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story.lead_photo.caption Steve Percival (left), longtime Fayetteville School Board member, speaks Thursday with fellow board member Nika Waitsman during a meeting of the board in the Winborn Conference Room of the Adams Leadership Center. - Photo by Andy Shupe

FAYETTEVILLE -- One evening after a heated discussion and a split vote, Steve Percival told fellow School Board members he appreciated they still could sit down and share pizza.

Photo by Andy Shupe
Steve Percival (right), longtime Fayetteville School Board member, speaks Thursday with Bo Bittle of Stephens Inc. during a meeting of the board in the Winborn Conference Room of the Adams Leadership Center.

That memory of Percival stayed with Tim Hudson, who had been on the School Board for about a year on that controversial night in 2005. The difficult night came amid a long-running debate over the district's policy on controversial books. Percival was board president at the time.

Steve Percival

• First elected in 1995

• Term expires this month

• School Board president from 1999 to 2008

• Lived in Fayetteville since 1989

• Son Matthew graduated from Fayetteville High School in 2008

• Vice president of human resources for Washington Regional Medical Center

• Bachelor’s and master’s degree from Wright State University

Source: Staff report

"Whether we agree on everything or a little, every month we all have to come sit down together and get the district's business done," said Hudson, now board president.

Percival, 62, will end 21 years of service on the board this month. His final meeting is Sept. 22. He's attended more than 250 monthly meetings since being elected in 1995, only missing four.

"I've never gotten tired of it," said Percival, who was board president from 1999 to 2008. "Time has gone by so quick. It just got into my routine. I never really thought of not being on the board."

Henry Shreve, who served from 1954 to 1975, is the only other Fayetteville School Board member to serve 21 years.

The average tenure of a board member statewide would fall in the six to 10-year range, said Tony Prothro, executive director of the Arkansas School Boards Association. The association gives a 30-year award pin to board members who reach that milestone; only one person received it last year.

Percival's impact on education spread beyond Northwest Arkansas, Prothro said. Percival served in leadership positions for the association.

"He was always an advocate for students and their well-being," he said.

Percival started calling Fayetteville home in 1989 after moving from Ohio to become Washington Regional Medical Center's vice president of human resources. He got involved with the district in the early 1990s serving on committees looking at high school programs and establishing a mission and direction for the district.

He filed for his first campaign in 1995 when former board member Jeff Koenig decided not to run for re-election. Percival won. He was 41 and his son Matthew, now 26, was going from kindergarten to first grade.

Koenig remembers Percival's interest.

"Steve's been a real asset to the Fayetteville School Board and to the community of Fayetteville," Koenig said. "He's been a real solid, responsible School Board member who listened carefully before he made decisions.

The past two decades in the district have included waves of controversy and debate, including school closings, decisions about the high school, the grade-level configuration of campuses, book policies and resident participation at board meetings.

Percival remembers Owl Creek School's campus sitting on what was the western fringes of the district, an area now dotted with rooftops, he said.

Board meetings are business meetings held in public, Percival said. The board sets rules for participation by the public in meetings. Resident participation heats up during times of controversy, he said.

In the mid-2000s, Percival thought some community members were using time allotted for public comment to press their own agendas, he said. The board debated where to schedule resident participation during the meeting. It's now scheduled at the beginning of monthly board meetings.

The board wanted to hear from residents who had constructive comments or concerns, but also needed to structure that time so no one person could speak for an indefinite period of time, Percival said.

The board took a "last resort" action once to ban a resident from speaking at board meetings because of a disregard for the board's rules and processes for speaking, he said.

"I hated that," he said. "That was such a stressful time."

Trust is a key part of a relationship between a board member and superintendent, said former Fayetteville Superintendent Bobby New, whom Percival was involved in hiring. One of the most controversial issues for any board is closing an elementary school, because of the emotional connection it has with families and staff.

The former Bates Elementary School was diminishing in numbers and had dropped to fewer than 250 students, New said. The school was on property adjacent to the high school, and district leadership envisioned a need to prepare for growth at the high school, he said.

New developed a trust in Percival because what Percival said when they prepared meeting agendas was what he said publicly at School Board meetings.

"He didn't backtrack because of the criticism he was getting," New said. "What you hear today you're going to hear tomorrow."

Issues facing the board at times resulted in a vocal outcry from the community, but Percival said he kept in mind the 7,000-8,000 voters in Zone 1 when he received email messages from a dozen people. Percival said he focused on making decisions based on personal convictions for what he thought was best for meeting the needs of all Fayetteville students.

He also considered how decisions fit with the goals and strategies of the district.

"You have to figure out what you believe in," he said.

Once a decision was made, even if Percival did not vote with the majority of the board, he had a duty to support the collective decision, he said. That was true with the board's decision to keep Fayetteville High School where it is rather than relocate it. Percival supported moving.

Learning needs of students have changed, and families are seeking alternatives, including in charter schools and virtual schools, Percival said.

"We have to adapt," he said. "We have to figure out ways to do it better than anyone else."

Percival thinks board members should have children in the schools. He ran for one more term in 2011 and was interested in becoming an officer of the Arkansas School Boards Association. With his term expiring this year, Percival decided it was time for someone else to run a campaign for the Zone 1 seat.

A highlight for Percival was his son's graduation from Fayetteville High School in 2008. Percival was the board president and handed his son his diploma.

"I was very proud of him," Percival said. "It was one of those moments you hang onto forever."

NW News on 09/12/2016

Print Headline: Percival to exit board after 21 years

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