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Salute to a caring educator

A former leader at Sterling Public Schools, who died Saturday, will be remembered for his passion for education. We salute former Superintendent Wil Booker.

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Wil Booker

It seems like only yesterday that SVM’s editorial board wrote about the retirement of Wil Booker as superintendent of Sterling Public Schools. After 5 years at the helm, he stepped down in June 2008.

Now, we have the sad task of writing about Booker’s untimely death over the weekend. He was 66.

Booker’s obituary spoke of his “lifelong passion for education.” That passion shone brightly during his half-decade tenure at Sterling schools.

Booker strongly believed in the power of a good education to transform his students’ lives.

He was proud to trumpet students’ achievements, along with those of Sterling’s teachers and administrators.

In 2005, Booker wrote a newspaper column that praised Lincoln School for receiving a National Blue Ribbon Schools Award; saluted Jefferson School’s stellar standardized test scores; and noted the senior class’s adeptness at winning more than $1 million in college scholarships.

In nearly the same breath, Booker honored the top-ranked Golden Warriors football team, saluted a champion girls high jumper, and talked up the group interpretation speech team for winning the state title.

A positive learning environment made it all possible, Booker wrote.

But such an environment, and the achievement that follows, requires financial investment from the community, state and nation. As revenues dwindled, Booker had to balance the district’s budget through cuts in spending.

And he wondered what impact those cuts would ultimately have on the young minds entrusted to his care, particularly those students who failed to achieve basic skills required for college and the workplace.

As Booker observed in 2007: “Our community and nation need an educated workforce. Education is linked to our economy. With an increase in education comes an increase in salaries. A quality school system brings jobs to our area. With an increase in jobs, property values increase. Education also results in a lower unemployment rate.”

Booker continued: “Preparing students to be successful in a global marketplace is important. It comes through academic rigor and raising standards. Walking out of high school into a job requires more advanced skills and the ability to continually upgrade skills. These can only come from a high-quality school district.”

But with $4.7 million in cuts over 4 years, Booker asked, “How do we maintain a high-quality, high-rigor school district in our community while we continue to cut our budgets?”

That question remains a challenge for Sterling Public Schools, whose board placed a tax-increase referendum on the ballot during Booker’s tenure only to have voters turn it down.

Booker wasn’t all about school budgets, balance sheets and board meetings. He loved to hike, camp, fish and boat. He was an Eagle Scout. He spent 7 years in the Army. He studied photography from the legendary Ansel Adams.

Booker was an artist who studied in France and was Art Educator of the Year before he turned his focus toward school administration.

He knew the transformational value of a wide-ranging education because he had lived it.

And now, that life is over, far too soon.

We offer our condolences to Booker’s family, friends, and former colleagues and students at Sterling Public Schools.

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