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Marking the end of an era, the Nov. 18 Board of Education meeting was the last time Deb Grass would call things to order as chairman. For the past two decades, Deb's name has been synonymous with the Board of Education in Clinton. She has been there through the hiring of four different superintendents; countless administrators, teachers, and school faculty; 20 different budget processes; the decision to build a new high school; the innovation and integration of a flurry of new technology throughout the school system; numerous curriculum changes; and more.
"Deb is a teacher, a successful business owner, a leader, a boss, and a friend," said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jack Cross at Deb's final meeting.
A native of the Connecticut shoreline, Deb grew up in Old Saybrook and has been an integral part of the Clinton community for the past 37 years.
"Twenty years ago a close friend of mine was at the end of their term on the Board of Education [and] they knew I was active in a variety of different programs in town. My youngest was in kindergarten, so I had a little free time, so they suggested I run for the board. That was in 1993," explains Deb, who has been chairman for the past 16 years while at the same time raising her four children, working, and volunteering her time as a softball coach, with Clinton Women Jaycees, and with the Clinton Education Foundation.
Learning from her mother who was teacher, and from her own 10 years of teaching experience in Connecticut and Texas, Deb says she has always tried to be very fair on the board, listening to everyone's point of view and input and being respectful of everyone's opinion.
"I think it is the board's responsibility to cooperate and work well together and as the chairman you have to be a consensus builder," she says. "There are 18 different board members and I tried to make sure that everyone was heard, everyone was comfortable, and everyone was respected."
"On the Board of Education there is no individual power; it's a consensus," she adds.
Deb has wholeheartedly embraced the often-thankless volunteer hours, hard work, and dedication she's devoted over the years, keeping the best interests of the children of Clinton always at the forefront.
"Owning our own business has given me the flexibility, leeway, and latitude to make my own hours so I could dedicate time to the Board of Education. I think that might be the biggest change now. I will finally be able to work 'regular' business hours," jokes an upbeat Deb.
She doesn't plan to remain idle for long, however, because she feels there is always something you can do to give back to your community.
"I think small towns are the best, but the people in the community have to work to keep them that way. We all have to give back," she says. "My father instilled this in me long ago, and his parents in him.
"In fact, my grandparents made it a priority for all their children to have the benefit of higher education. When my father found out his parents had taken out a loan for him to go to college he tried to pay them back. They would not allow it. Instead they told him the way to pay them back was in royalties and good deeds," she recalls. "He took that to heart and volunteered in town; he was on the Board of Finance for several years in Old Saybrook, and he instilled that in me."
While Deb recognizes the effort she's put in to the Board of Education over the years, she's less concerned with her own contributions and more focused on the board's achievements.
"Being on the board has been a substantial investment of time and a huge commitment and responsibility to the community, but it has also been a fantastic ride, one that I have truly enjoyed. Everything changes with the speed of light and I have been so impressed with the Clinton school system over the years and the Board of Education," says Deb. "Everyone has worked so hard to ensure that all the puzzle pieces have been moved around, and fit together, to ensure that we offer our children the best possible education we can. This has been done through paying attention to the technological changes, staying up to date, cooperating with the Board of Finance and the Board of Selectmen, and the passion and commitment from the many board members over the years."
"I am just one board member who hopes to have had a positive effect," Deb concludes. "I wish the future board every success!"