Caenepeel, Stark garner thanks, say goodbye

The Thursday, November 21 school board meeting represented the last time board president Mary Caenepeel and board member Jeff Stark would take to the dais to deliberate the future of Claremont schools.

Ms. Caenepeel’s current term expires this December after eight years of service. Mr. Stark has been on the board for four years. Neither of them opted to run for a seat on the board in the local and municipal election held earlier this month.

Their departures did not go unnoticed as an array of local luminaries, district stakeholders and well-wishers took to the podium to say goodbye.

Claremont Mayor Opanyi Nasiali presented a certificate of appreciation from the city to “two great leaders,” assuring Ms. Caenepeel and Mr. Stark that they can move on to their next endeavors knowing they have left the Claremont Unified School District in good order. 

Politicians beyond the reaches of Claremont also made their presence felt. Michael Lyons, representative for Assemblyman Chris Holden, expressed Mr. Holden’s “deep regard for people who serve in local government.” While Senator Carol Liu did not attend the meeting, she sent on certificates acknowledging the outgoing board members.

While such regional acknowledgement represented a coup for Ms. Caenepeel and Mr. Stark, they likely found praise from those directly affected by their decisions to be more edifying. These included local teachers and staff, represented by Claremont High School debate coach and Claremont Faculty Union president Dave Chamberlain and Oakmont School office manager and local California School Employees president Rosie Bister.

Ms. Bister noted that the board members served during some of the most challenging financial times in district history and still managed to make decisions that reflected the needs of the community, CUSD staffers and their families and the children of Claremont schools. She presented Ms. Caenepeel and Mr. Stark with cards featuring kids’ handprints and the motto “Your handprint has left an impression on our hearts.”

Mr. Chamberlain noted Ms. Caenapeel, a longtime Baldy View ROP Commissioner, for her unwavering concern for CUSD students and her dedication to career technical education. He noted Mr. Stark for his measured financial stewardship, citing the outgoing board member as the “acknowledged watchdog of the district’s purse strings.” 

Mr. Chamberlain drew some wry laughter from the crowd by pointing out that the evening’s honorees served “during what seemed like the revolving door of superintendents.” CUSD experienced significant turnover before current Superintendent Jim Elsasser took the reins of the district in July of 2012, going through three district heads and an interim superintendent since 2006. Terry Nichols notably resigned in 2010 after less than two years in office. 

Mr. Chamberlain emphasized that one of the legacies of Ms. Caenepeel and Mr. Stark was helping to place the district in the hands of Mr. Elsasser, whose leadership has been widely applauded as bringing thoughtfulness and stability to the district.

 “Apparently you have to kiss a lot of frogs,” he quipped.

Remaining board members Steven Llanusa, Hilary LaConte and Sam Mowbray also had good things to say about their colleagues, from professional accomplishments to personal attributes; Mr. Llanusa, for instance, told Ms. Caenapeel he would miss her smile.

Ms. LaConte was unable to hold back her tears as she bid adieu to Ms. Caenepeel, whom she characterized as “humble, patient, kind and determined,” and Mr. Stark, “my Energizer bunny friend.” She said she knew early on in his tenure that Mr. Stark was smart, lively and outspoken. It was only after seeing how he agonized over board decisions, however, more than occasionally losing sleep as he ruminated over what was in the district’s best interest, that Ms. LaConte came to realize that he also “has a heart of gold.”

Both Ms. Caenepeel and Mr. Stark thanked everyone in the district as well as those closest to their hearts—their families—for showing ceaseless support and giving up family time while they attended board meetings and an array of CUSD functions.

Sometimes words are not enough. After the tributes were done, CHS music director Joel Wilson, a newly-minted doctor of music courtesy of the Claremont Graduate University, introduced the high school’s Chamber Singers. They began with a brief and slightly melancholy a capella number and finished with an upbeat rendition of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten,” an ode to endless possibility.

After such a community love-fest, the 20-minute dessert reception that followed was the icing on the cake. Then it was back to business as Ms. Caenepeel and Mr. Stark joined the rest of the board in hearing an update on three local schools’ progress toward their educational goals.

The next regular meeting of the Claremont Board of Education will be held on Thursday, December 12. Recently-elected board members Nancy Treser Osgood and Dave Nemer will then take their places on the dais, along with the newly reelected Mr. Llanusa.

—Sarah Torribio


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