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Ohlig Unanimously Appointed to Fill BOE Vacancy

Former president of Jefferson School PTO "thrilled" to join the board

The Westfield has returned to full capacity. 

After seven weeks of being one member short, the board nominated and unanimously approved candidate Gretchan Ohlig last night at the beginning of its first public meeting of 2012. Ohlig immediately assumed her place at the end of the board's table, filling a vacancy that has existed since .

"I'm thrilled," Ohlig said after the board appointed her. "I'm thrilled to be here."

There was no shortage of competition among residents for the opportunity to join the board. At least nine candidates were considered for the position, with the board ultimately  at a special meeting last Tuesday night. Ohlig was the second of seven interviews. 

Last night, BOE President Richard Mattessich explained that, following Walker's resignation, the board had 60 days to swear in a replacement. Ohlig will now serve at least until a town-wide election is held in April to determine who will fulfill the remaining portion of Walker's term. 

Following Mattessich's description of the process, board member Ann Cary nominated Ohlig. She cited the candidate's enthusiasm, creativity and patience as attributes that contributed to the decision to appoint her. Cary was quickly seconded by Mitch Slater. No other nominations were made. The short-lived eight-member board then unanimously approved Ohlig, who was then immediately sworn in.

Ohlig, a 42-year-old attorney, has been a resident of Westfield for 11 years. She has three children in the school district, including two at and one at Ohlig has served as president both of the Jefferson School PTO and Westfield Education Fund, has been a member of the Westfield Planning Board and Parent Teacher Council and has sat on the Westfield Area Y Board of Directors.

Ohlig also helped craft the district's 2010-2015 Strategic Plan as a member of the Strategic Planning Council. In addition to her volunteer work within Westfield, Ohlig sits on the Board of Trustees of Liam's Room, a non-profit organization in coordination with Overlook Hospital that she has helped guide since its inception six years ago. 

Last month, that the biggest issue facing the district is the struggle to continue to provide students, parents and staff members with necessary resources despite a reduced budget. 

"The issue is magnified in the context of our global, high-tech society," she said. "In order to achieve our goals, the entire Westfield community must work collaboratively to find creative solutions and strategies to support the best learning environment possible."

Ohlig received a taste of that issue shortly after her appointment. Tuesday's meeting included an update on the district's guidance department, which included requests for additional counselors and an increased travel budget.

Ohlig seems to have public support on her side. At last week's special meeting, most of the few members of the public in attendance appeared to be interested only in her interview, leaving once it was completed. Last night, several family members stood along the wall of a crowded meeting room to witness her appointment and join the audience in applause after the board's announcement. Ohlig then let her family know it was OK to leave.

"Bye, Mom," one of her children said as the family left the room. 

During the Policies Committee portion of the meeting, Ohlig abstained from a vote affirming the Superintendent's decision on HIB incidents 12E12 and 12E13, but joined the board in its approval of other matters. 

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