By Ralph Echtinaw
The average age of the St. Louis school board took a dip Monday as 31-year-old Billy Bosquez was appointed to finish the term of Jeff Baxter, who recently resigned.
Board members Kelly Bebow, 57, Carrie Salladay, 45, Carrie Beeson, 50, and John Pavlik, 50, interviewed Bosquez and fellow applicant Marcy Bissonnette, 51, Monday, June 20, before deliberating for 15 minutes and voting 3-1 for Bosquez. Salladay was the sole board member to vote for Bissonnette.
Board members were impressed with both candidates but went with Bosquez (in part) on account of his youth and the fact that he has elementary-age children.
“I think we can benefit from someone who’s younger,” Bebow said. “I’d like us to diversify our group and get younger parents (on the board) who are in the lower elementary buildings… to get their perspective.”
Bebow called Bissonnette, a parapro with the Gratiot Isabella RESD, “the safe candidate” who “has all the right answers because she’s seasoned and knows what goes on.” Whereas Bosquez is “very naive and doesn’t have a clue.” Nevertheless, she added, “I would like to see him in the district somehow.”
Bebow’s only concern with Bosquez is that “he’s passionate about mentoring and being a positive influence and family, family, family. I’m not knocking that in any way. (But) we are limited in what our abilities are. I don’t want him to be disappointed when we can’t do some of the things (he wants to do).”
Pavlik said Bosquez’s “repetitive topic of family, family, family strikes a chord with me. He’s had some tough challenges doing what he does. That would be a great asset (for the school district).”
Bosquez has been a graduation and career coach with the Institute for Excellence in Education in Mt. Pleasant since September 2021.
Before that, he and his wife Sarah were house parents with the Baptist Children’s Home in St. Louis for six years.
“We were relief house parents from September 2015 to June 2017,” he said via email. “We were primary house parents from June 2017 to July 2021. As relief house parents, we would provide primary house parents with their monthly time off by staying at the group home for four or more days to care for their group home children. As primary house parents, we moved into a BCH-owned group home and ran the home like we would our own family home. My wife, myself, and our biological children lived with our group home children 24/7 except for when group home children went on home visits or when the relief houseparents gave us our monthly time off.”
The Bosquez family includes four biological children and three former BCH charges; Benjamin, 17, Udter, 15, and Karson, 14. “We consider them our nephews, and they refer to us as Uncle Billy and Aunt Sarah,” Bosquez said. “We also cared for Moses while at BCH, but he graduated from SLHS in May of 2021 before the Children’s Home closed. He moved out of our group home while we still were working there and now lives in Mt. Pleasant, where he works. Moses is also part of our family and he even spent his time off over Christmas with us at my wife’s parents’ house.”
Bosquez was quietly composed when board members interviewed him. He took 5-10 seconds after each question to organize his thoughts.
He said the biggest challenge in the schools is dealing with kids from “broken families.”
“It’s important to me that St. Louis public schools is a place that’s serving children well.”
As a school board member he said he will “represent the community to the schools, cast a vision for students and set up systems and structures to help monitor vision and progress and hold the schools accountable.
“I’m systems minded. I like systems. My wife says too much. But I like to be organized and methodical and have a repeatable way of doing things.
“I know the power of having a positive adult influence. I’d like to see an emphasis on mentoring students in a holistic way and not so much an educational focus.
“I think the school board should be responsible for holding staff members accountable to the vision and the systems and policies of the school district but should do it in a supportive way.
“You may have heard the phrase ‘You become the average of the people you surround yourself with.’ So I’m trying to surround myself with people who will bring my average up a bit.”
Might not run in November
That said, Bosquez won’t commit to running for election in November when his term expires. “I was attracted to this particular opportunity because I knew that the position was only until November,” he said. “I assumed that the expectations for a board member who is filling a six-month term would be quite low, which would give me the freedom to observe, ask questions and learn. There is about a month until the filing deadline for Michigan school board candidates to be included on the November ballot. I plan to ask questions and learn more about my role as a board member over this next month before deciding whether or not I run for a full term school board seat this fall.”
Possibly adding to Bosquez’s appeal was that, when asked if he had questions for the board, he asked what drove each of them to become school board members.
Salladay said she ran because the district laid off a “phenomenal” kindergarten teacher whom her son and daughter loved. “Why are we cutting the first line of resource to our children instead of looking what other options are out there?” she asked rhetorically. “And that’s what motivated me to join the board.”
Bebow said she was encouraged to be a write-in candidate 20 years ago and said, “Sure. Whatever. I’ll do it. Nobody’s going to win as a write-in candidate, right? And here I am 20 years later. We’re very vested in the community and we want to make sure we have all the opportunities for the kids. They need to be ready to go on to the next phase in life. That’s why I stuck around, I guess.”
As for runner-up Bissonnette, in her interview she said: “I would like to see more communication. I would like to see more parental involvement at board meetings. I’m a good PR person. I’me very loyal to things I believe in and I will talk them up and try to get people to go along with it.”
However, she recognizes that motivating parents might be more difficult that motivating students: “If I get parents involved I will probably get a Nobel Prize,” she said.
“I have a unique perspective and voice. I have the ability to look at things from all sides and make tough decisions.
“There’s a hierarchy, and not everybody is on the same level. But if people feel heard listened to I think that makes it a lot better.
“What’s best for kids and what’s best for learning should be the same thing, but in this day and age it’s not. So I make decisions in a way that benefits the schools the best.
The board granted tenure status to Carrie Knause teacher Ryan Hollar, who has taught in St. Louis for five years. “Teachers are granted tenure after five successful years in a district,” McKittrick said. “Until a teacher reaches tenure they are on probationary status. A probationary teacher needs to be evaluated twice a year and have an individual development plan.”
Additions and subtractions
Leaving St. Louis schools are Carrie Knause kindergarten teacher Breanna Bell (moving out of the area) and JV girls hoop coach Nicole Koczenasz (moved to Florida).
After a challenging boys basketball season, where he moved from JV coach to varsity coach after an unexpected resignation, Nic Gibbons was given the varsity job on an official basis. (This reporter saw him in action at several games and was impressed.)
In a mini reunion, three members of the SLHS Class of 2014 were hired as teachers. Briann Alspaugh will teach kindergarten at Carrie Knause. Brogan Holmes is the new social emotional teacher at Nikkari. And Michaela Austin will be the high school science teacher.