ATWATER -- For the first time in nearly six months, the Atwater Elementary School District Board of Trustees is back to full strength, with a new president and clerk.
New Trustees Joe Hoffar and Scott Lee were sworn into office Tuesday night during ceremonies at Bellevue School's new gymnasium. Hoffar and Lee join Larry Whitney who was elected during October's recall and incumbents Kelly Fincher and Dale Wilson.
Trustees unanimously elected Fincher as board president, with Whitney named board clerk.
Fincher, 40, the chief deputy city attorney for the city of Merced, has been on the school board for three years. An Atwater resident for five years, Fincher said she saw a need for leadership in the district and wanted to set policies that benefit the community.
She said she wants the board president's role to be more ceremonial than a superpower position. Her goals this year are to work with the new board members and help them learn their new roles, promote harmony within the district work force and maintain financial stability.
In May, trustees voted 3-2 to terminate Superintendent Melinda Hennes. In July, Trustee John Hall changed his mind and sided with Fincher and Wilson to bring Hennes back. Hall resigned from the board at that meeting and Trustee Sheila Whitley later resigned, but not in time to prevent the Oct. 16 recall election that saw voters remove her from office.
Hall, Whitley and former board President Lena Mendoza did not give any public explanation for Hennes' firing. Mendoza's term on the board expired in November. With Hall and Whitley off the board, all trustees' decisions since July had to be unanimous.
Wilson said Wednesday that Tuesday's board meeting was like a festive occasion.
"I couldn't be more pleased," Wilson said. "The district is moving forward and everything is looking great."
Lee, the physical education teacher and athletics coach at Providence Christian School in Merced, said the board meeting went really well. He said he has quite a bit to learn as a trustee.
"I like the board we have," Lee said. "With new leaders, it looks good for the school district."
Lee, 50, is a lifetime Atwater resident who attended local schools and Merced College. He completed his master's degree with honors from Shasta Bible College. He previously taught for 16 years at Merced Christian School.
Whitney, 60, also is a lifelong Atwater resident and managing general partner of San Joaquin Glass of Merced. He attended Merced College and graduated from California State University Fresno in 1974. He also served four years on the Merced County Planning Commission.
Whitney characterized Tuesday's board meeting as harmonious and peaceful. He said all votes were unanimous and board members all are on the same page. The Mitchell Senior Elementary School band performed several songs, including a medley of Christmas songs.
"We had a very good organizational meeting," Whitney said.
Hoffar, 64, is the community policing officer for the city of Atwater and also is director of Atwater's Police Activities League. He has been a police officer for 22 years and fills Hall's seat on the board.
Former Trustees Roger Wood, Barbara Williamson, Kory Billings, Mike Nelson, and Bill and Dorothy Bizzini were honored Tuesday for their service to the district.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.