An Educational Role Reversal
Former principal turned board member sticks to his students-first principles
Michael Raczak won a second four-year term on Indian Prairie School District 204’s Board of Education last month. But he’s been hanging around the Naperville/Aurora/Bolingbrook district much longer — in 2011, for instance, he was duct-taped
to an elementary school wall by students.
Raczak was principal of May Watts Elementary School in Naperville at the time, just a year before he retired after 21 years as a District 204 school administrator, which also included stints as an assistant principal and principal at Naperville’s Hill Middle School.
Though never planning to stick around longer, the district resident ran for school board in April 2013, less than a year after he retired — a somewhat unusual decision for a former administrator, particularly in the same district in which he’d worked.
“Towards the end of my career, I had started watching the board of education’s work and I was intrigued by it,” explains Raczak. “It was interesting. And I do like school.”
The decision to run for school board was not Raczak’s first surprising move. After all, how many experienced middle school principals opt to take an elementary school top job for the last five years of their career? But Raczak had thought it was time for a change.
“I wanted to challenge myself and I didn’t want to go into central administration, I like being with students,” says Raczak in explaining the move. “It ended up being one of the best things I ever did — it kept me energized. Five years went very quickly.”
There were those eight rolls of duct tape students used to suspend him from the gym wall for that PTA fundraiser, not to mention dressing as Frosty the Snowman for a winter concert, and even taking pies to the face.
“Things you never thought you’d do in your entire life,” says Raczak with a laugh. Somewhat like, perhaps, becoming a school board member?
As a principal, Raczak obviously paid attention to what the school board did. But as he got older, his interest deepened, and after retiring, he seriously considered running. “It took me until the last minute — it was January when I decided to say yes, this is what I want to do,” he recalls.
Four years later, it still is.
“I enjoy, love, am intrigued by — any positive word you can put to the experience of being on the board. It has been an extension of my career and I’ve learned a lot.”
The former special ed teacher now approaches education from a more global perspective, especially regarding finances.
“I knew they weren’t giving me the money I wanted, I just never understood why,” says Raczak. “That’s the biggest change — I better understand the finite resources and how to spread them out to the benefit of everyone.”
More importantly to district residents is the unique view this former district administrator brings.
“My now-colleagues encouraged me to run originally, and several have since told me it’s helpful to have my perspective. I’m only once voice, but it’s a specific perspective.”
Early on, he heard concerns that he might show favoritism towards teachers, administrators or schools he knew, but Raczak’s answer to those questions during his first race was simple: “For me, students come first. Then your decision making
is a lot more balanced.”
Deciding whether to run for re-election was easy, since Raczak appreciates the continual learning process. “What keeps me current keeps me young and keeps me going,” he says. “We participate in lots of events and get to see how policy and procedure and our decisions really translate into great programming for kids. When you see kids working and engaged, it makes it all worthwhile.”
Four years from his next opportunity to place yard signs around town, the 65-year-old isn’t making any promises. “At 69? This may be it,” acknowledges Raczak. “I want to have a great four years, do my best, and work my hardest.”
He even would, he says, endure the duct tape again. He ran a half-marathon as a board member a couple of years ago and would take on other reasonable challenges.
One thing he definitely will vote against. “I do regret the pies — the chocolate creme got in my ears. In the shower when brown stuff was leaking out, I decided it wasn’t prudent to take pies in my face any more.”Edit Module