Tom Jacobs, a member of the Riverside-Brookfield High School Board of Education, announced at the board’s July 13 meeting that he was resigning from the post because he has moved out of the district.
Jacobs, who said he was no longer a resident of the district as of July 1, addressed the school board for nearly nine minutes Tuesday evening in a farewell statement.
“It has been a true privilege to serve with all of you on the board of education,” Jacobs said. “It is an unbelievable learning experience that I will treasure forever.”
Jacobs was elected to the school board in 2019 running as a student advocate. Jacobs was largely responsible for the getting the school board to add student representatives to the school board and played the largest role in revamping the school’s mission statement.
In an interview after he finished speaking at the board meeting, Jacobs said that those two achievements were his biggest accomplishments in his time on the school board.
“I think the fact that now that there is an additional voice that represents the students, I think that is the biggest achievement and the mission statement is something I was very involved in,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs, a serious and thoughtful presence on the school board, was greatly respected by his fellow board members for his intelligence and thoughtful manner.
“I think he brought a lot to the board,” said board member Bill Durkin, who was also elected in 2019.
Jacobs is passionately concerned about the environment and pushed for students to get involved in public affairs. He was a calm presence last year, calling for unity when some board members lashed out at teachers during the pandemic for resisting a return to in-person learning as COVID-19 cases mounted last fall.
Jacobs said it was not easy switching from being an activist to serving as a board member.
“It’s clearly a big transition, it’s probably bigger than anything you could imagine when you decide to run,” Jacobs said.
In his statement to the school board, Jacobs said empathy and courage are two of the important qualities for a board member. He said it is important to consider all perspectives.
“Too frequently we jump to conclusions and we push for our opinions and we want to get our way, and that’s part of the game; that comes with the job,” Jacobs said.
The board has 60 days to choose a replacement to serve out the remaining two years of Jacobs’ term. A public notice about how to apply for the vacancy is on the District 208 website at rbhs208.net.
Applications should be addressed to school board President Deanna Zalas and must be received no later than 3 p.m. on July 26. Zalas said the board will interview applicants and then try to pick a replacement at its Aug. 10 board meeting. Whoever is chosen will need four votes to move forward.
Jacobs encouraged people to apply to fill his seat on the board. He said that he hoped the board would look for balance on the board. Since the school board already includes two teachers and another member who works in higher education, Jacobs said he thinks the new member should not be a professional educator.
“Ask yourself the question what other aspects that would truly and fully represent the diverse community that we represent might we want to see on the board,” Jacobs said.
One person who looks like he will apply to fill vacancy is former school board President Wes Smithing, who lost his bid for re-election in April, finishing last in a field of four candidates.
Smithing told the Landmark in a telephone interview Wednesday that he was seriously considering applying to fill the vacancy.
“I was the next largest vote getter, right,” Smithing said. “I mean, that’s democracy. Why are you going to pick anybody else? I got more votes than anybody that you’re going to pick.”
Smithing would be a controversial pick. He was a strong proponent in the last year for students attending classes in person. The Riverside Brookfield Educational Association, the RBHS teachers’ union, strongly opposed his re-election and funded the 2021 campaigns of Lorena Gasca and Ryan VenHorst, who finished first and second in April.