Vermillion Sings Tom Craig's Praises Tom Craig accepts his School Board Member of the Year award from Gov. Mike rounds. (Photo by Bill Kelley/Lifetouch) Tom Craig didn't want to be front page news. He wasn't looking for recognition.
Even now, after he has stood in front of 500 colleagues to accept Associated School Boards of South Dakota Outstanding School Board Member of the Year, after he has received his award from Gov. Rounds and after he has fought against his humility to form a smile for the cameras, he still doesn�t think he deserves any attention.
�I�m very surprised,� Craig said. �I don�t think there�s anything special or unique in what I�ve done. Other school board members do the same things I do � there are plenty of worthy people out there.�
Sometimes, unsung heroes choose to stay unsung. Unfortunately for Craig, the choir could no longer be silenced.
Compelled to lead
In the mid-�90s, Vermillion School District was forced into an all-too-familiar situation. Facing decreasing financial support in combination with increasing operational cost, the district began discussing budget cuts. This time, co-curricular activities were lined up in the crosshair.
Knowing intuitively what research eventually came to support, Craig decided to run for school board to protect extra-curricular activities. �Co-curricular activities are extremely important to the education process,� Craig said. �Looking at the amount spent on those activities, you see an excellent return on investment. You can�t simply choose to ignore that.�
When Craig joined the Vermillion School Board, he wasn�t looking to lend a hand � he aimed to lead. His first year, he served as vice-president. He�s been president ever since.
Focus in the face of
Surrounded by perils associated with declining revenues, fluctuating enrollment, and degrading facilities, Craig�s attention remains centered on a single concept � providing students with the best possible education.
�It�s quite evident Tom views his mission as making decisions in the best interest of students. He consistently articulates that mission at board meetings, committee meetings and in any school-related discussions,� board vice-president Nick Merrigan said.
During Craig�s tenure, the Vermillion School District has been forced to surrender more than $1 million, or 15 percent, of its budget. �Tom has guided the board through several rounds of budget cuts. Through it all, he kept student needs the top priority,� Merrigan added.
�To serve as a school board member is one of the most challenging jobs in the political arena,� Vermillion Education Association President Gary Culver said. �Tom has served Vermillion School District in an extraordinary manner, and he has always done so with student concerns foremost in his mind, and he will continue to do so in the face of the difficult challenges lying ahead.�
A grass roots approach
Craig is quick to credit the community and its commitment to education for any district success. In his modesty, though, Craig fails to mention that his dedication in including the community provides the foundation for involvement.
�Tom frequently engages in conversations with local citizens about the school system,� said Vermillion Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Ketcham. �He listens to and accepts what they have to say, and he acts on the feedback he receives.�
The Vermillion School District, like many South Dakota school districts, had to ask the community for financial support in excess of what the state defines as the maximum tax liability a community should be asked to contribute to education.
The first time the opt-out was put to a vote, it failed.
After an unsuccessful campaign, many districts go back to the community the next year and ask for less money. Not in Vermillion. Not under Craig�s leadership. Craig made it clear that the district asked only for what is needed to provide students with a quality education � an additional $800,000 per year.
When the school board decided to try again, Craig made sure that the community was allowed to take ownership in the process. The Vermillion School Board challenged the PTA to gather 1,000 pledges prior to putting the opt-out on the 2005 ballot. �Pledges, not petitions,� Craig said, �carry weight on election day.�
Craig credits the PTA for a successful opt-out. �They took the ball and they ran with it,� Craig said. �The grassroots support generated by a dedicated PTA was pivotal.�
Vermillion PTA President Paddy Rosadil is quick to return praise. �Tom worked hard during the process. He gathered support, answered questions at several informational meetings and made sure the PTA understood budget projections.�
While grateful to the community for committing its tax dollars to education, Craig isn�t satisfied. �The opt-out process isn�t sufficient,� Craig said. �The money is only committed for five years � it�s a short-term solution. A lack of adequate state funding is the primary problem. If it�s a state problem, the solution has to come from Pierre.�
To ensure the state government is aware of the community�s educational needs, Craig invites his local representatives to school board meetings and into schools, and he personally meets with Vermillion�s state legislators anytime the opportunity arises.
Last year, Craig and other board members took it a step further � they traveled to Pierre to lobby for increased education funding. �We didn�t just voice our concerns with our representatives, we shared them with anyone who would listen,� Craig said.
A final attempt at
�I am grateful and humbled,� Craig said of winning ASBSD Outstanding School Board Member of the Year. �Any recognition I receive should be shared with my fellow board members, the administration, the staff and the community.�
It�s true � a successful school district is a team effort. But, behind every team is a motivated, focused leader.
�Tom is an example of what a board member should strive to become,� Merrigan said.
�He is certainly worthy of this honor. You will find no one with more passion for serving Vermillion School District,� Culver declared.
�Vermillion is very fortunate to have Tom Craig serving on our school board,� Ketcham added.
�Tom is a tremendous asset to our school board and is truly dedicated to providing the best education for Vermillion�s children,� Rosadil said.
Sing it, brothers and sisters. Sing it loud.