After 22 years, he’s ending 5-month gig at Arlington schools

Bob McClure joined during a time of contentious change, and is leaving the district in “a good place.”

Bob McClure

Bob McClure

ARLINGTON — Bob McClure hadn’t planned to be there long.

Certainly not 22 years. But that’s how it turned out.

McClure was appointed to a divided and largely dysfunctional Arlington School Board in 1995 with the intention of a short stay.

“The standing joke is I got appointed for five months and 22 years later I finally got off,” he said. “I thought, five months, what the heck.”

McClure remembers the rocky beginning. School board meetings were contentious and lasted late into the night. The overcrowded high school was in disrepair. Voters over several decades had rejected attempts to build a new Arlington High School or renovate the old one. The acrimony among elected leaders didn’t help at the ballot.

His work as a fisheries biologist had introduced him to different cultures and points of view. He figured he might be able to help find middle ground.

McClure felt strongly that the students in the community needed and deserved a better campus. The area was growing and the school had many structural problems.

“We said, ‘We don’t have an option,’” McClure said. “We had come to the conclusion we were not going to give up until it passed because it was so sorely needed.”

The board continued to put bond measures on the ballot. Getting a 60 percent “yes” vote proved a tall order. In 1997, two bond measures received 51 and 52 percent approval. By May 1998, the “yes” vote dipped to 45.7 percent.

Voters eventually agreed to a scaled-down version, passing a $54 million bond in 2000 with a 61.5 percent “yes” vote. The board gave voters an option to decide on a separate measure to build a performing arts center for the high school. That measure was rejected, but six years later, the school’s $6.5 million arts center opened — thanks to years of fundraising instead of property taxes.

McClure well remembers the relief he and others felt when the bonds passed.

He also was board president when the district hired Superintendent Linda Byrnes who led the district for 12 years before retiring.

“It got to negotiate the contract with her and get her signature on the dotted line,” he said. “Looking back that was a real time of change for the district. The combination of the school board that had been elected and finding Linda, that’s where we kind of took a little turn onto the path and headed to where we are now.”

Byrnes liked the makeup of the school board and working with McClure over the years.

“The wonderful power of a lay board is they are all coming from a different approach,” she said. “It was very valuable to have someone who has the whole scientific method of thinking. I really appreciated the way that his mind worked. He brought up what I hadn’t thought of.”

McClure was always one to give a thorough evaluation of potential curriculum and to find a glitch if there was one, she said.

One of his other duties over the years was signing diplomas. He did so thousands of times.

It is a task that technology could have done more quickly, but that just didn’t seem right.

“We can do that with a machine that looks just like your signature, but we like to do it, to literally read every name of every student of every diploma we sign,” he said.

Two of those diplomas had a little extra meaning. They were for his daughters, the youngest who is now attending law school at Yale.

McClure chose not to run for another term this fall. Marc Rosson was elected in his place.

It was one of two changes on the board. Judy Fay defeated incumbent Ursula Ghirardo for the other seat.

McClure is thankful he got to serve in an era of change and improvement in his hometown, but he also sensed it was time for someone else to step in.

“I just felt that I had put in a lot of time and a lot of energy and the school district is in a good place,” he said. “It’s work that will never be done.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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