Incumbents, longtime educator sweep Sterling School Board race

STERLING – Two short-term incumbents are being returned to the Sterling School Board to serve the next 4 years, while a newcomer with a plethora of educational experience will fill a 2-year unexpired term.

Julie K. Aitken, a marketing account executive who was appointed to the board in August, and psychologist Savannah Mussington, who has a little less than 2 years on the board, defeated retired educator and challenger Gonzalo Steven Reyes, who served 10 years on the board before quitting in 2001 to become a teacher at Challand Middle School.

With all votes tallied, Aitken won the most votes, 1,247, or 40.93%, while Mussington garnered 920, or 30.19%, with Reyes close on her heels with 880 votes, or 28.88%. The results are not yet official.

In the race for the 2-year spot, Narcisco Puentes, a retired educator with 40 years of experience in the district, defeated Allen Przysucha, three-time president of the Sterling Noon Rotary Club, 836 to 794 votes, or 51.29% to 48.71%.

Aitken has a child who graduated from Sterling High last year and one who will be a freshman in the fall.

She wanted to extend her time on the board “so I could give back to the district that has given our family and my daughters so much over the 16 years that we lived here,” she said.

The best thing about Sterling Public Schools is that it offers a multitude of activities, “top-notch” facilities, quality academics – all of which combine to bring “a wealth of opportunities for our kids here in this community, and I think that’s our greatest strength,” Aitken said.

Mussington has spent most of her career in higher education, running the Trio program at Sauk Valley Community College for first-time, low-income and disabled students; she now works on issues of racial equity with colleges nationwide.

She is a Sterling High grad, and has two children who also graduated from SHS, and one who is a freshman.

Serving on the school board is “the perfect opportunity for me to bridge what I consider to be my professional career and my passion for education,” Mussington said.

The primary role of a school board is to set policy, practice fiduciary responsibility, capture the community voice, make sure the district’s mission and vision align, and make sure the appropriate resources are in place to meet that vision, she said.

Noting that he has “the time, interest and the experience” to serve on the board, Puentes said during his campaign that “it’s important that the Sterling Board of Education reflect the diversity of the student population,” and that he believes that “community service is important for the the betterment of the community.”

Experience he garnered negotiating as a member of the teacher’s union will serve him well as a member of the board, he added.

He thinks that “it’s important that the Sterling Board of Education reflect the diversity of the student population,” and believes that “community service is important for the the betterment of the community.”

It is the job of the school board to be fiscally responsible while providing a quality education. Its most important role, though, is to “provide the vision for the community, and communicate that vision,” Puentes said.

He cited his negotiations experience garnered as a member of the Education Association, and his work with teachers on a Regional Office of Education Committee.

Safety in the classroom for teachers and students, is a priority for Puentes.

“Without a doubt, I think the greatest challenge so far is the pandemic, even though it is winding down,” Puentes said. “I think it’s a difficult time, during this pandemic, to be a classroom teacher, and I think we need to calm the fears of these college graduates that are coming out and let them know … that our schools will be safe.

“We still need to make sure there’s a safe environment for the students and staff, and I think we need to expand our testing so that we can assure the parents that we’re doing everything that we can to keep students safe.”

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.