GROTON -- Berta Erickson never said whether time spent as a member of the Junk Car Bylaw Committee had been any use in preparing her for a role on the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee, but it probably didn't hurt.
"I definitely feel that the School Committee needs first and foremost, common sense," said Erickson after spending over six years as a member of the group. "I think we all need it, whether we serve on the School Committee, the Board of Selectmen, or in our own households. Common sense should be a prerequisite for almost everything we do."
In a surprise announcement at the Feb. 13 meeting of the School Committee, Erickson revealed that she would be resigning from her position for personal reasons.
"I've been having a series of health issues since November and I wasn't putting in to the School Committee what I was used to doing," explained Erickson. "It made me reconsider if there was still a place for me. So, not knowing what my rate of recovery would be and with town elections coming up, it seemed an appropriate time for me to step aside and let someone else run for the position."
A resident of Boston Road, Erickson was first appointed to the School Committee in 2005 to fill out the term of former member Jeanne Niemoller. After that, she ran on her own merit and won a first term with the School Committee in 2006.
Since then, citing unfinished business, Erickson ran twice more, most recently when she won reelection to a three year term in 2012.
Some of that business still remained unfinished when Erickson made her announcement but she hoped that she would be able to continue to contribute in a way that will let her in on the finish.
"I still hope to quietly continue the process of establishing an alumni association," said Erickson. "It's the last project left over from the Think Tank. We have already done the virtual classroom that was kind of pushed a lot by the Think Tank and we helped to create a lot of energy savings in the schools that saved the district thousands and thousands of dollars. There were different things we looked into like seeing if it was feasible to share resources with other school districts, but one thing that was left undone was the alumni association.
"Also, I would have liked to finish up the Prescott School business which will be going up before the Board of Selectmen," said Erickson of planning for converting the former school building to other uses. "I worked on that for three years. And then there was getting irrigation to the Middle School garden that grows (vegetables) for use in the cafeteria to help feed the kids. It's a small thing, but it's a start."
Creation of the Think Tank at a time when the district desperately needed to find alternative sources of income or ways to save what they already had, will likely be Erickson's most notable contribution to the school district.
"I feel that the Think Tank might have been one of my main accomplishments," said Erickson. "Otherwise I think it was the little things I participated in like taking part in the establishment of the produce garden at the Middle School or being on the Peace Foundation and working on its Big Book for Peace. I was very happy to be part of that. Being on the Prescott Reuse Committee too. It's those kinds of things that I've enjoyed doing the most because they help tie the community to the schools. And to me, that's a very important aspect of being on the School Committee and vice versa."
Other unfinished business will have to be left to her successor and the rest of the School Committee, business such as regaining ground lost over the past few years of cost cutting.
"The number one item to me will be restoration of the programs that we lost due to the huge cuts that we've been forced to undergo," said Erickson of challenges facing the committee in the future. "Since I've been on the School Committee, around 2006, we've had cut after cut after cut forced on us by the state first and foremost. Restoration of the programs lost during that time to me, need to be restored. And although technology is not my strength, I can see the benefit of what it means in the 21st century. I think building up technology in the district is a priority. Also signing up a new director of business and finance and superintendent is going to be very, very important."
But possibly hindering a recovery, even with top flight administrators on board, could be a curriculum weighed down by the demands of federal and state governments.
"That question is an extremely important one to me," said Erickson of the dilemma facing every school system. "I was the only person on the School Committee who voted against adopting Race to the Top. Race to the Top is another example of how the federal government is going to come in and mandate something that public schools have to live up to. Because we're a member of Race to the Top, then such and such needs to happen. To me, this was a huge mistake. We didn't need Race to the Top. Our district was performing way above what that program was trying to accomplish. These mandates, these demands from the the state and federal governments that end up needing to be funded on the local level, will negatively effect our school district."
But despite her concerns, Erickson is "cautiously optimistic" about the public school system in general.
"I think it's going to be a hard row to hoe to catch up with what we've lost," admitted Erickson. "But we have a great staff in the calibre of teachers in our district. They are way above average, I think. They are the fibre of our schools and as long as we manage to replace one by one the tried and true, older, more mature teachers as they leave the district then I think we can continue to have an outstanding school system. It's going to be very important to our district with whom we replace those teachers with because maintaining the quality of our educational system depends on it. It all happens in the classroom after all so it's important that we succeed."
Also in favor of the district is a solid School Committee.
"I always felt outnumbered being the only non-techy on the committee," noted Erickson. "I was also the only one on the School Committee that was ever a teacher. Evidently, we're a dying breed in this town. Anyway, I think the calibre of each individual on the current School Committee, one by one, is very strong. There are a lot of good people on the committee and they each bring their own strengths to it."
As for herself, Erickson still believes she also has the strength to continue to contribute to the district and expressed the hope of serving in some capacity as a member of the superintendent screening committee.
"I would like to take part in that," said Erickson.
Otherwise, she plans to take it easy for a change.
"I hope to do some traveling and maybe take part in community stuff," said Erickson. "Right now I'm still on the Town Meeting Study Committee. I'm still interested in taking part in the life of the community."