence’s catchphrase in describing the kind of social environment the district should foster in schools. He gave credit for the idea to Willow School Principal Melissa Lawson.
“The Homewood Way actually started off as the Willow Way,” he said. “That was her way with teaching kindergarteners to respect each other and treat each other nicer, and we just adopted that as the Homewood Way. We figured if the little people could do that the older people could too.”
The call for nominations will go out on March 15 of each year, with nominations due by April 10. The board is planning to present the awards at its May meeting.
In other business, the board reorganized re-electing Shelly Marks as president, Alex Bosch as vice president and Deb Havighorst as secretary. Mary Kay Dunne was re-appointed as board reporting secretary.
Marks, who has been a member of the board for about 28 years, has served as president since 2001.
“I say it every two years. I don’t take this for granted, and I appreciate all the trust in me,” she said.
Members who were elected in April recited the oath of office, followed by the whole board taking turns reading sections of the board code of conduct.
“It’s a good reminder to all of us what our responsibilities are, whether we’re newly elected or oldly elected,” Marks said.