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In service of education, community

Part of Northfield School Committee for 35 years

Recorder/David Rainville
Patricia Shearer, of Northfield, was taken by surprise when she was honored by her colleagues for 35 years of service on the School Committee Thursday .

Recorder/David Rainville Patricia Shearer, of Northfield, was taken by surprise when she was honored by her colleagues for 35 years of service on the School Committee Thursday .

NORTHFIELD — For many, spending 35 years working in the same position would be considered a career.

Patricia Shearer of Northfield just considers it doing her part.

She joined the School Committee of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District in 1978, and has been there ever since.

In honor of her decades of volunteer service, her fellow committee members threw her a surprise party.

“I was blown away; I thought I was ready to go to a negotiation meeting,” she said.

The School Committee convened a “negotiations subcommittee meeting” last Thursday at Northfield Elementary School. Its agenda included cake, congratulations and kind words.

“I’ve worked in four school districts, with four school committees,” said PVRS Principal William Wehrli. “The first time I felt like part of a team with the School Committee was here. That’s partly because of Pat’s leadership.”

“When I think of Pat, the words poise, leadership, commitment, empathy, strength and wit come to mind,” he continued.

Shearer first joined the committee when her husband left the school board to run for Northfield’s Finance Committee, in 1978.

“I thought, ‘we can’t not have our family represented on the committee,’” said Shearer.

At the time, she had three children in the school system, one in first grade, another in third, and her oldest in sixth. When her youngest graduated in 1988, Shearer stayed on the committee.

Seven years later, her oldest granddaughter entered kindergarten at Northfield Elementary School. Shearer still has two grandchildren in the district, one in seventh grade, the other a high school sophomore.

In her 35 years on the committee, Shearer has seen all the district’s schools either refurbished or rebuilt. She’s seen Pioneer listed among the top high schools in the nation and she’s seen many other committee members come and go.

“I rely a lot on her institutional memory,” said district Superintendent Dayle Doiron. “She’s seen a lot of what’s gone on, and she remembers it. She’s very helpful to me.”

Shearer’s colleagues admire her commitment.

“The schools couldn’t survive without such dedicated volunteers,” said John “Jack” Spanbauer, of the Northfield Selectboard.

“All Pat does for the kids of the district is remarkable,” said Tom King, principal of Northfield Elementary School. In addition to her School Committee service, Shearer has been reaching kids in the 4H program for 49 years.

“Pat is modest and unassuming,” said Jed Proujansky, who also sits on the School Committee. “While others fight for positions of leadership, Pat, every year, offers it up, should anyone want to take on the role (of chairperson). It is not surprising that nobody wants to attempt to fill her shoes.”

Shearer has been the chairwoman of the committee for about 20 years. Since nobody else on the committee has the longevity that she does, they couldn’t pin down the exact number. And, perhaps a testament to her modesty, neither could Shearer.

Though others credited her with the strength of the committee and the school district, Shearer said it’s a true team effort.

“Without our (school) administrators, we wouldn’t get anywhere,” she said. She also gave kudos to her School Committee colleagues for their diplomacy and civility.

Many of the committee’s decisions are unanimous, said Proujansky, “due in a large part to the example Pat sets of giving everyone a chance to be heard and always allowing a full discussion when warranted.”

Though the committee often deals with weighty matters, most recently regarding rising school costs and the inability of towns to keep up with them, their choices are made with grace. Disagreements take the form of discussions, she said, and rarely degrade into arguments.

Her term expires in 2016, but Shearer said she won’t stop there.

“You’re not getting rid of me that easy,” she joked.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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